It was on a lazy walk through a park in Dayton, Nevada, that we first realized there was something different about our dog. We had reached the baseball diamond, walked around the backstop, and proceeded toward a tree-lined path ahead. Our two younger pups eagerly trotted at our side, but the eldest, Ponce de Leon, had suddenly disappeared. “Where did that big lug of a mutt go now?” I wondered. I detected a soft sound, one of nervous embarrassment, a mix between a yelp and a burp. I looked up to find my 115-pound favorite buddy on top of the backstop fence, a bit confused on the best method to descend.

“Poncer Dog,” as I affectionately called him, was the first pup Sherry and I invested in after moving to Nevada. He was a real steal at five bucks, a closeout bargain on the day before the little corner store switched from a pet shop to a takeout pizza place. The owner said the dog had been hiding under an abandoned truck next to the junkyard. He was a fuzzy, speckled puppy, with tiny legs that didn’t fit his barrel-sized body, a tail that could compete with an airplane propeller and a smile that was always tilted.

I fell in love with him immediately, in part because he was the only dog left in a store that had already installed pizza ovens. His reckless and feisty behavior was evident from Day One. These same qualities also hid, for a good month or so, his shortage of canine common sense. Of all the dogs that have followed us home over the last 25 years, not one could compete with Poncer for his utter lack of interest in learning something…anything.

For Ponce de Leon, every experience was a new adventure. He was fiercely, sometimes foolishly, loyal to his younger brothers and they, in turn, never allowed Ponce de Leon to get too far out of sight. It was as if a family contract had been pawed, sealed and delivered for a lifetime of joyous mischief.

Poncer did have one favorite trick he played with gusto. With a body type that resembled a fuzzy bowling ball with ears, he would stare at us from 100 yards out, put his cocked head to the grass and then slowly start toward us, picking up speed, as if our legs were the four remaining pins for a spare in the tenth frame. No way could Sherry and I escape the charging ball. It was best to hit the deck and wait for Poncer’s triumphant licks.

There was never a more loving and trusting dog than Ponce de Leon. It was in November, a month before the years caught up with our favorite pal, that he went missing and none of our pack could find where he was hiding. After an hour of searching our wintery property, we spotted him standing in a hole full of leaves and brush, a mere twenty yards from the house. He was half-submerged in water, unable to pull himself out on arthritic legs. But he still had that smile on his face, like he had just fooled us once again and he knew, deep down, that we would never quit looking for him because he was our Poncer Dog.

It took both Sherry and me to pull him from his hiding spot and carry him back to a heated garage and warm towels. The other pups joined us, and there was such a feeling of love in that space. I hope each of you has the opportunity to recognize and experience such moments.