A tearful farewell to Mia, my best friend and greatest teammate

I was a lost soul for most of my life.

I didn't own a dog.

Much of it was circumstantial. My dad hated pets, and nobody in the household was going to overrule him. When I got older and moved out, I had some ups and downs in my personal life and mostly lived in apartments.

Finally, I settled down and we moved into a large home. Time to get a big dog. I didn't want one of those little yappy ones.

We connected with Florida Boxer Rescue and went to see a lady getting a divorce who was giving up her 2-year-old Boxer because her son wasn't walking her every day, and that was unfair to the dog.

Moments after I walked through the door, Mia jumped on my shoulders — something she had not done before with anyone else — as if to say 'pick me.'

It was love at first dog slobber.

We became quite the pair. I took her to my coed flag football games, where she would just sit there, watching patiently on the sidelines while I played — all the while accepting loving scratches from teammates and foes alike.

With a mascot in place, I named our team "the Big Dawgs," and we became a pretty formidable combination. I was able to recruit some very talented athletes into the mix. Ty Law: formerly of the Orlando Predators. Steve Hogan, now the CEO of Florida Citrus Sports. Doc Rivers asked to sign up after he was fired by the Orlando Magic in 2003.

We won a title that year, before Doc left to chase more significant victories as coach of the Boston Celtics.

Mia and I stayed behind, playing our games. She knew it was time to play "exciting football" when I started to get gear in order. She would start chasing me around the house frantically, making sure I didn't leave her behind.

One night, a ref botched a pass interference call when someone clobbered one of our receivers. I was hurt and on the sidelines, hanging with Mia. In a stupid fit of frustration, I charged onto the field — holding onto Mia's leash — to argue the call.

We both got tossed from the game. Mia and I took the walk to shame back to the car. It wasn't one of my proudest moments.

I told that story to Doc, who shot back right away: "You know George, I've been kicked out of a lot of games, but never with a dog."

There's a bunch more stories. I could ramble on and on and reminisce about every smile she put on my face.

But there's a memory that hard to shake now. It's been almost a year now since we had to say goodbye. Now pushing 10, Mia had a seizure on Dec 29, then another round of seizures the next day that were too much to overcome.

A neighbor and I had to carry her in a bedspread to the car, for her final ride. She would not be looking out the window, little Boxer stump wagging, with and that one crooked ear dangling from her right side -- the distinctive mark of Mia.

The emergency vet confirmed my suspicions when he walked into the waiting room and gave me the look all pet owners dread. She was in a coma, her breathing labored.

I approached her, knowing what I had to do. It became even clearer when I noticed the blood on her tongue: She had bit herself while having one of the seizures.

I leaned over, tears caressing my face, and told her how much we loved her.

I went home with her collar and a lifetime of memories that have enriched me in so many ways.

I am a better man because of her. Pets bring out the best in you because they teach you to love unconditionally. It's always a good day through their eyes. And Mia made that abundantly clear every day when she zigged and zagged to welcome me back home. We would do circles around the couch. I jokingly called it the "exciting parade."

There is a lot less excitement in the house these days. The other Boxer, Marvin, was a bit lost without her at first, but like us, he has learned to move on, day by day.

I fear this Christmas will not be terribly pleasant, because it will bring back all those dark memories of her final days.

The sadness is profound because the joy was profound.

The 1938 AKC Boxer breed standard notes this about the Boxer: "He is the soul of honesty and loyalty, and is never false or treacherous even in his old age."

So true. Mia was the consummate teammate, loyal to her last breath. Others may come along, and we'll still laugh and have good times, but there will only be one Mia.

Good night, sweet girl.

Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego or e-mail him at gdiaz@orlandosentinel.com He is a regular contributor on the Joel Greenberg Show weekdays 4-6pm on 810 AM Yahoo! Sports Radio Orlando.

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