It’s dark out, and it’s the Florida type of freezing. Kora and I make our way outside the apartment complex because she needs her exercise and I need my tiny apartment to remain in one piece. Every morning is just like this, covering myself in an annoying amount of sweatshirts and at least three pairs of leggings to take Kora out in the tiny strip of grass behind my decrepit building before the sun has even risen to play fetch.


She’s still technically a puppy, approaching her teenage years, so her freedom is limited to a 50-foot rope attached to an old plastic Dunkin’ Donuts coffee can. I keep it between my ankles in case any squirrels decide to try their paw at becoming nocturnal. Usually, Kora will bumble over to where I'm standing before plopping into a sit (albeit sloppy) and wait for me to throw the ball, taking off in a sprint to chase after it in a way that makes me think she might believe it can outrun her.


She comes, she sits, I throw the ball, and she takes off. However this time she doesn’t come back to me and wait for the next pitch. Kora blows right past me as if I'm not even there. I quickly bend over, grab the coffee can, and wait to be ripped off of my feet. However, when I whirl around to call her name I notice she is standing about eight feet away from me, completely still. Her posture is tense and her hair is standing up, not the body language you want to see when all you have to hold on to is what now feels like a scrap of plastic. Kora gives me a single glance before a slow rumble fills the space around us.


That’s when I see him. At the edge of the building, tucked around the corner, is a man. He’s trying his best to stay in the shadow of night, away from any possible street lamps, but Kora sees him. Time has stopped and I suddenly feel as if I see him as well as she does, with his back pressed against the building and hands flat beside him, his head turned grotesquely in our direction. This is way worse than a nocturnal squirrel.


Kora takes two steps forward and growls much louder, making it very clear to this man that she sees him and does not appreciate him hiding in the shadows, watching us. A single resounding bark is what it takes for the man to turn on his heel and run around the side of the building, out of sight and away from us. After a moment, Kora turns around and wiggles back to me with her ears down and tail swinging side to side, my hero.


While we never saw that man again (thanks to Kora), I have never forgotten that morning. Not only was it terrifying, but it was the moment that solidified our unwavering bond.


Kora is the first dog I have owned completely on my own, plucked out of the Tampa Bay Humane Society and nestled right into my heart. She has been with me through a lot, emotional strife and hardship alike, all while giving me her signature doggy smile as if to say, “let’s do this.” And we always do, together.


Life simply becomes easier knowing her smile and thumping tail are just behind the front door, waiting for whatever comes next. So when I see Kora begin limping after our daily game of fetch, and then limping whenever she walks, I know it is my turn to be there for her. It’s hard watching my protector fight through the pain, panting and opting to stay curled up behind the couch when she is usually the first to jump over it.


Keeping Kora healthy and happy is quite possibly the most critical objective of my life. So when the option is presented to help her return to a good quality of life via surgery, I look down at her unsure eyes and say “let’s do this.”

Savannah Spina