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He was a large black chow named Cody; my wife owned him when we met about 11 years ago. I really did not want a large dog, but I knew of Judy's ex-husband's reputation. He was not a very nice fellow, especially when it came to animals.

I was shocked when I came home yesterday. I walked out into the backyard to feed Cody and there he lay, unable to move.

"Cody, what's wrong big boy?"

Still, he did not move. I ran to his side, but he just lay there trying to bark, but no sound could be heard. He could not raise his head or move his body.

"It's okay, boy. I'm here now," I said and began to stroke his neck and face.

We tried to reach our vet, but they were closed. Judy and I sat with Cody all night hoping that whatever was wrong would improve, but it never did.

Cody is just one of eight other animals we have. Each of them was saved from being mistreated and/or discarded by some cruel or uncaring human being.

Iím not really sure what is wrong with me. I have gone to many funerals in my lifetime and for some reason, itís almost impossible for me to cry. I stand there feeling numb all over, but when it comes to animals, the tears flow like a river and I donít care who sees me weep.

As I sit here today, all I have left is the memory of a very good dog that lived to be more than 15 years old. He was a friend, who looked after and protected Judy and I through thick and thin. Cody was a big old bruiser of a dog, but would try to get beneath the bed when a thunderstorm came calling.

My entire childhood was spent in a Jacksonville, Florida orphanage. Those years almost made me incapable of being able to love or feel anything. It is to Cody and my other animals that I owe so much. They taught me how to have a heart, how to love and how share it with the human race.

I stayed by Cody's side and stroked his face. I told him over and over that I loved him and that he was a good boy.

"I love you, Cody. Thank you for teaching me how to be a kind and gentle man."

Those were the last words he heard before he left this world.

Next to me is the tissue, which holds the tears I cried as the veterinarian put Cody down. I shed those tears with much honor. I will forever remember a large, black dog that cared for me and loved me more than did my own mother and father.

God must surely have a special place in heaven for such a wonderful animal.

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