Two hundred pounds apiece, with strong bodies, great black heads, and sad, sagging faces, they were my companions through the long years of childhood. Mastiffs. Herds of them — studs, a handful of bitches, scores of puppies. Bored, in dusty clumps, they guarded the driveway, pulling themselves up onto oversized, padded feet to trail my horse through the hills, then — with surprising speed — racing up steep deer trails in the futile pursuit of coyotes or bobcats. My friends risked stitches in the skin of their thighs by knocking at the door, and when the proud cars of boyfriends pulled up — a gleaming ’68 Camaro, a convertible Bel Air — the pack ambushed them, ferocious black muzzles breathing steam and drooling on the windows. Some of my visitors departed quickly. Now, years after leaving home, I miss the dogs, how formidable they were, negotiating between me and the world. I have no coiled animal to summon to my side, touch lightly on the wrinkled brow; no silent creature following me, ready to die for me.