Blossom the beagle had just settled into a comfortable life with Janet Graber when Janet's father passed away and she had to go to England.

Blossom, adopted at age 5 from the Animal Humane Society, loved Janet "to the point of obsession." (This is according to Janet, not Blossom, but we're buying it.)

What to do?

Her Burnsville neighbors chimed in: Call Marilyn Jenkins, also a beagle lover who lived nearby. Janet returned home four weeks later and asked Marilyn how things went.

"Well ... ," Marilyn said. "What?" Janet said, worried. "Well, I fell in love with your dog and I don't want to give her back," said Marilyn.

Blossom is co-parented now, happily trotting over to Marilyn's townhouse a few cul-de-sacs over when Janet is entertaining company or out of town. Last April, Janet suffered a herniated disk, followed by back surgery in June.

She uses a cane and can't take Blossom on the squirrel-chasing adventures she once could. Every morning for nine months, Marilyn has arrived at Janet's door at 8 a.m. sharp. She and Blossom stroll through the townhouse complex, around a park and by a little pond.

Sometimes, when Marilyn lets Blossom choose the route, she pulls Marilyn onto a sidewalk, which is the route Janet always took.

"This," Blossom would tell her if she could talk, "is the way we should go."

In summer months, they spot egrets and turtles.

Gopher holes? Blossom will find them.

In snow or rain, Marilyn wears layers, and has been known to cut their walks short. Blossom has been known to catch a ride in Marilyn's arms.

"She can go over my shoulder like a little kid," Marilyn says. "And she likes it."

The grounds crew workers greet Blossom by name. A T-R-E-A-T awaits her in the complex's main office, as does a "cocktail bone" at home at 4

"Everyone knows Marilyn and Blossom as much as they know me and Blossom," says Janet, an author of children's books.

"She doesn't want to be made a fuss of," Janet said of her human friend, "but how many ways can I thank her?"

Marilyn, who taught business law at the University of St. Catherine, is the mother of two grown sons and grandmother of 12-year-old Jack.

Her beloved beagle, Bagel, died in 2007.

"My kids say, 'You should get a dog.' I say, 'Are you kidding? This is the best deal in the world.'"