The birth process is the worst part. Gestation is warm and safe, with a growing awareness of who and what I am. But it ends with that painful squeeze through the birth canal, and sudden emergence into the harsh world. Mother carefully cleans us all with her soft, warm tongue, and holds us in the caring embrace of her paws to let us suckle. I sleep cuddled up with my brothers and sisters, and wake to eat again.

This is the best time, the time when my job is to grow strong and healthy, to explore the world and learn all I can about it. My eyes open to see my surroundings, my first sight is of Mother and siblings. Oh, good! I'm a Dachshund again. The humans love wiener dogs, and it's my personal favorite although I kind of like coming back as a big dog sometimes. I take my first clumsy steps and fall over onto my brother, who gives me a little nip at the attack. I yip and bite back, but Mother noses us apart.

The days fly by all too quickly, filled with running and games and Mother's warm milk, followed by deep regenerative sleep. But this time dreams come to me, vague figures and voices that I can't quite remember. I wake to feel Mother licking my face, telling me in her own way that it will be all right, not to be frightened. I don't remember this happening before, and there have been a lot of befores. I stretch and take off to chase my sister, losing myself in the fun.

There are humans here, of course; they gently pick me up and hold me in their big hands, stroking my back and scratching my ears. They make that happy-human noise deep in their chests when I lick them in the face, and that pleases me. But I know not to become too attached to them, not yet. Like Mother, they will take care of me until it's time for me to get on with my real job and then they'll send me away and I'll never see them again. It doesn't bother me because I know how important my work is.

The day comes when new humans approach. We all scamper close, eager to make a good impression. Mother lifts her head to watch, proud to see her children doing so well, and truthfully ready to let us go and get back to pleasing her humans. It's what we do. A young male reaches for me, picks me up and holds me close to his chest. I sniff curiously. He is just maturing and I can smell his sweat. He rubs my chest with a finger, and shows his teeth when I try to move back against his hand to give him access to my belly. This is a good sign.

I give Mother a last fond look as the young human carries me away. My new charge is kind, but those first few days are sad for me. Happy, too. I run and explore and enjoy tasty food different than that at the other home. We spend time getting to know each other, each learning what the other likes and doesn't. I nip his fingers to tell him I don't like my tail pulled, but we both like playing ball. He rolls it across the floor and I run after and pounce on it. He makes angry sounds when I pee on the floor, but after all with this long back it's hard to tell how much of my body is over the papers. Isn't it good enough if the front feet are on them?

He comes to me in the night, carrying me into his bed where we both curl up together. He is happy in my company, and that pleases me. But when I drift off to a well-earned sleep, the dreams come again. They are more vivid now; I can smell a human female, past Motherhood. She is troubled, I see her eyes watering the way humans do when they're sad. She strokes a Chihuahua, half my size, who laps the salty water from her cheek, unable to be of more help. I squirm in my discomfort for the both of them, and my human wakes to stroke my back, making soothing noises. The bond has been forged between us and I know he will care for me as much as I care for him. I snuggle against his warm hairless body, happy.

Time passes and I grow, finding new games to play with my human and learning how to please him. He likes it when other young males come to play, all of us happily running on the grass with the ball or competing to take possession of that thing that reminds me so much of an animal I'd like to kill. He especially likes it when I curl up on his lap while he sits in front of the moving-picture box, though often I must patiently move my head to avoid being hit by the object he holds in his hands. It's worth it when he pauses to pet my head, or rub my belly. It is my job to be his companion and show him what love is, so that he can love other humans more fully.

I am content with my life, yet the dreams continue to plague me. At times I wake to a scratch behind the ears and for a moment I see the older female human. I'm not supposed to remember previous charges, but the bond between us must've been especially strong; I swear I can smell her scent and feel her arms cradling my body. I can feel her deep love for me, and mine for her. I lick the young male's hand, wondering what this means.

The days become cooler, making it even more fun to play. I run beside my human, having learned to please him by staying close and not running off to check out interesting scents. But the smell of Chihuahua on the breeze is too appealing to ignore, and I run ahead. I skid to a stop and touch noses with the other dog and a jolt of recognition runs through us both. I know this dog!

I look up to see the female human, leaning on a stick, showing her teeth. Though I've never done this before, I suddenly have the urge to tug the strings on her foot covers. Water comes to her eyes and she stoops to pick me up, holding me in familiar arms. I whine, and lick her face. She holds me so tightly I yelp, and I feel her grip ease as more water runs down her face.

Suddenly I remember. I remember pain, human arms that intend to soothe but make the pain worse. I remember feeling the rumble of sound from her chest though my ears can no longer hear her voice. Though hazy sight I see the oh-so-familiar face and the water in her eyes. She is in pain as well, and I am the cause. This isn't right! It's my job to make my humans happy. She gently strokes my back and I feel myself slipping away. I give her one last loving look, thanking her for taking away the pain.

I understand. At the last I'd been too weak to show my gratitude, my deep love for her, and my absolute trust in her love. She feared she had failed me. I looked up at her wet face and for just a moment I felt myself grow old again; with great effort I gently licked just the tip of her nose, as I used to do. I see the recognition in her eyes and hear her voice make the three sounds that made me so very happy. I give my tired old tail a little wag and she presses her face next to mine.

Suddenly I'm a puppy again, wiggling in her arms and licking her face and hands. She makes the happy-human sound and gently puts me down on the grass. I run around and around her, bumping into the Chihuahua who gives a little warning growl. I touch noses with him, telling him in my own way that it's all right now, she understands that she helped me in the only way she could and how grateful I was for that. Telling him that his job will be easier now that her burden has been lifted. He wags in gratitude.

My new human runs up to pick me up and take me back to our home. I know I will never see the human female again, but I don't need to. My heart is light, knowing the dreams will not come again. I'm ready to give him my complete and total attention and love. That's what I do, and I'm darn good at it.

In loving memory of Lacy, my canine companion for the past 16 years. Sweet Baby Girl, you did your job well and I'll never forget you.