Fort Jackson, S.C. -- I was shocked how deeply it hurt me. But I guess losing a relationship after nine years will do that to you.

Monday night, I lost my dog.

I got Taz from a "foster" home when he was 5, though the rescue group from which I adopted him advertised him as being around 3. The gray hairs that were already starting to show indicated otherwise.

When I decided to get a dog, I did months of research beforehand. I needed a small dog that would require minimal maintenance to fit my apartment living. I passed on the pug and the Jack Russel Terrier before settling on the miniature pinscher. At a weight that ranged from 9 to 10 pounds, Taz has always been a pit bull in a Min Pin's body.

He got me through grad school, my husband's officer basic course, wedding planning, the months I spent waiting to join my husband at his first duty station in Germany and through a deployment. While I may have adopted Taz from a so-called rescue group -- a group that takes in animals, many of whom have been abandoned or abused -- it seems that he, in fact, rescued me.

I knew nothing about Taz past when I signed his adoption papers. And he, in turn, knew nothing of mine. I remember speaking with a Soldier once about how good it felt to have a dog because his dog didn't care about how messed up he might be. I know exactly what he meant.

Maybe that's why I found myself pacing in front of my window at 10 p.m. that night, thinking that he would miraculously show up at the door. Or why I kept going from room to room, looking under beds, in closets, and even in my son's toy box, in case he'd somehow got trapped and fallen asleep there.

Taz, like me, has his quirks. He can only sleep burrowed inside of a pillowcase or blanket. He tends to bark non-stop during thunderstorms. His back is bent from an injury the vet thinks healed incorrectly. He doesn't like to play. And for a 10-pound dog, his footsteps are exceptionally loud. And, although I don't usually tell people this, he actually failed an obedience course.

But when I lay on the couch for a nap, he tucks himself between my knees and naps right along with me. He tolerates it when my son chases him around our living room, even though I know he doesn't like it.

As a person who first owned a pet, then got a husband and later, had a child, I know that the pets-are-like-children comparisons aren't accurate. Having a pet is nothing like having a child. Because pets have their own unique spot carved into our hearts. And that's the spot that has me periodically walking outside, listening for this telltale bark. And that's the same spot that broke when I didn't hear it.

So Tuesday, after making all the required phone calls -- the microchip company, the veterinarian's office and the rescue group from which I'd adopted him -- I headed home from work to make a batch of flyers to post in the neighborhood. But as the sky darkened, I decided to hop on my bike and try one last time to find him. As the rain started to fall, I headed into a nearby cul-de-sac and there he was, just four or five houses down.

He'd lost his collar, and he was thirsty, but otherwise seemed fine. Where he was that 24 hours, I'll never know. But what I did know is that night -- and many nights to
come -- he would be safe with us, sleeping soundly inside of his blanket.

Editor's note: Crystal Lewis Brown is a military spouse of six years and editor of the Leader.