It is written that into each life only one great cat or dog will come.

OK, I wrote it. But I've talked to many adults, and they all seem to agree that rarely do you get more than one outstanding pet. Currently we have in our pet inventory two six-toed cats that certainly are not on anyone's list of great cats.

Then there's my mother-in-law's dog, Valentino, so named because he was rescued from a Georgia pet shelter on Feb. 14 a few years ago. Val is afraid of thunder, loud voices, soft voices, new people, familiar people and doorways. His biggest fear is doorways. Getting him in and out of the house is a half-hour exercise in cajoling and pulling.

My daughter Julia was hired to walk the neighbor's dog, Maddie, for a few days. She came home raving how "Maddie is the greatest dog!"

"Really?" I asked. "What about Val?"

Julia paused for just a second then repeated, "Maddie is the greatest dog."

Julie explained how Maddie would easily go in and out of doorways. Wow, my daughter's definition of a great dog is one that will go in and out of doorways.

Growing up, I felt we had the greatest dog, Bootsy. She was a black collie type of mutt. She had the head shape of a collie except she was completely black. She was the most protective dog -- note that we lived in an extremely isolated rural area with wild animals about.

Whenever one of the children would roam from the house, my parents felt better if Bootsy went with us. Whenever a potentially dangerous animal would appear, Bootsy would put herself between the child and the danger and bark like crazy. Wild animals seemed to respect Bootsy. Bootsy demanded respect.

There was a hill near our house, and if ever we were sledding faster than Bootsy deemed safe, she would run alongside gently nipping at our wrists to slow us down. If you were riding a bike, Bootsy would nip your leg. Bootsy was like Rin Tin Tin or Old Yeller, except Bootsy never got rabies. Actually, I never saw Rin Tin Tin and have no idea if he bit kids' legs to slow them down, or had rabies.

The one we most compared Bootsy to was Lassie. Lassie had some advantages (being purebred and a television star, for two), but Bootsy could hold her own. Over the years there were nine Lassies. That seems to be about right. I think it would take about nine Lassies to equal one Bootsy. Bootsy also did all of her own stunt work.

One story points out the Lassie-Bootsy comparison.

When my brother John was little, he had a sleepwalking problem. One cold winter night, he sleepwalked about a mile in snow. After we found out about it, we traced John's route and found Bootsy's trail of pawprints right beside his the entire way. Bootsy was there to protect him and keep him safe.

Lassie may have the upper hand in one respect. Bootsy did not wake John up, nor did she get help, as Lassie surely would have. After John woke up, he knocked on a neighbor's door, and the neighbor took him to the hospital. Bootsy did not alert our family. Bootsy felt her job was done and went home and curled up on the porch. So Lassie wins that one.

Bootsy wins the Imaginary vs. Real contest, paws down. Bootsy was real and Lassie was a Hollywood actor that didn't really fight to protect a family or follow kids sleepwalking in the snow. Also, Lassie had handlers. Bootsy had no one. Bootsy was never even brushed.

My daughters have had a great cat in their lives, Stripes. When I met my wife, she was a single woman living alone with a cat. She was thinking about getting a second cat. She was on the fast track to Cat Ladydom. I saved her from that.

The neighbors called Stripes Greyskull because: 1) He had an aggressive demeanor. 2) At the time, "Masters of the Universe" was a popular cartoon series.

3) He was grey.

When we were expecting our first child, we were worried. Did we have to give Stripes away? If my wife had to choose the baby or the cat, which would she choose? Would Stripes/Greyskull sit on the baby's chest sand suck the baby's breath from it? Or any of the other old folk tales? Would he accept his demotion?

We need not have worried. He became a fierce protector of our children.

When Caroline was 9 months old, she was sitting in the backyard with us. Stripes was in front, guarding the gate. A big friendly dopey, neighborhood Lab walked in the gate. Stripes ran at him, got up on his hind legs and with his front paws taught the dog a lesson about coming through the gate. We thought the dog had learned his lesson, but five minutes later, the dog came back. Stripes was beside himself. He really went at the dog. Stripes couldn't believe that a second whooping was necessary. Didn't the giant dog learn its lesson?

The dog never came back, and after that, when we would see him walking on a leash, he made a wide path around our house.

Into each life only one great cat or dog will come. It is written.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at tlawlor@mcommunications.com.