Local dispatch: We attach to pets, whether heroic or everyday kind

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I could not help but cry as I watched the local evening news, and the next morning's Post-Gazette hit me hard as well.

Rocco, the K-9 police officer, had died. For nearly two days I had followed news updates on his condition. He was stabbed while in the line of duty. Rocco was protecting his fellow officers. He is a true hero.

I did not know Rocco, nor do I know his partner, Officer Philip Lerza, but my heart felt broken. As the newspaper stated, "Officer Lerza lost a member of his family."

I can perhaps relate a little to the Lerza family's loss. My husband, Don, and I have lost five dear, furry members of our family. We loved all of them and we still miss them dearly.

Each one of our pets had its own personality. Our dogs, Pepper Rose and Bruce, were as different as night and day, yet they became friends and lived in relative harmony together.

Pepper Rose was easygoing, gentle and sweet. She was pretty much the perfect dog. Our dear Bruce -- oh, how he kept us on our toes. Bruce could be a little aggressive with folks he did not know.

It's heartwarming, though, as I look back to when my mom became ill and moved in with us until her death. For several months relatives and friends visited, many of whom Bruce did not know. Bruce was always close to my mom, almost like her protector. Perhaps he sensed something or perhaps he had a job to do, but he was always on his good behavior. Bruce was with us for 17 interesting and lively years.

Augie, Lily and Simon Luke were our precious kitties. Lily (a male) was a stray, or so we think. He was lurking around our backyard way too much, so Don felt that it was time to make him a part of our family, and I happily agreed. Lily was gentle and easygoing and such a joy to have in our home.

Augie was a rescue kitty. He was beautiful. Sadly, our time with him was too short -- he was hit by a car. After Augie's death, Don and I vowed to never again let our cats go outdoors.

Fast forward a few years to the arrival of the beautiful kitten we named Simon Luke. Simon was a hoot, always making us laugh -- that is, when we were not exclaiming "No, Simon!" to something he should not have been doing. We enjoyed Simon and his antics for nine years, but how we wish it were longer.

Last spring Simon Luke became very ill very fast. For a couple of weeks we took him back and forth to the doctor, and he was treated with medication. When he became too ill, we knew that is was time to "let go" and to think only of Simon. We were with him till the end, just as we were with Pepper Rose, Bruce and Lily. It is very hard, but being with them feels right for us.

When Simon Luke died in May, we were without a pet for the first time in 30 years. Don and I agreed, "No more pets." The loss is too difficult. But after a couple of weeks we talked about how quiet it was in our home -- no pitter patter of four little feet, no laughing at the comedic things cats and dogs often do, and even the frequent shouts of "No!" were missed.

I realized that perhaps I was being selfish. We were thinking of how difficult our loss was and not thinking about all the dogs and cats that are in desperate need of a good home. That is when our hearts opened back up to adopting a kitten that needed a loving home. Soon Don and I were visiting a shelter.

Eva is now the new kitty in our home. She, just like the five pets before her, has stolen our hearts. She is adorable, funny, active and, yes, she hears her share of "No, Eva!" Life is now back to normal.

To Officer Lerza and the police force, I am so sorry for your loss. Rocco will be remembered as a loyal K-9 police officer and a beloved member of his partner's family.

To all who have loved and lost a pet, you, too, truly understand.

Lori Liptak-Downey of Turtle Creek, a former insurance underwriter now working as a nanny, can be reached at downe109@verizon.net

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