By Corina Quinn

Many people consider their pets to be their children—or at least that they are full, bona fide extensions of their families. My family members are those people. We believe in proper fences so our dogs can safely have run of their yards; we bring them to each other's houses for get-togethers so they can socialize and become lifetime pals, and we even refer to them as each other's cousins. This shared attitude means we have an entertaining wolf pack that punctuates every get-together—which is especially apparent during the summer months when we spend nearly every weekend by the pool at my mother's house.

Right now we have Millie, a Bernese Mountain Dog who belongs to my mother and is sweet and affectionate, but a terrible beggar and a sloppy eater. Harper, another Berner who belongs to my second oldest brother and his wife, is very tall and full of puppy energy; she distinguishes herself by getting into trouble often. Then there is Dixie, a white standard poodle who belongs to my oldest brother and sister-in-law. Until recently, she was joined by Bijou, a black standard poodle, and they made a striking pair.

There are other dear pets who have departed but are not forgotten: Dixie, a gentle white standard poodle; Baxter, the soft-coated Wheaten Terrier who was a gentleman through and through; and three more cuddly Bernese Mountain Dogs: Sophie, Koko, and Kona.

The pups played an integral role in the Quinn Olympics, an interfamily competition we held a few summers ago at the pool. Certainly, the alligator raft race and water gun fights were heated, but the crowning event of the day was the Doggie Dash, an event in which the dogs ran up a hill and raced to finish a Frosty Paw, a dog-friendly frozen treat that resembles ice cream.

It was hilarious for us, but it might have sent them the wrong message: they've become bold around food, especially near the little ones who are prone to dropping bites during mealtimes. During the years we needed a small, tot-sized "kids table" for dinner, the pack would prowl, waiting for stray hot dog ends, buns, and the occasional Cheeto. One year, Sophie even snagged a cookie straight from a toddler's hand, who simply stared in shock at the sudden loss. For the rest of the day, we called her the cookie monster.

The pups stealth tactics have become more sophisticated with age, though. After polling my family, I was rewarded with all kinds of choice memories. My brother-in-law told me that once while manning the grill, "I turned my back on a few fine pieces of steak to find one missing—and a furry tail heading in the other direction." (Likely suspect: the wily miss Harper, though truly, any one of the dogs could have done it).

Their exploits aren't solely related to food either: we've had dogs leap on us midswim, soccer balls co-opted for canine tug-of-war, broom-like tails have swept our drinks off of outdoor coffee tables, and even our lounge chairs and outdoor cushions repurposed as outdoor dog beds.

They also run around the yard playing together and cool off under the covered outdoor stone patio and doze while we sunbathe. (When Harper was a puppy, she famously passed out in her food bowl after playing too much). They're gentle with the kids and pace the pool's perimeter while we swim to make sure we're okay. And more than once, a pup has refused to get in the car at the end of an evening, not wanting to leave.

At nearly every family meal, we feel tails and paws graze our feet and knees under the table. We look down to investigate only to find a pair of doe eyes staring back at us as a drop of drool hits our napkins, and one of us invariably exclaims, "We really should have trained them better"—but then we sneak them a bite or two. It never occurs to us not to share; after all, they are part of our family.