Have you ever had a really smart pet? We’ve had several, mostly canine, but such intelligent critters. So far, they have all lived up to the old wives' tale that the darker the roof of their mouths, the more intelligent they are. A few not-too-smart ones I’ve known followed suit.

Currently, we dote on our little old 13-year-old Molly, a Lhatese who never fails to amaze us, despite the fact that hubby has her spoiled beyond belief.

We talk to our pets — always have. But Molly’s understanding is amazing. The other night, she was sprawling in "Daddy’s" chair. I told her in a whisper that “Daddy’s coming and he will squash you if you don’t move.”

Immediately, she jumped down and came to sit under my recliner, her second favorite spot.

What I really enjoy about smart pets is that they listen better than children — or husbands — and don’t sass or backtalk. She cocks her head if she’s trying to figure something out but usually just blinks and complies. What mother wouldn’t give a fortune for her child to respond like that?

Her nickname is MollyCat because she possesses many feline characteristics. She is always next to one of us. To say she is a picky eater is the proverbial understatement. She eats very little and seldom but is fed mostly meat or the really pricey gourmet foods fed to canine princesses — a title she wears well.

She may devour chicken but turn her nose up at that the next evening, as well as beef, pork, turkey or ham. She goes up to three days without eating a bite — well, except for the eternal supply of treats Daddy uses to spoil her.

Feeding her is more challenging now, as she lost several teeth last summer and the remainders are loose, so it’s small bites or coarsely ground munchies.

As a puppy, she received a treat and praise each and every time she did her business. Now, when she’s in a picky mood, she will go outdoors about every 10–15 minutes, returning to beg for a treat. Daddy has been easily fooled — Mama, not so much!

Each time she is turned down for a treat, she sits on her haunches as erect as a prairie dog, begging Daddy to feed her while intermittently glowering at me with a bit of disdain.

Meanwhile her plate — she’s petrified of bowls and won’t go near one — sits out, with her choice morsels drying out and going bad. Sometimes, she will eat — if she can coax Daddy into hand-feeding her each and every morsel.

Spoiled, much? You bet! But, she is so smart. Perhaps she’s a bit narcissistic, because she can really manipulate that man — again, Mama, not so much.

Now that she’s a little old lady like me, some things are more difficult for her to do. She sometimes needs help to jump up onto the bed but, also like me, is fiercely independent.

She only barks when someone she doesn’t know well comes to the door. She loves to chase squirrels, cats, rabbits and other critters, still running pretty fast for her age. She has a very sweet personality and a neurotic terror of rain, even minus thunder or lightning. She doesn’t enjoy cuddling yet allows us to cradle her in our arm and rub her belly for what seems like eternity, until our limb falls asleep.

She has never bolted. We have traveled hundreds of miles without so much as a leash, since she never leaves our side — unless she desires to terrorize a critter or varmint, but even then, she stops when we call her.

When her companion had to be put down a few years ago, she developed a weird behavior. They had pups together once, and they were close. Sadly, there was no opportunity for her to have closure.

Since then, she has become the "Alpha dog," with a capital A if another female is near. She hates them.

Personally, I think she believes Earnhardt left her with another female so she has declared jealous dominance and revenge. It’s laughable to watch her make colossal dogs cower, tuck tail and run for cover.

She loves children and babies, is gentle — unless you’re another female dog — and is very alert. She sounds her alarm, which is barely audible — more of a throat clearing — whenever she detects anything different.

There is no doubt she is our baby, playing an important role in our family. As we grow old together, my decline is not as painful as watching my loved ones, including this pooch, decline, wither and fade. Given our ages, who knows who will leave this earth first, but we surely do dread the prospect of life without Molly.

— A coal miner’s daughter born in Appalachia and schooled in Michigan, she currently lives in rural Athens. Hill describes herself as a cook and cookbook author, jack of all trades and master of none, a Christian wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She shares her home with her husband, Bob, and their spoiled-beyond-belief dog, Molly.

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