David Michael Smith
Culture: Tributes
Paw Prints
Erin's Journey

I didn’t know much about raising a puppy, but my eagerness to learn was undeniable. I wanted to raise a true companion, and to give the pup all the experiences the world had to offer. My furry pal would go everywhere with me but first I had to find just the right dog.

  When I went to look at a litter of Springer Spaniel puppies, Erin cried out to me. All of the puppies were yelping and yearning for my attention, but I kept noticing one little bundle of liver and white fur. She went home with me that day, and what a heavenly match it proved to be.   The first few years of Erin’s life were typical of any dog’s life: playing fetch, wrestling with canine pals, lounging in the sun and, of course, chasing squirrels. What wasn’t quite typical, however, was Erin’s calm center and ability to touch hearts.   An opportunity to work in Germany came my way and since I refused to leave her behind, Erin was onboard that flight. Our lives would change forever, and living in Europe was a dream come true. For 18 months, Erin was my constant companion and she sniffed her way across a dozen countries.   She took an Amsterdam canal boat tour, frolicked in the Swiss Alps, walked the footsteps of Alexander the Great in Greece, strolled the Heidelberg Christmas market, and wandered the World War I battlefields of Verdun, France. If dogs carried passports, hers would have needed extra pages.   Erin gained access to luxury hotels, restaurants, cafes and department stores, bowling alleys, supermarkets, trains, buses, cable cars ... she took full advantage of the access granted to dogs in Europe. If a dog was permitted indoors, Erin could be found by my side.   During her European tour, Erin melted hearts everywhere she went. Whether it was a street performer in Amsterdam, French hotel innkeeper, Croatian border guard or the multitude of American soldiers in Kosovo, they all gravitated toward her and wanted to be her friend.   When my job ended, so did Erin’s adventures in Western Europe. There would be no more chasing deer in the Black Forest, munching on pancakes in an Austrian café or investigating the many Rhine River vineyards. But that turned out to be just fine, because the best was yet to come.   Back in the United States, we returned to our hometown of Savannah, Ga. Erin was 5-years-old when I realized she would make a wonderful therapy dog. Obedient and possessed of an extraordinarily even temperament, friendly demeanor and a loving, comforting nature, Erin had all the traits of a successful service animal. The certification tests posed little challenge and Erin’s stint as a therapy dog was underway.   Hospice work was Erin’s first job. She visited the terminally ill, adults and children alike. She brought countless smiles to the suffering, comforted grieving family members as they cried, and at times was even present when patients passed away. At these times, she provided a welcome distraction to all present.   Over the years, Erin’s visits meant so much to the patients and their families. They may have been physically afflicted or depressed, but she raised their spirits, touched their hearts and gave them a moment of happiness in even the worst situations. She did her job as a therapy dog incredibly well.   Children absolutely loved Erin and the feeling was mutual. She was always available for a hug and helped them learn the gentle way to approach a dog. Kids enjoyed rubbing her long drooping ears and petting her large freckled feet. Erin never minded this attention and always responded with a broad smile, big tail-wag and kisses of her own.   Erin had an uncanny ability to disarm most people who encountered her. Gazing into her soulful, gentle eyes, even people who might not be that comfortable with dogs fell in love. Rare was the person who did not feel a connection and a tug on the heart strings.   Among those swayed by her charm were leaders of a major Savannah church, who permitted Erin to join the congregation for the morning service. She'd lie on the floor beside my feet, and often took a nap. The folks who went to church with Erin didn’t mind. They knew she had already earned her angel wings and thus could skip the sermon.   Erin’s church duties expanded with time as she became a door greeter, and she even had a short stint working with the children’s worship program. It soon became apparent, however, that the kids were more interested in the lovable dog than the lesson plans, so that was it for the children’s program. But that was okay, because the next phase of Erin’s career as dog ambassador was about to begin.   The drama department approached me with the idea of letting her appear on stage in a production of The Miracle Worker. They had heard about Erin through the grapevine, contacted me and arranged an audition. She won the role of Belle, the Keller family dog, and this was very exciting for her.   I had some concerns about how she would do, but she did exactly what was required in her three scenes, and the play was a success. After each performance, when the cast lined up to greet the audience, Erin was right there alongside her costars. Hundreds of people filed by to pet her or pay a compliment. It was a proud moment for Erin and myself.   On August 16, my longtime companion and faithful friend, Erin, passed away from complications of diabetes after a brave fight. Many friends and family gathered around me, and my Facebook page was covered with wishes for comfort. The outpouring of love and affection was amazing!   So many people loved and cared for Erin, but what was really extraordinary was how much she loved everyone. She never met a stranger, everybody was a friend, and that’s what really separated her from the pack. In Erin’s wake are many hearts with her paw print upon them. She touched and moved people until her last moments on earth as the cremation personnel remarked upon her beauty and sweet soul.   Savannah’s Historic District just isn’t the same without Erin. She could be spotted having a cold bowl of water at Gallery Espresso, napping on the well-worn heart pine floor at E. Shaver bookstore, dining on an occasional snack at Zunzi’s and checking out the tourists and SCAD students at Parker’s Market. She loved to lounge near her human friends hoping for an occasional biscuit or kind word.   I'm still struggling to come to terms with Erin being gone, but I’m so proud of Erin’s achievements—world traveler, therapy dog, church attendee and stage performer—but I take the most pride in what kind of dog she was inside. It’s hard to imagine a living creature with more affection, loyalty, and passion for life than Erin.   Erin was my best friend for nearly 12 years, and her passing is a devastating loss. The pain and sorrow are often beyond belief but someday I'll find a puppy and my angel dog Erin will be alongside, reminding me of the way to train the youngster. She was an inspiration to so many and will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, my beloved Erin!!