Sarah Smiley: Tribute to a Four-Legged Military Dependent

Today I'd like to pay tribute to a true military trooper-my dog, Tanner. Tanner passed away last week at twelve-years old. A military dependent of the four-legged variety, Tanner traveled to more places than many humans. She'd been to the Grand Canyon, lived in San Diego, and once spent a weekend in Vegas. Each time we got orders, Tanner was right there, piled in the car and ready to make the move.

But she wasn't always happy about it. Tanner was usually the last one in the family to be converted. Long after we had changed our address and gotten new driver's licenses, Tanner would finally agree to change the contact information on her I.D tags. (Dustin has this absurd theory that it was really me who didn't want to change her tags and that Tanner really didn't have an opinion about such things.)

In the year 2000, I had a heck of a time getting Tanner to admit she was indeed a Floridian, not a Californian anymore. For Dustin it was reminiscent of the way Tanner wanted to hold on to her maiden name (Rutherford) before finally giving in to "Smiley." Tanner was quite fond of routine and having her doggie paws planted firmly on the ground. Eventually, however, as all dependents must, she adjusted.

I got Tanner when I was 16-years old. She was a gift from my parents after 15 years of me using the standard buy-me-a-puppy selling tactics, "I will walk her and bathe her every single day!"

My parents resisted bravely for many years. Once I became a teenager, however, and started asking for riskier things such as pierced ears and a new car, they decided a puppy wasn't such a big deal after all.

So Dad told me I could get a dog if I read everything there is to know about canine care. Maybe he thought this was a deterrent, but he could not deny me a pet after I read every single book on the subject. When Tanner was only a few months old, I even took her to obedience school. She graduated top in her class and won a blue ribbon. Dad was so proud, he signed her up for Higher Education (Obedience Class #2) the next day.

But Tanner really did go to college two years later, when she followed me to Samford University, and lived with me there. After graduating, she and I married Dustin, but Tanner didn't become a bonafide, ID-toting Smiley until much later.

In the years that followed, Tanner saw me through two deployments, the births of Ford and Owen, two bouts of Depression, and many, many new addresses. We were so bonded, in fact, Dustin claims I express my feelings through Tanner: "Tanner wishes we didn't have to move." "Tanner doesn't want to change her ID tags yet." "Tanner is hungry for cheesecake."

Last Wednesday, I came home to find Tanner lying on the floor, struggling to breathe. I sat with her for nearly an hour, stroking her back. My children cried. Finally, without moving her head, Tanner turned her eyes toward me, and with one loving-yet tired-arc of her eyebrow I knew what she was saying: "You're going to be OK. It's my time to go now."

She was put to sleep shortly after.

I said my goodbyes, but couldn't leave the vet's office. How could I leave Tanner behind? How could I leave her knowing we will someday get new orders and make another move...without her?

The vet suggested I get a marker to place in our yard as a remembrance. I looked at him wet eyes and said, "We're a military family." That was enough. He nodded with understanding. Tanner has found her final address, and I can not be with her.

I still know what she's thinking though: She's sad she won't see my boys grow up. She wishes she could be lying at my feet as I type this. She doesn't want her new, permanent ID tags just yet. She's holding out.

You can rest now, Tanner Girl. I'll be OK. And you will always have a place at my address…where ever that may be.