GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) – This morning, before I left for work, I picked up Shelby, our longtime family dog, held her to my chest and said, “When you get to heaven, make sure you play with all those children. They need you.”

I said a few other similar sentiments, hugged her frail and failing body very tight, handed her off and wiped the tears. It was the last conversation I would have with her. She was laid to rest a few hours later.

Shelby the Schnoodle as captured in a painting by Jeanne Kemper.

Shelby was a Schnoodle – half poodle, half schnauzer – who was approaching 18 years old. She had been wandering around blindly for months now, leading the life of dementia and lost senses but dispensing her constant stream of affection.

She recently had stopped eating and had dwindled to five or so pounds. You felt her skin and her bones and her warm licks. There wasn’t much left of her, but she was all heart. Her heart was huge.

You have to understand that I’m not good at this, that I don’t see relationships with pets like a lot of you. I grew up on a farm, where the animals were often antagonists and the source of frustration. Only a few got inside me.

There was Socks, the black-and-white cat I raised from a kitten until the morning on my way to school when I found her lying nearly dead on the country road beside our house. I moved her to a comfortable place, and my dad buried her after school that day.

There was Taffy the mixed-breed mutt who wandered up one day and remained at a neighbor’s house when I went off to college and my parents moved off the farm. He would be no city dog.

There had been numerous dogs and cats around. Some new stray always was being “dropped” near the house where three little boys live. They came and went. A hound named Ricky loved to ride in cars, and he hung around until someone stopped on the road one day and asked him to hop in while he was following my brother on the tractor and wagon to the field.

Sox had more kittens than I could count, and she would have them all over the house and yard and out buildings. My mom once found a few under her bed. We didn’t know how she got inside.

My grandfather (who lived just up the road) had hunting dogs and a shepherd dog, both of which he contained from “interacting” with the mongrels.

But that was about it for my animal relationships. I was too busy for them. They definitely were supposed to live outside and to take care of themselves.

But Shelby was different. She slept in a kennel, indoors, and she didn’t chew on stuff or destroy anything except squeaky toys. She just sort of wormed her way past my barriers and got close. There was nothing about her not to like – well, except for accidents.

She was never very large, but she always had big energy. She was supposed to be hypoallergenic and not shed. I can’t say much about the allergies, but she flat could turn black pants nearly white with her hair. She might lick you to death, though.

There have been other pets – more dogs, cats, horses, a rabbit and even a Guinea pig – but Shelby remained, outlasting all but a few. We thought a few years ago that Shelby wasn’t going to be around much longer. How many dogs get past 15, after all? But she hung in there, despite congestive heart disease and some sort of growth on her abdomen. The docs said she had the bloodwork of a puppy.

When we thought she was about to pass, a cousin of mine who has remarkable artistic talents heard about her and conspired to paint an oil portrait that arrived as a surprise in the mail and is mounted on the wall in a place of reverence. Shelby may have gone to rest, but her presence remains.

A couple of years after Shelby’s arrival, she was joined by her half-sister, a robust bundle of energy named Scout. You can only imagine how Scout, the tomboy, and Shelby, the lady, would wrestle around on the floor in sisterly love.

But Scout got sick, and in December 2012, she, too, had to go to sleep. Scout was buried under an apple tree in the backyard of a former family farm.

She had taken sick quickly, dead and gone in a week. It was the same week that 20 elementary school students were murdered by a deranged gunman at Sandy Hook, Connecticut. At the time, I wrote that God needed Scout as a new playmate for those children.

Now there are 17 children from Uvalde, Texas, lost to yet another idiot with an assault rifle, and through that tragedy, I take small solace: God again needed a new playmate in heaven, and Shelby the Schnoodle has arrived.