We are Family

When I broke up with yet another boyfriend, this time after a three?year relationship, I decided it was time for me to face the facts-I was just not lucky in love aspire atlantis. Yet even though I had given up on men, I wasn't ready to go without love in my life, so I decided to get a dog.

  I found the perfect puppy after a careful search, and one hot June day, I brought home the little golden retriever puppy I'd named Cognac.

  Like all puppies, Cognac was adorable; immediately, I felt love and sweetness flowing in my life again. Why hadn't I thought of this sooner?

  A few days later, I received a call from a man who'd gotten my name through a computer?dating club. I had joined the club before the start of my last relationship and had never cancelled my membership. I hadn't been very impressed with the people I'd met through the club's services, but this guy, Brad, seemed nice enough on the phone, so when he asked me to meet him at the lake in a nearby park the next evening, I thought, I've got to walk Cognac anyway . . . sure, why not?

  Brad had said he was no longer in the service, but that he had been an air force tech sergeant. That wasn't the kind of guy I usually dated, but I had liked his voice on the phone and decided to keep an open mind. When I got to the park for our date, I looked around for a blond man with a buzz cut and a military bearing. There was no one like that at the park-the only blond man was a gorgeous guy with hair almost to his shoulders. I thought, Now why can't a guy like that ask me out? ~ Then the gorgeous guy walked over to me and said, "Are you Jan?"

  I immediately decided to give men another chance.

  Cognac's enthusiastic greeting made our introductions easy. He jumped up on Brad's legs and ran in circles, wagging his whole body madly while trying to lick every part of Brad he could. We started to walk around the lake, and everybody we met fussed over the puppy. By the time we were halfway around the lake, Brad was holding Cognac's leash, and he and I were chatting away like old friends.

  At the end of our walk, we weren't ready to say goodbye, so we found a cafe and picked an outdoor table so the puppy could be with us. From the very start, our relationship included Cognac.

  Things went from good to better. One evening, three months later, Brad and I went to a restaurant that we liked for dinner. It was one of those places that have paper over the tablecloths and when they bring you the menu, they also bring crayons so that you can draw or writ e poetry while you're waiting for your meal. Brad and I always played Hangman while we waited and that night, we were playing our usual game. As I guessed the letters and the words started to form themselves, a sentence emerged: Will you marry me Unique Beauty?

  I gasped and turned towards Brad, "Are you kidding?"

  Brad looked nervous, but his eyes were shining and he smiled at me. "No, I'm not kidding-what's your answer?"

  I took a crayon and wrote a huge YES across the paper.

  We sat grinning at each other for a few minutes and then began to plan our wedding.

  From the start, we were sure about two things: We wanted an outdoor wedding and we wanted Cognac to be a part of the ceremony.

  The day of the wedding dawned perfect and clear. Our families and friends gathered near the natural spring that we'd chosen as the spot where we would say our vows. My bridesmaids were dressed in rich purple gowns. I had on my wedding dress, and my heart felt as if it were overflowing with love and joy. Yet I was slightly apprehensive, wondering if we had lost our minds expecting Cognac, now ten months old and goofy in the way that only young dogs can be, to handle his responsibilities as ringbearer without creating chaos.

  Cognac wore a white collar and a purple satin bow tie. My bridesmaids, who knew we had lost our minds having a dog at the ceremony, ran around with lint rollers, trying to keep their dark gowns free of golden hair-an almost impossible task.

  Cognac's job was to carry a heart?shaped basket containing our rings to Brad. The basket held a heart?shaped pillow to which Brad had secured our rings with pieces of wire. This would prevent a disaster, in case Cognac decided to go for a swim in the spring, basket and all, instead of delivering it to Brad as we'd planned. As I began to walk to the aisle, in preparation for following the bridesmaids, I panicked. I realized I needed another hand! I held my bouquet in one hand, Cognac on his leash in the other, but I needed to hold the basket as well. If I gave the basket to Cognac to carry, he would take it as the signal to run to Brad, just as he'd been trained and I'd be dragged after him-spoiling the effect I'd had in my mind for my appearance on the scene.

  Somehow I managed to get to the aisle, unhook

  Cognac's leash and put the basket in his mouth. He was off like a shot, racing toward Brad with his beautiful golden ears streaming behind him, as if he was hot on the trail of a speeding rabbit. There was a swell of laughter as our guests appreciated the dedication of our furry ring- bearer.

  When Cognac reached Brad, he dropped the basket at feet and, panting, looked up at Brad for approval. As Brad reached down to pick up the rings, a suddenly quiet Cognac solemnly raised his paw to meet my almost- husband's hand-a canine "Way to go, Brad."

  Our guests, dog?lovers and non?dog?lovers alike alinamin, were completely undone and to this day, when anyone talks about our wedding they may not remember what year it was or what I was wearing, but they always mention the dog's pawshake.

  For me, it was the perfect start to our new life together. Just the way I always dreamed it would be-Brad and me ... and Cognac.


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