Prejudice is a terrible thing. It means having a preconceived opinion that isn’t based on any reason or actual experience. How can you form an opinion about something without knowing anything about it? It makes absolutely no sense.

An individual can be prejudiced against others for many reasons: race, sex, age, religion and more. It starts slowly and imperceptibly, but if not contained, it grows outward and causes great harm.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be so broad, so bold or earth shattering. It can be about small or inconsequential matters.

Like poodles.

I adore poodles, especially Standards. When people ask my opinion for a dog breed as a pet, I always mention poodles. Inevitably, I am met with raised eyebrows and a snort. They say “Are you kidding me? They’re stupid and silly with their frou-frou hair!” See? A perfect example of prejudice!

My childhood dog was a miniature Poodle named Cozy (short for Cozette). Fifty years later, I can still see her: a mop of curly black hair following us kids everywhere. And I smile, remembering her swimming with us and teaching her how to jump through a hula hoop.

Standard Poodles are magnificent, regal creatures. They love to be around people (especially children) and always want to please. Blessed with exceptional intelligence (second only to Border Collies), they are easy to train, loyal and playful. Don’t let the fancy hairdos and prancing in a show ring fog your brain.

You only had to meet Ellie once to believe what I’m writing. At our first meeting, I glanced at her sitting upright with dark eyes, hidden in black fur, staring intently at me. I knew she was assessing me. Her pretty silver and turquoise beaded collar added to her stateliness. After a while, she slowly stood up and walked towards me. I patted her head, and she dipped closer to me. There was no silly display of affection, just a quiet gentleness to her. She had accepted me.

As a youngster, she didn’t always fulfill the attributes of a poodle. Far from it! It took forever to house train her because there were other things on her mind. She was more interested in what lay beyond the fences. She was a huntress searching the garden corners for Geckos. One day she proudly dragged home a deer’s leg as a present to her horrified humans.

She became known for her disappearing acts or “walkabouts”. One time she was gone for eight hours (wandering nearly 15 miles) after jumping a fence in 2 feet of snow. The snow had a frozen crust, so she left no footprints to track. Can you imagine the frantic search for her?

No, she wasn’t perfect, but she was always the perfect patient and, unfortunately, I saw her a lot.

She came to me with Addison’s disease. Her body was unable to produce important hormones, notably cortisol. A fatal disease if left untreated, Addison’s is called the great imitator because all kinds of problems result. Ellie came in for monthly injections. Changes in diet, activity and stresses could bring on a cascade of difficulties.

Last year we noticed a swelling on one toe of her left front paw. Conservative treatments didn’t faze it. X-rays showed a change in bone density suggesting cancer. The toe was amputated, and squamous cell carcinoma was diagnosed (curative with surgery).

Jump forward to this year, and another toe began to look abnormal. Again, squamous cell carcinoma, and this brave dog has another major surgery at the age of 10 years. Healing was more difficult and slower due to complications. Clearly, she didn’t bounce back as quickly.

On Sept. 5, the seizures began. Quickly, in only two weeks, changes in mentation and mobility were noticed. Her tail wagged less and less. Staring began. We referred her to a neurologist with fingers crossed, but I think we all knew she had a brain tumor. Ellie couldn’t fight anymore.

I will forever remember this lovely girl for her beauty, intelligence and gentleness. I will remember her more for the quiet trust she placed in me, the bravery and resilience she showed during her battles against disease and cancers.

We can learn much from our pets – how to live and how to die.

Dr. Holly Woltz (Doc Holly), Chief of Staff at Veterinary Services, has practiced veterinary medicine for 30 years and specializes in senior care. A former teacher and writer, she enjoys talking and writing about the human-companion animal bond and its importance. Visit her at www.aikenpetvet.com.