• Lauren Burke

The Dogs of my Life

I really love dogs. There aren’t many things I can say about myself with as much certainty as I can say that I love dogs.

As a kid, all I ever wanted for Christmas or my birthday was a dog. I asked Santa every year for a dog, until one day he said yes, much to my parent’s surprise. Expecting a puppy in a hat box, lady in the tramp style, I unwrapped a book on Christmas morning, telling me that too many dogs had to be put down because everyone wanted a puppy. Santa wrote me to do my research and adopt a dog, so I did. In mid January 2002, we adopted Sugar.

Sugar was a 3 1/2 year old white lab, as sweet as could be. She was my best friend all through elementary school, through high school, and into college. She was 15 1/2 when we put her down, November 29, 2013, and a large part of me died with her that day.

There were other dogs along the way, my aunt Faith had a wonderful German Shepherd dog, my great aunt had two little terriers. My neighbors had golden retrievers and boxers, and my friends had a variety of other breeds. I loved every dog I met. Even dogs that didn’t really like people, they would like me. And I would love them.

Sugar, circa 2003

Throughout college, I babysat children and quickly became the dog sitter for those families, as well. There was one summer I was helping to raise a Golden Retriever puppy, Casper; would house sit for a family with a wonderful black Lab, Dewey; and would let out and play with another family’s dogs, Dexter and Bella, while the family was at work. My aunt got an Aussie puppy that summer, too, and my then-boyfriend had a big Malamute mix, as did his brother, so I spent a lot of time with those dogs, too. 2015 was probably one of the best summers of my life just because every day I got to be with dogs. And I was getting paid to do most of it!

Casper, the most precious Golden pup

After we put Sugar down, my parents adopted another female yellow lab named Katie. Rescued off the streets of Yorba Linda, clearly used for breeding (she even had scars from a c-section), unfixed and around 5 years old. Katie never fetched a ball, but she would force her head under your hand until you pet her, and then scoot forward so you could scratch her rear. She loved cuddles, and was almost as sweet as Sugar. Within a year of adopting Katie, she developed very aggressive breast cancer, and passed about six months later. Two dogs lost in two years.


My parents put Katie down the day after my 21st birthday, October 14, 2015. Three weeks after my grandmother had passed. I was waiting to hear back from Early Alert Canines, a nonprofit that trains service dogs to alert on changing blood sugar levels. I hadn’t heard anything from them in a while, so I wanted to follow up. I’d already had enough bad news, so this would either add to the badness, or help heal the pain and give me hope. Thankfully for my mental health, Thursday, October 15, 2015, was the day I found out I was getting a diabetes alert dog.

Getting involved with Early Alert Canines was a natural fit for me. It was a nonprofit dedicated to diabetes, which I had, and dogs, which are my number 1. Any time I can be surrounded by dogs is a good time. And when those dogs are perfect, well trained Labradors and Golden Retrievers? Even better!

In the beginning of the summer of 2016, just after I graduated from college, my parents decided to get a puppy. They didn’t want a dog with an unknown history, they wanted a puppy they could raise and know would live a long, healthy life. The soon adopted Maggie, a 4-month old puppy sold to an elderly couple as a service dog. Maggie wouldn’t make a good service dog, she was terrified of the old lady’s walker, and would try and attack the tennis balls on it. I call her Crazy Maggie, or just Crazy sometimes! She has the stamina of a freight train, and the prey drive of a hungry wolf. She will play fetch until her paws bleed, literally, and will be upset with you when you make her stop. She loves me because I love throwing the ball for her. She is a very happy dog, and just wants to play! She can hold two or three toys in her mouth at once, and throw them at you one at a time. She will have the rubber bowling pin in her mouth and a tennis ball, toss the tennis ball in the air, whack it with the bowling pin, and HIT YOU WITH THE BALL. No joke! This dog is impressive with her play drive.

August of 2016, I had team training at Early Alert Canines. I was placed with Ricki, a perfect, gentle yellow lab. She is very similar looking to Sugar, which made it hard. I really wanted a different dog, at least a boy, maybe even a black lab! But no, they placed me with the only yellow female in the program at the time. I can’t complain too much, she and I are a perfect fit, but still, it was hard for me to bond to her initially. Naturally I got over myself and fell madly in love with this dog. She is the ultimate cuddler, plays a little but never too much, is incredibly smart and very good at communicating with me. We have full conversations, people are always amazed at how well we understand each other. She alerts with a greater than 95% accuracy, and beats my CGM every time. She really is my perfect dog.

I moved back down to southern California in January of 2017, after being in Oakland for college. In February of 2017, my brother and his wife got Zoey, a Golden Retriever puppy. Zoey Bean was the cutest puppy, I have a major soft spot for Goldens. Whenever my brother and his wife would go out of town, I got to take the Bean. Zoey is very dumb, but so sweet, and so excited all of the time. When she sees you she cannot contain herself! Her tail wag radiates until her whole body is wiggling and wagging, and she is rubbing against you, so happy you came to see her! My sister-in-law loves to use the expression “no brains, no headaches,” because Zoey is so hard-headed. It’s so true with Zoey. She is 80% love and 20% excitement, making 100% wonderful dog.

Zoey, Maggie, Ricki.

In February of 2018, one of my best friends got an English Cream Golden Retriever named King. King is the most regal of boys, so handsome and glorious. King is a very special dog, he has more allergies than I do, which is really saying something. King loves to give hugs, and loves to love. He is very much a family dog, and likes to be in the middle of things. He lives with his momma and dad, my friend Eric, and Eric’s sister, so he is very much the baby of the family. He is dramatic, and very good at making a big deal of things, especially when someone leaves. But as soon as you come back, he wiggles almost as much as Zoey. King is my boy, he and Ricki have play dates almost every weekend when we are in Southern California.

King and Maggie, with Ricki off sniffing the hill in the background.

This is a story that will keep going as long as I’m alive. Dogs aren’t given enough time with us, so we have to make the most of every minute we are given together. Right now I have more dogs actively in my life than I have dogs I’ve lost, with Ricki being the oldest of my current pack. I’m glad she’s only 5, because I know, God willing, we have at least 7 more years together. She’s more lucky than most, because I get to take her everywhere. We have gone to North Carolina, Detroit, Minneapolis, Tucson, and all over California. She’s been to the beach on both coasts, she’s been to conferences, she’s been to classes in San Francisco. She’s been on planes and trains and busses and cars. She’s been to museums and bars, restaurants and wineries. She’s seen the San Francisco Giants and Golden State Warriors, and a minor league Bulls game in Durham. She’s been to countless Lemons races, and some NHRA drag races, and we have tickets to motocross in the new year. She goes with me to yoga and physical therapy, to the gym and sometimes to swing dance, when I know there’s a safe place for her to be while I’m dancing. I like to think that Ricki and I are living our best lives, and I really hope she thinks so too.

Ricki and Izzy are 5

Maggie and Spiffy are 3

Zoey is 2

King is 1

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For the past few decades, a person with diabetes’ measure of how they’ve been doing has been their hemoglobin A1c. Sometimes called HbA1c or just A1c, this test measures your averaged blood glucose ov

© 2020 Lauren Burke

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