(Do you see the heart in the sky and etched in the clouds above Diamond Solitaire and me? It was the first thing that my wife, Leigh Ann, saw when she looked at the photo. Was it a sign? On this day, to us, it was)

By now, most of you all know that us McLeans take a liking to our family of animals. After all, how does one explain why we have three dogs, three cats and a host of horses. Most of whom, mind you, live with us here in the house.

By now, most of you know that last week was a rather difficult one here in the McLean Household, too. We have to edit the paragraph above. We have two dogs, three cats and a host of horses.

On Tuesday of last week, we lost our 13-year-old beauty and Golden-hearted Golden Retriever Belle Belle. It was unexpected. Totally. She was doing so good. Never had a bad day. Then, suddenly, she wasn’t doing so good. And? We really had a bad day.

Gut punch.

Heart ache.

Tear’s dam broke.


That seemed to be our entire week.

Until Friday.

On Friday, Leigh and I loaded up and went out to Deerfield Farm in nearby Oldham County and met up with our great friends and horse partners — David and Lori Hebel-Osborne.

We went to see our friends, to be sure. We always enjoy their company. They are good people, and they are both dog and horse people, too. They are our kind of people.

They understand. They get it. We don’t have to talk about losing a “family member.” We just know it. And, that’s the way it was as soon as we got to the farm. Peace. Peaceful. Healing. Helpful.

But we also went to see our 2-year-old filly Diamond Solitaire, who has returned to her roots after a fun-filled, exciting, thrilling and Stakes-placed and winning season of racing up at Indiana Grand.

Diamond is going to get a little vacation and a little “R&R” before she returns to her regimen for her upcoming 3YO season of racing. Diamond is getting a little time in the field with her running mate, the 4YO filly Lavalier. And, she is getting a chance to grow up and out; a chance to relax; a chance to mature; a chancer to be a horse. Just a horse.

I didn’t know it on the drive out, or on the walk to the paddock. But it didn’t take me long to realize it when I stood at the pasture’s gate.

As soon as I saw her and whispered her name and Diamond turned and headed our way — I knew it. Right then and there, I knew it.

Diamond Solitaire — who we have raised since she was a pup — would now be our new “Emotional Support Animal.”

Diamond Solitaire — who has survived her own bits and pieces of personal crisis and recovery — would now be our way to mend a broken heart.

Diamond Solitaire — who was left alone at the tender age of one week when her own mother perished due to a severe bout of colic — would now be the one to help us recover; help us mend; help us overcome; help us live again.

When I got to the paddock, I quickly unlocked the gate and wandered aimlessly into the field with the lovable gal. It was her feeding time, and there was no doubt that she was looking for her daily scoop of sweet feed more than she was looking to fix an aging and hurting old man.

But it didn’t take her long to delay her fixation on food and give me a kiss; a nuzzle; a hug; and a laugh or two.

As she always does, she smelled my hair — which just may be a bit longer than her own mane. She smelled. She chewed and tugged a bit. She knew.

As she normally does, too, she dropped her head and licked my leather boots. She loves the smell and the salty residue that normally covers the outside polish. The nibble marks she left behind didn’t bother me in the least. It always reminds me of our visits. She knew.

And, as she always seems to do, she stole my attention. All of it. She stole my heart. What’s left of it. And, she made me realize that we should not take one day — one moment — for granted, and we should cherish our time together, forever. She just knew that she had to tell me.

She made me smile. Suddenly, I asked myself what that was. And, I knew. It was a smile.

For the first time since Tuesday and those awful moments when Belle Belle laid in my lap and took her last breath, I could feel the wind of life breathing on my face. I could feel Diamond blowing hope into my own lungs. For the first time in such a long time, the sadness subsided and faded on the front end. For the first time in so long, Diamond rallied and helped lift my spirits and helped me dream of a better tomorrow.

She made me smile. Suddenly, I knew what that was. I knew it was a smile.

As I was lost in the moment, Leigh Ann woke me from my slumber and said:

“Look at this. You have to see this.”

She held my phone, which was set to the camera mode, and showed me the photos.

“Can you see it,” Leigh Ann said, with joy in her voice. “Look. There’s a heart in the sky. Right there in the clouds. There is a heart.”

As I stood and talked to Diamond, I searched for the “sign” that my wonderful wife was alluding to, and I, too, saw it.

Right there it was. Can you see it?

I don’t know if you believe in such things, or not. I don’t know if the universe and the world works that way, or not. I don’t know. I just don’t know.

But on this day, I truly think — believe — that it was our “sign.”

It was our sign from Belle Belle that things are going to be OK.

It was our sign from Belle Belle that life is going to be OK.

It was our sign from Belle Belle that she is OK, and it is OK for us to be OK, too.

It was our sign that she loved us when she was with us, and that she still loves us from the “other side.”

It was our sign to love Diamond and that Diamond would love us back, too. Just like she did. Just like all our “family members” do, too.

It was our sign.

As we made our way back to the house, I looked back at the sky one more time. Suddenly, the clouds were moving and the “heart” then — seemingly — took the shape of a bird soaring in the sky. An Eagle taking flight. On the wings of angels.

I don’t know if you believe in such things for not. I don’t know if the universe and the world works that way or not. I don’t know. I just don’t know.

But on this day? I truly think the “sign” was a heart.

On this day? I truly think the “sign” was an Eagle.

On this day, I needed to believe that the “sign” was both.

On this day, I really needed a hug from Diamond. And, when she heard my voice and turned to drop her head on my shoulder? I knew right then and there why I own a racehorse.

They give us hope. Hope for a better day tomorrow.

Just when we need it the most.