Lately, we’ve been conversing more. About when we first met, how he grew to love a tennis ball. Man, that boy of mine could catch a ball 50 feet out and never once made me feel bad when I threw poorly. Tireless, never giving up on the yellow ball, never keeping it out of his sight, wedging it under my butt if I didn’t pick it up when he dropped it at my feet.

We talk about how, in his younger days, he wasn’t a swimmer. Yet he stood on the edge of the pool to catch all the water splashes coming his way.

Cole, my shadow. After 15 years of chasing balls, his four mini-Aussie legs don’t work so well anymore. Now I must carry his thirty pounds up and down the stairs so he can be with me. He’s sad, worried, when I’m not around.

Now, the ball is just another object he has to maneuver around. And digging an imaginary dirt hole in the carpet to rest is no longer an option. Walking out to the grass to do his business seems to take forever (for him, not me).

Palliative care, says the vet. Okay, we can do that.

We talk about that horrible time he had to go to doggy jail for nipping at a UPS man in our driveway. The price he had to pay for protecting me. And no, I had no visitation rights. But after 8 days, we were reunited, kisses and licks abound.

I remind him how I promised to care of him. He agreed that I had. I told him that part of taking care of him meant I wouldn’t let him suffer, but that he has to tell me when life has become too hard. He licked me and said he would.

But, as of now, he eats and drinks. His cataract-ridden eyes glisten and widen when I pull out his turkey treat. His old teeth chomp down on the hard strip until it disappears. He heads for the water bowl.

And when the time comes, I’ll remind him of how he took such good care of him, that he performed his job flawlessly. I’ll tell him he worked hard and deserves to rest. That it will be okay.

Afterward, I will trudge back up the stairs to my office, thirty pounds lighter, yet hundreds of pounds heavier in heart. I will remind myself that I did the right thing. Yet, I know my heart won’t believe me.

But today, we still have each other. As I type, Cole lays beside me snoring softly, his tired legs still. At this moment, there is still time for more hugs and kisses. I will continue to whisper assurances that, when the hard part comes, we’ll be together.