Early in my college career, I enrolled in Speech Communication 131. Previously, I never thought of myself as someone who had stage fright or a fear of public speaking. This all changed when the due date for my first speech came speeding toward me like a baseball to a catcher’s mitt.

On that never-ending day, I was a mix of tears, sweat and a sliver of liquid courage, feeling as though I was barely surviving. Week-by-week speeches went by and I was never able to calm my nerves … until my last speech. For that one — a commemoration — I wrote in memory of my dogs Brett, Lacy and Mojo.

As I approached the podium, the usual sweat began to dot my upper lip. However, as I nervously began my 10-slide PowerPoint presentation filled with colorful images of fun doggie love, my nerves began to evaporate. Some might say it’s because it was the last time I’d have to put myself through this recurring turmoil, but I think it’s because I felt the usual protection of my four-legged “siblings.”

I was always jealous of the natural black eyeliner that circled the eyes of my yellow lab, Brett. His melancholy, Eeyore-like presence continues to compel me to smother him just so he knows he’s loved. Over the years, I’ve found one of his guilty pleasures to be nose-diving into my trash can to find tissues. He really enjoys “digging for gold,” so to speak.

Lacy, the stubborn, attention-seeking chocolate lab, is his partner in crime. Her bursts of energy have become a little too much for him in his old age, but Lacy never passes up the chance to take a nap with at least one body part resting on him.

The newest addition to the trio is the young and mighty Mojo. This petit papillon ceases to acknowledge the towering size difference between him and his brother and sister. Daily, he sits on a pillow in the front bedroom peering out of the window, waiting for anyone who dares come to the door.

The poor mail carriers have gotten an earful over the years. All visitors are greeted by thundering barks featuring ear-piercing yaps from the little one, which always busted my cover when I tried to sneak in a few minutes past curfew. The scrutiny from my parents burned, but it was easily outweighed by the excitement of my furry companions.

I lack words to appropriately describe the bliss of laying on my living room floor as Brett, Lacy and Mojo swarm around me with nothing but love. Whether it be licking the tears from my face during my teenage heartbreaks, keeping my feet warm on cold nights or attacking the crumbs I drop on the floor, I will continue to be thankful for everything they do for me.

Natalie Jeffery is a Jmore editorial staff intern.