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Regular readers of this Journal know that our next-door neighbors, Mike and Annamarie, are like a brother and sister to my wife and me.

And they do lots of charity work.

One of the charities that they work for is a local greyhound adoption organization.

Over the years, they’ve adopted several retired racing greyhounds, and fostered many more.

I met Conan — a white greyhound with tan markings — a few months ago, when he came to live at Mike and Annamarie’s house as a foster dog.

That meant that it was their job to love him and care for him until he found his “forever home.”

When I first met Conan, he hadn’t been retired from the dog racing track for very long.

So he wasn’t used to life outside of the track’s kennels.

And, like many fresh retirees, he had never seen anything off of the track, so he was afraid of everything.

When we took him for walks, he would cower at the sight of tall trees; tuck in his tail and tremble every time a car drove past us or a bird flew by; and skitter away several feet when Annamarie would open or close their garage door at the beginning and end of our walks.

I don’t know what happened in his life to make it so, but Conan was also afraid of men.

So, although he trusted Annamarie, it was obvious that he was wary of me.

Even when I went next door to feed him, he would make a wide circle around me, to try to avoid getting too close to me.

But we all gave Conan lots of love.

And, a week or so after they got him, when Mike and Annamarie went out of town for a few days, I took care of all of their dogs — but I especially spent a lot of time giving Conan a lot of extra love and attention.

I would gently coax him to come closer to me, and then I’d slowly approach him until I was close enough to pet him.

Then I would crouch down to his level, reach around him from the side and hug him while I rubbed his chest and belly.

And I would whisper in his ear and tell him that he was a very, very good boy.

And that, now that he was retired, he had nothing to worry about — everything is going to be all…. right.

He had a lot of people who loved him and were going to take care of him.

Over those few days, I discovered that although he was kind of shy, he was actually a very trusting, very loving dog, with a very gentle personality.

And by the end of those few days, Conan was a whole new dog.

Not only was he no longer wary of men, he would actually dance around in circles with happiness and wag his tail like crazy whenever he saw me.

And, like many greyhounds like to do, when I was walking around or just standing, he would quietly approach me and stand next to me, slightly leaning on my leg.

And when I was crouched or kneeling down, petting one of the other dogs who was laying down, he would tuck his head under my petting arm to put his face close to mine.

And I don’t think he ever did this to anyone else, but when I would look him in the eyes and calmly assure him that he was a very, very good boy, while I reached down and gently rubbed his chest, he would gently give me 3-5 kisses on the face almost every time.

We were all very happy to see that, within just a few short weeks of living in the loving, nurturing home next door, Conan completely transformed from being a “scaredy dog” into being a brave boy with a happy heart, who didn’t even flinch at the sound of the garage door anymore.

I looked forward to seeing him every chance I could. In fact, several times, I told Mike and Annamarie that, if my wife and I were able to have a greyhound in our house, Conan would be the one we would want.

One day, Annamarie noticed that Conan’s right-front leg appeared to be swollen.

She took him to the vet, who determined that he had probably either gotten bitten by some kind of spider or bug, or had banged his leg against something in the back yard while he was running around with the other dogs.

We were glad that, after a few days of treatment, the swelling went down.

But a few days later, Conan’s leg swelled back up again.

And he developed bruises all up and down that leg.

And didn’t want to use it.

And he began to lose a lot of weight and was obviously in pain.

So he was back to the vet again, with all of us hoping against all reason that he didn’t have cancer.

The vet reassured Annamarie that it wasn’t cancer &#8212 it was vasculitis — an inflammation of the blood vessels.

So they treated that.

And his leg swelling went down.

But then it swelled up again.

And he kept losing weight.

So he went back to the vet.

A blood test confirmed that he had Lyme’s disease along with vasculitis.

Treatment for the two conditions involved both a steroid and an antibiotic.

Unfortunately, one or the other made him nauseated, so he threw up his food, often several hours after he had eaten.

And he continued to lose weight.

And he was still in pain.

My wife and I had Thanksgiving dinner next door this year, and while visiting with our good friends, we each spent a lot of time comforting Conan, whose pain came in cycles that caused his whole body to tremble — while, in between the cycles, he seemed just fine.

So, the next day, he went back to the vet again.

And they decided to keep him for an entire week of intraveneous steroid, antibiotic, pain and anti-nausea medicines.

Annamarie drove to the vet’s office every day, to give him love and to take him for short walks.

And I would call every night, to get “a Conan update.”

As the week went on, Conan’s leg got better, he began to eat on his own, and he became happy enough to wag his tail each time he saw Annamarie.

But, although he was able to eat a couple of cans of dog food at a time without throwing up, he continued to lose weight.

Then, finally, yesterday afternoon, weighing less than ever, he was ready to come home from his week at the vet’s.

Annamarie was very happy to drive him home in her car — even though he nervously pooped all over the back seat on the way.

And we all celebrated the fact that he was finally back home where he belonged.

Last night, Annamarie called to ask me if I would let all of the dogs out when I got home from work this afternoon, so I looked forward to seeing Conan again, and welcoming him home.

But, this morning, she called my work and left a message, saying that she was already home, so she wouldn’t need me to let them out after all.

As it got close to dark tonight, I waited for Annamarie to call to ask me to help her walk Conan and the other 3 dogs, since Mike is out of town.

But instead, a little while ago, she called to tell me that, during the night last night — just a few hours after he had gotten home from the vet — Conan suddenly began to cough up blood.

So she made some emergency phone calls, and the first thing this morning, she took him back to the vet.

A chest X-ray showed that he had lung cancer — cancer that had completely developed in the few weeks since his last chest X-ray in October.

So, about 10:30 this morning, they put Conan to sleep.

Annamarie was there to help him feel loved until the very end.

And tonight, we’re all mourning the tremendous loss of a very, very good — and very, very loved — boy.

Who found his forever home.

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