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National Dog Day: Five warm, fuzzy stories we wrote about man's best friend

As if you needed another reason to celebrate the existence of your canine companion, today is National Dog Day.

Rejoice!

The holiday was founded by animal advocate Colleen Paige, a self-avowed "pet and family lifestyle expert," who also founded National Puppy Day, National Mutt Day and National Cat Day.

So pull out those bacon-flavored treats, take Spot on that extra walk, rub his fluffy tummy all night long. You could even take your dog out for a cold one at one of these dog-friendly bars highlighted in this years tbt* Ultimate Bar Guide.

If you're not a dog owner but need a couple warm fuzzies to get you through the day, dive into one of these stories from the Tampa Bay Times archive.

Time is short, but Zeke the Labrador lives to keep his owner alive

The first time it happened, Gerald Rittinger was driving to buy his gravestone. His diabetes was getting worse. Doctors had just diagnosed him with prostate cancer. They gave him six months. Gerald's wife, Jeanne, was in the passenger seat of their Lincoln that day. Their puppy, Zeke, was supposed to stay in the back seat. But the yellow Labrador kept putting his big paws on the console between them, inching forward. They headed north on Interstate 75 to his family cemetery in Kentucky. After about three hours, Zeke stood up and began barking. "Down! Zeke, get down!" Jeanne scolded, tugging at his collar. Zeke leapt up, nuzzling his wet nose against Gerald's neck. Licking his face. Laughing, Gerald tried to push away the puppy. But Zeke wouldn't back off. His barking got louder. The dog became so agitated that Gerald had to pull off the highway. Seconds later, Gerald had a seizure. "If he had still been driving," Jeanne said, "all of us would have been killed." That was 12 years ago. Gerald had his headstone engraved, planted it in the graveyard, then came home to die. But Zeke wouldn't let him...

Their calling: Helping others — one guide puppy at a time

The golden retriever puppy looked up from the floor underneath the dining table where she had been chewing on a metal chain — she's teething, after all — and locked eyes with her visitor.

In a second, she sat up and began to caress the visitor's outstretched hand with long, languid licks. Her front paws went into his lap. The puppy in her had taken over. In those seconds, she was no longer a guide dog in training. She was 40 pounds of sweetness.

Then, a quiet "down" from John Jewett, and Ruth settled back flat to the floor, now a patient puppy in training...

Carlton: Dog pound, sock thief, family

We were at our third animal shelter on a Saturday afternoon when we saw her, black and glossy and roughly the size of a fat baked potato, standing up against the bars of the cage intending to be noticed. She was only weeks old but, in that packed shelter, already marked half-price.

My husband was reluctant to adopt a dog, in part, I believe, due to a particularly obnoxious cat I brought into the marriage. But at first sight, he had no question on the (50 percent off) puppy: This would be our dog...

Canine Estates, run by retired sisters, provides a home for cast-off dogs

The house where "last-chance dogs" get another chance is a 4,000-square-foot ranch-style down a gated private drive.

Inside, Slinky and Maria, beige chihuahuas with deformed front paws, rest in the foyer. Muffin, elderly and blind, has the grooming room, which might be an office if people lived here, to herself. Gloria, a terrier mix with a terminal tumor beneath her head-to-tail mohawk, roams the spotless kitchen.

There are 38 dogs living in this house, where the front door never opens, where dogs, and the numerous humans who serve them, enter through a waist-high doggie gate off the garage.

They are dogs that got too old for their owners, too temperamental for the shelter or too sick and therefore too expensive for somebody's pocketbook.

But not for Canine Estates.

VIDEO: After rescue, man and dog reunited at sea

Related: Beagle's rescuers and owner to meet at Eckerd College next week

Share your National Dog Day photos and pupply love stories with on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #tbtdogs.

Contact Katie Mettler at kmettler@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3446. Follow @kemettler.

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