Pets have taken the grand stage: They have their own stores, Facebook pages, clothes and aisles in the grocery stores. There are canine research studies in our universities, and they're the stars of bestselling books.
Pets are squarely a part of our American life.
In all of my years of writing, I've never felt compelled to write about my own.
Until just this week.
I feel compelled to write about Buddy, who is a tomboy of a poodle, without bows or airs. He came to us two years ago when my mother purchased him out of a desire for company but soon realized he was more than she could handle.
She came to know this the day Buddy was sprinting around her 800 square-foot apartment and somehow landed in her toilet.
"He was born to run," she said when she called. "Will you take him?"
And Buddy does run like the wind. He is the Bruce Jenner and the Forrest Gump of dogs. He runs because he has to. He runs whenever he can.
That first day in our yard, he ran around faster than a bird could fly - a little ball of brown fluff, his long, lanky legs moving so fast they looked cartoonish.
We moved his walks to larger pastures so he'd have more room to fly, and we'd stand back, scratching our chins like football recruiters from Texas, wondering what planet this ball of fur had come from.
"Should we call the circus?" I asked on more than one occasion.
We already had a dog when Buddy came to stay. Her name was Flirt, and she was pretty. She believed she was a direct descendent of royalty, but the truth was she came from the farm of a very good English cocker spaniel breeder in New Hampshire. The woman who owned her produced show dogs, but Flirt hadn't made the cut because of an awkward joint in her right hind leg.
I think Flirt knew this, but would never let on to her imperfection. She had more self-esteem than a beauty queen from Oklahoma. She had no desire to please us, but instead expected to be pleased. On more than one occasion while sipping cocktails in the yard, she'd whine until we allowed her to sit at her own seat at the picnic table, a glass of ice water placed before her.
"I am not just a dog," she seemed to say.
So, this is the home Buddy joined: A home with a queen. And it wasn't easy for him.
Buddy was a bundle of energy and nerves, and from the wrong side of the tracks, as far as Flirt was concerned. She rolled her eyes at his exuberance. She scoffed at his puppy-ness.
If there was one thing he could do, though, it was to outrun her, and he did, whenever he got the chance.
A few weeks ago, Flirt faced the end of a year-long decline. I sat up with her all night and scratched her head. Buddy sat with me.
In the morning, my husband bundled Flirt up to go to the vet, and I knew it would be the last time that I would see her. Buddy seemed to sense our dismay.
I wondered how he would navigate the world without her. For all of her contrariness, Buddy had never known life without Flirt.
And so it was that Buddy and I went for our first walk alone the other day.
It was snowing in Lakewood. A hush had settled over the afternoon and for all of the drifting and blowing, it was a beautiful thing to walk along the soundless streets, nothing but snow and my own muffled footsteps and my only dog.
I found a place to let Buddy off the leash so he could run, and he did, perhaps a bit uncertainly at first, but he found his pace, full force and into the blinding snow.
He ran until he couldn't run anymore -Buddy the circus dog. A neighbor joined me in the field to marvel at his speed.
I thought that in the short time that Flirt had been gone, Buddy was trying to come into his own. He seemed more confident, more relaxed, if not a little lonely. It's as if he realized he had to step up to the plate, share the talents and intelligence that he'd been hiding until now.
I thought about the cycle of life. How we push our children from the nest so they can stand alone and shine. One day, I will give room for my own girls to make homes and have careers and children.
I suppose we are entrusted to pass along our crowns and make space in the world like Flirt did.