In a conversation about pets, I muttered, "Occasionally, one does becomes part of a family." It was more an attempt to indicate I was listening.

"What are you mumbling about?" my wife, Peggy, asked as if I had just taken a leave of my senses. "There’s never a time when a pet isn’t part of a family," she informed me in no uncertain words.

She’s right. Perhaps that’s why it’s as difficult losing them as it is losing a child, spouse or parent. At least that’s the way it is with most of us.

Many readers know I’ve had a dog as a young lad. In addition, Peggy and I have been dog owners for almost all of our married lives. As a kid living on a farm in southeastern Pennsylvania, Tippy, a Border Collie was one of the smartest and easiest dogs to train I’ve ever seen.

Just before we married, we bought Susie, a buff colored Cocker Spaniel. Throughout our marriage we had Gipper, an Irish Setter, Freckles, a mongrel, Daisy, a Jack Russell terrier, Lucky, an Otterhound, ‘Tego, a Golden retriever and now, Sadie Lou, a black Labrador retriever. We even had a black cat with four white feet, named, Mittens. And every last one of them were rescues and were as hard letting go as if we had just lost a best friend.

Nine years ago, when Sadie Lou, a female, was about eight and starting to show a little white around her muzzle, we saved her from the hangman’s noose. Little did we know she would connect with us so easily. Usually, an older dog accepts a new owner gradually, but rarely do they bond as closely as new pups do. At least that’s been our experience.

Not with Sadie Lou. Although I will admit she was more of the wife’s dog than she was mine. She seemed to understand Peggy more. Perhaps that’s why the two of them bonded so well. There were times when I suspected they were actually holding conversations.

There were even times when she’d leave my side in the middle of an Indian, Browns or Cavalier game and, with the score tied, she’d trot over to the wife just for a treat or to have her belly rubbed.

She was a quick learner, I’ll give her that. Among the many tricks I taught her were how to whisper and speak. When I’d say, "Speak," she’d bark once, loudly. When I commanded her to whisper, she’d let loose with a very low "Arf," akin to a light sneeze.

After nearly 18 years of age, toward the end, she started going downhill rapidly. First her coat thinned. "Should we put her to sleep?" I asked Peggy.

"Why? Because she’s losing her hair?" the wife queried rather annoyingly. "Frank, it’s going on three decades since you had any on that shiny dome under your nautical hat and I’ve never even thought of putting you down."

It’s strange. It really is. After 46 years of marriage you’d think you’d know everything there was to know about your mate. But somehow, married life just keeps surprising you.

Since moving, Sadie Lou’s eyesight was starting to falter and she could no longer hear nor smell. She had no interest in performing the commands I taught her and fell consistently. As much as it hurt us, we knew it was time. While we experienced an empty feeling in our lives, almost immediately, and missed her terribly, a somewhat sense of relief swept over when the Vet assured us we were doing the right thing.

Now, instead of fetching tennis balls, she’s joined ’Tego and our other dogs, frolicking in that great pasture beyond the Rainbow Bridge and chasing wildlife here there and everywhere. And they’re all having a ball.

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