I talk about dogs all the time. All day. Training, care, health, grooming. So often I find myself saying the words “the hardest part” or “the toughest age.” The first couple of nights are rough, but then they’ll settle in. Teething is the hardest part, it gets better. Potty training takes a good deal of patience and consistency, it does get easier. Teenagers are a rough stage, it gets better. Oh, waiting for ears to pop gives me gray hairs. Establishing a routine, introducing a new family member to other pets, choosing the right food, providing enough exercise and staying on top of training, they’re all the rockiest of roads sometimes. In reality, though, none of them is the hardest part. Not even close. My heart was never broken when they’ve made a puddle on the floor, I can’t even remember what any of those shoes looked like anyway or what I wore them with, teaching manners hasn’t ever actually come to a flood of tears, the needle teeth haven’t left any scars - on my heart or my ankles, I never liked that rug much anyway, and no, I didn’t really need that extra thirty minutes of sleep. The hardest part is always, without comparison, goodbye. The empty space by your knee that used to be filled with a presence that made the world better just by existing nearby. Always just inside the space where only dogs and are allowed. The hardest part is knowing your shoes are safe and the bed won’t be defluffed, there will be no argument about what’s for dinner, and no matter how many squirrels run by your arm will stay in its socket. Enjoy all the hardest parts, they are the best parts. They are what turns that fuzzy little stranger into an irreplaceable piece of your heart. The hardest parts and the toughest ages turn into a constant companion, into predicting each other’s next move, into reading eyes, and sensing moods. That’s how they become family. You know where they piddled on the Persian rug, they know where you spilt the wine. The other thing I find that I say often is “it’s worth it, I promise” because it is. Enjoy the baby sharks, enjoy the teenagers, and treasure the old men and old ladies. It’s a journey that’s far too short and so worth the trip. “How many dogs do you have?” is a question that I hate to answer, really just because there’s not a good way to answer so that people will understand that whatever number I say, there’s only one Lestat, only one Tequila, only one Bobbie, only one Louie, only one Eve, only one Gandalf …No matter how many dogs, there’s only one that is that one. The one that can fill their place in the space where only dogs are allowed.