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May the force be with you, Vader, always

Two weeks ago, in my column titled &#8220My time is up and I thank you for yours,” I thanked many of you for your help, friendship and dedication to the athletic success of Butler County during my time here at The Greenville Advocate.

As I wrote the column, I knew I would unintentionally leave off names of others who have helped me over the last year and I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank them.

People like Chuck Armstrong, Scott Yancey, William Johnson, Colin &#8220Big C” Macguire, Allen Stephenson, Susan Murphy, Ken Gibson, Doug Mixon, Jerry Holley, Robert Kuhn, Jim Dunklin, David Hancock, Steve Norman, Bruce Branum, David Norrell, Eric Burkett, Bryan Campbell, Terry Hester and &#8220NASCAR” Ron made sure my time in Greenville was as good as it could be by helping me with whatever, whenever.

A few other people who helped me more than they'll ever know are Daniel and Julie Autrey and Dr. Bill Watson and his entire staff at Watson's Animal Clinic.

When I first accepted the position as sports editor for The Greenville Advocate, I was unsure about moving to a small town where I knew no one and had no family.

So, I decided to get a dog.

When my brother was a freshman at Auburn, he bought a Doberman Pinscher and life in our family has never been the same.

When I was a child, the sight of a big dog like a Doberman was enough to send me running away.

Now, the sight of a Doberman will send me running toward it.

My brother's dog, Vader, has been such a great dog that I decided if a Doberman was good enough for him, it was good enough for me.

So I got one.

Just a week before I moved to Greenville, I began searching for Doberman puppies and the first listing I saw in The Birmingham News caught my attention.

The listing had the right color, sex and age puppy I wanted and the telephone number sounded familiar.

Having been in Greenville the week before, the 382 prefix looked awfully familiar to me.

When I called, Julie Autrey answered the phone and after speaking with her and Daniel several times over the next few days, we arranged for me to come by their house the Thursday before Memorial Day to see the puppies.

As I arrived at the Autrey's house, I began to question whether I was ready to take on the responsibility of raising not only a dog, but a BIG dog.

My question was quickly answered as I turned the corner around the back of the house and 12 6-week-old Doberman puppies came running to me.

After spending time looking at and comparing puppies, Daniel advised me to take the biggest girl puppy, but she just didn't seem right for.

Since I wasn't getting the puppy until the following Tuesday, I told them I would think about which one I wanted and decide when I came back.

The following Tuesday, I made the best decision I have ever made.

When I lined up the three black females to see which one would come to me first, two turned around and headed for the bushes for a potty break.

One headed right for me.

It was the big one.

A year later, that 10-pound puppy has blossomed into a 60-pound dog affectionately known as Hogan.

During this past year, she has tested my patience and maturation.

But because of her, my patience is stronger and I am a more responsible person.

I learned a lot about myself over the last 12 months and most of the credit goes to Hogan.

And for that, I will always be in debt to the Autreys.

They matched me up with my best friend and I am forever grateful.

Having a Doberman not only has given me a better appreciation for dogs, but it also has given me a better appreciation for my brother.

My brother, who was killed in an automobile accident in 2001, raised Vader from a puppy and did it in the face of opposition.

My parents flat-out forbid him to get a dog and proclaimed it would never set foot in their house.

Some 10 years later, Vader sleeps in the center of a king size bed with my parents on the edge of each side of the bed.

We recently found out Vader has liver cancer and was given just a month to live.

Although it will be devastating and sad to see her pass, I will sleep well knowing she served her purpose.

Just as Hogan has taught me so much about myself, so too did Vader teach my brother.

And for that, I will always be grateful.

So to Vader: May the force be with you, always.

Austin Phillips is The Greenville Advocate sports editor and can be reached by phone at 334-382-3111 ext. 122, by fax at 334-382-7104 or by e-mail at austin.phillips@greenvilleadvocate.com