From early childhood through my mid-teens there was only one dog in my life, Scamp, my black lab. No dog after ever tugged at my heart … until Gus came along.

Now Gus was not my dog. He belonged to Winona, and more specifically her son, Adam Coshow. The little corgi-beagle mix was a rescue, and came to us at the age of two. He was a bundle of energy and a pure delight, a scrappy, stocky fellow who in his younger years looked for all the world like a mini St. Bernard with his black eye patches and red coat. His loyalty was never in question. We were his humans, his family.

When Adam entered 4-H, he decided to get involved in the dog project. Sure enough, Gus became a 4-H Washburn County Junior Fair Dog Show champion for two years in a row, retiring undefeated.

He sure grew on me. A treat for him was a simple scratch behind the ear and the sound of a kind voice when I would say, “Who’s a good boy? You’re a good boy! You’re such a good boy.”

Winona and I always had cats, and Gus was their buddy, especially a little kitten who Winona called Kitty. Then a few years later, Winona rescued a dainty little white mixed-breed she named Hannah … Gus had a little sister, and they became inseparable.

It occurred to me that suddenly Hannah was getting all the attention, and Gus was getting left out. That only made us closer, and I admit I spoiled both of them.

Time moved on and Adam grew up, moving away to college, and later work. Gus, Hannah and the cats remained with Winona and me.

Hannah had a bit of a “pee problem” and needed to go out every morning at 5 a.m. That became my job, and my joy. I loved it. It wasn’t a chore, it was a privilege to walk her, and of course, Gus came along. I knew even then that our time together wouldn’t last forever and I wanted to enjoy every moment.

One summer morning I put them on the leash and a huge black bear walked around the truck as we exited the house. Hannah yipped, and big brother came to her rescue, standing up to the creature 10 times his size with growls and barks as Hannah hid behind me. I was glad I had a leash because I think that little dog would have taken the bear on to defend his little white pride and joy.

Gus was a protector, and there was no doubt he would have given his life for his family. He once chased a pair of wandering hunting dogs out of the yard on his stubby little legs, getting rolled over on his back when they turned on him. He wasn’t hurt, but I sure was proud of him. And again, I think he was defending Hannah.

In quieter moments, he loved to chase butterflies, birds, leaves — and their shadows — across the lawn. Winona and I would watch him and smile. He was having the time of his life in his little kingdom.

Gus loved nothing more than to take rides, watching the world go by and enjoying the cool wind on his face. His place was in the front seat beside me, with Hannah in the back. It took just a jingle of the keys, and he jumped into the vehicle with a big smile as if to say, “Let’s go!”

And we did. Many miles and countless memories of time spent together. I loved it as much as he did.

Being mostly corgi, Gus was a bit disadvantaged when we would get a deep snowfall. His little legs didn’t give him much clearance. Still, he trudged ahead, even on the mornings when about the only thing I could see of him was his little black nose.

Time continued to pass, and it is one of the most unfair things in the world. Our pets get old much faster than us.

Old age was not kind to Gus. Generally a corgi lives 11, maybe 12 years. He passed 12, then 13, 14, 15 and 16.

But time began to take a toll, with hearing loss and, while he wasn’t blind, reduced vision, liver failure and possible diabetes.

Gus lost his black eye markings and turned grey. He joints grew stiff, he slept a lot more and ate less … though he loved a tasty dog treat on any occasion and it was my honor and pleasure to supply them for my friend. Each night before bedtime I would give him a treat. He would eat it, and then come into my room where his water dish was, his collar tinkling on the dish as he drank. I fell asleep a few nights to that wonderful sound.

My God, I loved that old dog. And I let him know. When I would tell him he was a “good dog, such a good dog,” he would occasionally lick me on the nose. What a friend.

He loved to get new squeaky toys, and he seemed so proud to win our tug-o-wars in the kitchen. Of course Hannah would want to steal his toy, and he’d let her.

In recent years Gus began to have a lot of trouble getting up and down the front stairs. We even built a ramp for him.

He no longer jumped into the front seat when I jingled the car keys, I had to help him up. And his body language told us he was often in pain and not having a good time.

But every so often, there would be a spark and the old Gus would be there. Sadly, those times became less and less.

In the last year or so, Kitty, who he had loved for years, began to annoy him. He even bit her on occasion, and chased the other cats. His mood was confused, and he even snarled at us. It was like he had a form of dementia. Old Gus was fading away, and we knew time was short.

I took Gus and Hannah for a ride recently. When it was over, Hannah ran to the house. Gus didn’t want to get out. He snarled when I told him we were home, and I leaned over and whispered, “I know you don’t mean that.” He licked my nose, and I teared up. And then just the two of us went for a ride alone for another 45 minutes.

Winona made the gut-wrenching decision to put Gus out of his misery recently while I was in Wyoming. It was time. Adam came home to say goodbye.

Anybody who has loved and lost a dog knows the agony and depression. It is a pain that haunts you because everything reminds you of your friend. His favorite toy in the corner, his car seat blanket, his treats and the empty spot on the floor.

You added so much to our lives, Gus. We miss you, Hannah misses you and so does Kitty.

You reminded us to appreciate a sunny day, a butterfly and a toy. We will always love you. You were a good boy, Gus. You were such a good boy.

Thornley is the Spooner Advocate sports editor.