This will likely be the most difficult conversation you and I will ever have. It follows the passing of our dear, sweet dog Charlie Brown. 

Charlie was a mixed breed, part German shepherd, part Labrador retriever, other parts unknown. He was about 14 years old. I say "about" because we had no idea how old he was when he showed up in our yard. 

Charlie chose us as his parents in a moment of desperation. Before he made that life-altering decision, we had noticed him running through our neighborhood — skillfully avoiding one of the city's animal control officers. On the third day of fruitless pursuit, the officer gave up the chase, and Charlie basically collapsed in total exhaustion in the back yard.

Paula felt so sorry for him and thought some food might get him back on his feet and off to where he came from or was headed. About the only thing we could find quickly were a couple of hot dog wieners.  Not knowing anything about this visitor or his temperament, I tossed the wieners in his general direction ... staying back a bit just to be safe. He gobbled them up in no time.

Thanks to the last two Oscar Mayers in the refrigerator, we became best friends and stayed that way for 14 years.

The first night he was with us, he stood outside one of our bedroom windows barking incessantly. He finally gave up the nighttime serenade and fell asleep ... only to wake at sunrise and resume his barking. 

Once we realized he had a friendly disposition and, much to our surprise, was house broken, it was off to the veterinarian's clinic to get checked out. He was, according to the vet, the perfect patient. After being given a clean bill of health, it was time to head home. It turns out, Charlie was quite the jumper. He could effortlessly leap into the back of Paula's Yukon where he would wait for us to close the rear door. As it would turn out, Charlie loved to ride. I remember taking him with us when we would go out to dinner whenever it was cool enough to leave him to snooze in the back of the SUV until we were finished. 

He regularly rode with us on family vacations to Tennessee and Florida — always seeming to enjoy being with us regardless of how long we were on the road. All he asked for was an occasional potty break, some cool water, and a small snack. He was the perfect companion.

Charlie was not the only pet in the house. He gave wide berth to the two older cats, never trying to stir up a dispute with the kitties. About the only time I saw him get the slightest bit testy was when one of the cats would get a little too close to Charlie's food. Although he never bothered them, sometimes Paula or I would have to raise our voice and give a stern warning to both Charlie and the cats. He would drop his head as if to say, "I'm sorry," and slink quietly out of the room.

The first sign of old age showed up when Charlie had three life-threatening illnesses. X-rays showed horrible problems with his hips. His vet told us — on many occasions — that he didn't know how Charlie got around. But thanks to his solid constitution he pulled through each time. 

But he was not as spry as he had been.

He started needing assistance getting into and out of the back of the newer model SUV that was a bit higher off the ground. Paula solved that problem by using a large padded ottoman to help Charlie get in and out. That gave him several more years of daily walks in the park and the regular weekend visits to our condo in Auburn.

However in the last year or so of his life, Charlie couldn't push off with his hind legs to get off the stool and in the back of the SUV. We had to start picking him up ... all 80 pounds of him. In addition, his vision was fading and his hearing was virtually gone.

That was a difficult time for him and us. 

The end was in sight ... but somehow Charlie managed to hang on. We just didn't know for how long. A few weeks before he passed, he started having bouts of confusion. He would have trouble recognizing us or knowing where we were.

Finally, the end came on the day after Christmas. After a restless night filled with distress, we knew these would be the final minutes we would have with him. Paula and I both wondered out loud why our beloved Charlie Brown couldn't have died in his sleep.

It wasn't meant to be. In the end, Paula and I, along with our two sons were there when Charlie Brown slipped peacefully and quietly away.

Paula and I know there will never be another Charlie Brown and we are grateful that we had all those wonderful years to share with him. 

We love you, Charlie. Thanks for fighting so hard to stay with us.

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