‘That once-in-a-lifetime dog.”

I hear it all the time, but what is it that gives a dog that designation?

It’s not just their unique personalities that set these guys apart. It’s also the fact that they accompany us through periods in our lives that are also “once in a lifetime,” like childhood, young and single, just married, etc.

These times can be heavily laden with emotions, ranging from exhilarating happiness to debilitating sadness, stress and worry, and, for better or worse, through it all, our constant companion is there with us and for us.

They are living associations with our happiest times and stand remembered as pillars of strength and loyalty through the worst. These associations can never be replicated.

One of my once-in-a-lifetime dogs was Cassie, who came into my world when I was just starting my own practice. Now, I had always said that I loved Labrador retrievers, but I’d never get a young one. I have removed too many undergarments from their intestines and seen too many homes destroyed by these pillaging hordes to desire a Lab pup. No, give me a white-faced, old Lab who already has destroyed someone else’s home and wardrobe. The older the better.

One day, my wife, Susan, called me at the office and said “You’ve finally got your Lab. I found her walking down Savannah Highway, and I’m dropping her off now.”

When she arrived, I took one look and thought, she cannot come in here. She was a mess. She had virtually no hair, and the fleas raced across her body like herds of wildebeests. A generous helping of ticks rounded out the skin fauna, and she was covered in scabs. She had a mouthful of teeth that were worn down to the roots and the worst over-bite I’d ever seen. Her ears were dirty and shriveled from years of infections. She was the ugliest, oldest and worst-kept Lab I’d ever seen, but for one thing: She had beautiful, smiling, brown eyes that were windows to a beautiful soul. When I think back to that moment, all I really remember is her eyes and her tail that never stopped wagging.

We took Cassie over to The Pet Vet Hospital in Mount Pleasant, and they gave her the once over. A full flea bath, heartworm check, which was positive, deworming, etc.

I left out the fact that she had a collar with a name tag. I just felt that anyone who neglected a dog and let it roam on the highway like that didn’t deserve her. After a week, my conscience got the best of me, and I went to the owner’s house. I told him I’d never seen such neglect and asked if he even wanted her. He said he did, but really couldn’t care for her so if I wanted her, she was mine. “What’s her name?” I asked. “Cassie,” was his reply, “She’s 13.”

Cassie was the best. She came to work with me every day. She would lie just outside the operating room for hours, patiently waiting. Occasionally, she got bored and broke out the back door and went for a swim in a filthy retention pond behind our office.

When clients came to the office, Cassie rushed to greet them. If they showed interest, she brought them a toy, or just sat with them. If they did not, she would just return to her bed and wait for the next one. She brought comfort to many a stressed client who was worried about their own pet.

We had a bank courier named Ed, a sweet older man. He was semi-retired and worked part time. He came every day for bank deposits, even though we told him we only needed him once a week. He came to see Cassie.

When he would see her hobbling and her arthritic gait, he would say the two of them had a lot in common. He loved her and she loved him. She waited for him every day at the front door at his appointed time. Ed would say hi to us, but it was clear he was there for her. He would give her a treat, pet her and say, “See you tomorrow, Cassie girl.” It was a beautiful thing.

Cassie had been with us for two years. She was now almost 16, and although she had slowed, she was still always ready to go. But one morning I told my wife that I had had a dream that Cassie had died in the back seat of my car. I finished getting ready, and there was Cassie standing by the car wagging that tail. She jumped into the car and we started for work as always. But as I drove, it began to feel like my dream and I heard Cassie let out a soft sigh. I looked back and she was gone.

I still work long hours, but when I started, I often spent the night at my clinic when I had a particularly critical case. I was there all the time, and Cassie was right there with me. She loved it and I loved her. Everyone loved to have her there.

I always knew I’d have my old Lab and I believe God put her in my life when I needed her the most. No other dog can share that time in my life again. Thank you, Cassie, for being my “once-in-a-lifetime” perfect dog.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to petdocs@postandcourier.com.