A few weeks ago, on a warm Sunday afternoon, Savannah’s canine and human friends gathered in the park to celebrate her twelfth birthday. There were balloons covered in paw prints, party favors made of Greenies and giant cookies, sparkling party collars for the four-legged guests, and a cake topped with peanut butter frosting. And yes (how could I forget?), there was ice cream—soy, of course.

It was quite a milestone for my sweetheart. She’d spent her first 2½ years as a breeder in a puppy mill; Great Dane Rescue saved her from the six-foot pen that was her home, and found her a family who loved her for three years—then left her at the local pound. That’s where we met, more than six years ago. Last spring we found a mass on her spleen, and feared she wouldn’t be around more than a couple of months. When in September she was still as happy and vibrant as a youngster, we had a lot to celebrate.

In several ways Savannah’s story is representative of many of the reasons the need to work for the health and well-being of animals runs in my veins. She’s experienced the abuse and exploitation we humans are far too often disposed to inflict, and yet she greets the world with the sweetness and gentleness of her untainted spirit. And the holistic lifestyle she’s enjoyed the past six years, including a multitude of natural healing modalities as she’s needed them, have helped her to surpass the expected lifespan of her Great Dane genes and stature. How very fortunate I am. Savannah has seen both the dark and the bright side of what healing and advocacy are all about. That she is still here teaching us what love really means—as our animal friends are prone to do—renews my inspiration every day.

That’s why it’s a special privilege to explore how we live with, love, and care for the animals that share our homes, the land we live on, our communities, and our planet.