Last week my best furry best friend, Hayley, celebrated her eleventh birthday. Where has the time gone? Was it really ten years ago that I visited that apartment in New York City to see a super hyper pit bull that was being fostered? Back then it was definitely love at first site for both of us and our feelings for each other have only grown over the years.

Time really does fly by . . .

Hayley and I – our first week together

Hayley has been, and continues to be, such a huge influence in my life. When I decided to adopt a dog back in 2001 I had just gone through a bad break up which caused me to become very self destructive and negative. I was in a bad place.

After about 5 months of spiraling downward I started volunteering at a local rescue and, as many before and after me, felt the pull to bring one home (that’s a good story too, but I’ll save it for another day). From the day Hayley put her paws down in my house, my life changed.

From that day on, the course of my life would be continually shaped by this happy, good-natured pit bull. It started almost immediately. Only a few months after having Hayley in my life, I changed my outlook to not wanting to be close to anyone to being open to new possibilities and relationships. Hayley showed my so much unconditional love that my heart, which had be closed shut, opened. She was the reason that when a friend wanted to set me up on a date with someone I said “Sure, why not.”

The girl’s name was Michele, but now she goes by Mrs. Camacho. That’s right, I credit Hayley with helping me find my wife – she even shared our first real kiss (yet another funny story).

Hayley wasn’t done there though. For a few years before I adopted her I had started and given up writing a few different novels. Writing a book had always been a dream of mine but I could never find the motivation or inspiration to get past the first couple chapters.

A few years with Hayley changed all that too. Once day I just got an idea. An idea that so captivated and inspired me that I finally wrote my novel, Dog Spelled Backward, in less than six months.

Then, after bouncing through a number of careers that just weren’t right for me, I looked down at Hayley one day and it hit me like a bolt of lighting – dog training. As soon as I began my new career I knew that this was the one for me – the one I was meant to do. Thanks again Hayley.

She didn’t stop there. When my twin girls were born 9 weeks premature and struggling for life in the hospital, she was there for me. Whenever I got home from the hospital – whether I was gone for hours or days – she was there for me to lean on with all care and understanding of the best counselor.

Then when my kids finally came home and the stress of trying to raise two infants hit me full force, Hayley was there. She was such a good girl. She put up with my sleep deprived rants, the lack of exercise and attention, and two new smelly, loud housemates. She did it with style and class (more than could be said for me).

Hayley chilling with one of my girls

Halyey as always been such a good big sister to my kids. She prefers to be in their room when they’re there and is super tolerant of the liberties they take with her. Watching my girls interact with her makes me realize that she’s doing the same for them as she’s done for me – she’s shaping their lives too.

So here we are at her eleventh birthday. I really can’t picture my life before, without her in it. She has been the one common anchor for most of my adult life and a constant source of joy and happiness. I know her influence on me is still present. She’s a big reason I formed my non profit and my motivation for working hard to help people and dogs live together better. Hayley is the longest relationship I’ve ever had (sorry Michele, she will always beat you in seniority by a few months) and will always be my friend, mentor and adviser

She’s a young eleven but I see the signs of aging here and there. I have to help her up on the bed and she’s a bit slower on our walks. Her work is not done yet though – I still need a lot of help and guidance. I know she’ll always be there for me and I plan on treasuring every single day with her. She’s a shining example on how truly special the relationship with a dog is.

Time fly’s by and before you know it, a decade will have gone by for you too. Appreciate every minute with your dog – this time is special. Celebrate your relationship with your pooch every day (even when they’re making you nuts), and try not to take them for granted. Our dogs don’t ask much of us but give us more than we realize. Enjoy them.

Happy birthday Hayley, I love you.

Go hug your dog right now and take a moment to appreciate them in your life. And feel free to share how your dog has impacted your life in the comments below.

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