Watching George H.W. Bush’s service dog Sully this week has reminded me of what special creatures dogs are.

I’ve always been a dog lover. I had three different dogs growing up. One in particular was very special to me. He lived to be 12 years old. The other two I remember, but as I was so young when we had them, my memories of them are sketchy.

There’s one thing about Poncho that always sticks with me, and Sully’s searching face this week reminded me of it.

I don’t ever recall Poncho making his way into my parents’ room. He would often sneak upstairs at night and sleep in bed with my brother or my sister (he wasn’t supposed to be on the furniture), but he would never go in that room.

That all changed after my mom died. The first time I remember noticing it, he had disappeared for several hours. We finally found him, stuck under my parents’ bed. He had managed to wiggle his way under there, but he was unable to make his way out. We had to lift the bed slightly to free him.

This happened on several more occasions over the year or two we lived in that same house after Mom’s passing. I firmly believe he knew something had changed, and it wasn’t quite right. He was searching for one of his people and couldn’t find her.

He was a very comforting dog. He could always tell when I was upset and would simply sit next to me while we leaned on each other, whether it be trouble with friends, boy trouble or just a rough day. He was a good dog, and I was deeply saddened when his time in our world came to an end.

I see many similar traits in my dog Stark. He doesn’t seem to like to be apart from me. He will follow me into the bathroom as I get ready for work. If I have the bedroom door closed, he waits outside and paws at the door until he is let in. When we got our new mattress, we tried to say, “No more dog on the bed.” That didn’t work out. He would sneak up there to lay with me after I fell asleep the nights Jason is at work. When Jason’s not at work, Stark lays at the side of the bed on his pillow, within arm’s reach.

He’s protective, too. This is one way he will choose another over me. When I roughhouse with Colin, or Logan does, Stark will jump and bark, protecting Colin. If Colin winds up on the ground during playtime, Stark will stand over him so that no one will get to him.

Felix, our cat, is protective of Colin, too. She sleeps with him every night, watching over him. I often go into Colin’s room after lights out, or even in the middle of the night if I can’t sleep, to check on him and give him kisses. She’s always there at her post. As I lean in, she raises her head, checks me out, sees I’m OK, and rests her head again.

My experiences with my pets have taught me many things, one of them being they’re not just animals. They’re part of the family. When something’s not right, they know, and they show it in their own way. We’re theirs just as much as they’re ours.

Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's magazine editor, leading production of "Ottumwa Life," the award-winning "Business People" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.