For as long as I can remember, I wanted a dog – to play with, to protect me from danger and to make me feel better when I had a rough day. On my 5th birthday, my mom said, “If we can convince your father to get a puppy, Mrs. Pratt said she would save us one from her litter.” After three days of intense begging, my dad finally cracked.

We chose one of five tiny terrier mutt puppies, a little white ball of fluff with a black spot on her back. We named her Precious, and for the next 15 years, she was my best friend.

Precious and I had a special connection. When we watched Bills games together and they scored, I’d jump up and scream. That was her cue to jump up, bark her odd, high-pitched bark and wag her tail furiously. She had no clue what was going on, of course, but she knew I was happy, so she had all the reason in the world to be happy, too.

When Brett Hull scored his controversial overtime goal in Buffalo, I cried in the car all the way home. When I walked in the door and marched upstairs to my room, Precious followed. I flung myself on my bed and cried into my pillow. My friend did what she always did when I was sad; she snuggled her ball of fluff underneath my fleece Sabres blanket and licked my arm as if to tell me, “It’s OK. He’s a cheater anyway.”

Although Precious always meant well, she knew when I was disappointed in her. When she bounded up the porch steps to bring me a “present” in the form of a beautiful, bright red cardinal and saw my look of displeasure, she dropped the dead bird, put her head down, padded dejectedly to her laundry basket bed and lay down on her red checkered blanket. Of course, I felt bad too, so I went over to her and told her, “Next time make sure it’s not a cardinal.”

One day in late 2007, my mother and I noticed a little bump on her back right next to her black spot. We assumed that it was something that would go away in time. But it didn’t. It grew bigger, and she developed a weird-sounding, dry cough.

Always a healthy dog, Precious had barely set a paw in a vet’s office; we couldn’t afford the expense. But now she stayed in her laundry basket bed coughing away, not wanting to eat, chase birds or hang out with me in my room. We decided we had to take her in.

After what seemed like hours, the emergency room doctor gave us the news, “Precious has cancer, and it has spread through her whole body.” The bump was not harmless after all. My heart shrank in sadness as I asked, “Is there anything we can do?” Her answer changed me and my view of vets forever: “If we had caught it earlier, she could have gone through some treatment and, possibly, beaten the cancer, but it’s far too late now.”

I knew I had to say goodbye to my best friend. I told her how sorry I was and kissed her head a hundred times before I had the courage to call the vet to take her away.

Now I’m on my own with a dog named Cooper. I take him and my iguana Zigmond to the vet every other month and keep up to date with all of their shots. Some say I’m nuts for paying all that money for my pets’ vet visits. I tell them: It was my ignorance and stubbornness that caused Precious to suffer. I can’t go back and change that. But I can honor her life by never letting it happen again.