When at first he comes into your life, he’s a wriggly bundle. Black and white and all tail. He spends the night howling the house down. You wake up and step into a puddle of pee. Bad dog! He drops his head, looks down, shivers. And you know he has your heart for keeps.
He starts a tennis ball collection. Comes home with a new one every time he goes out. Begs you to play. Begs you to play again. And again. Learns to drop his leash at your feet when he wants to go for a walk. He hates the rain. Hates thunder. Loves car rides. Loves belly rubs. Tolerates the cats. He makes you laugh.
He sees you through two break ups. Says nothing when you bitch and whine. Offers you a tennis ball. Convinces you that a game of fetch is the answer to everything. He’s the world’s best counselor.
One day you arrive at the groomer’s just before he’s quite finished. He sees you, leaps off the table and nearly crashes through the glass door. He’s so happy he doesn’t realize the chaos he’s caused.
He hangs out in the study when you’re working. Sometimes you ask for his opinion. Most days he just agrees with what you say. You try to make him fetch coffee. It doesn’t work.
And then one afternoon, when you’re in Nepal, the phone rings and you find out he’s at the vet’s. He’s not eating, can’t stand up. X-rays. CT scans. Blood tests. You try telling your colleagues. They make sympathetic noises. But you feel like they’ll judge you if you get too upset. He’s just a dog.
He has osteoporosis. It’s pretty advanced. Very soon he won’t be able to walk at all. He’s 14 this year. It happens. He’s on painkillers. Nothing more they can do. You wonder how he feels about never running after a tennis ball again. You wonder if it’s your fault. You wonder how on earth you’re going to let him go.