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IT'S HARD TO SAY GOODBYE TO FAITHFUL COMPANION

I never thought it would be so hard. The dreadful decision of euthanasia for the family dog. For 12 years, he was a constant presence in our home. He greeted me with unbridled enthusiasm whenever I arrived home, regardless if I was gone for 10 minutes or 10 hours.

When my wife and I chose this energetic dalmatian, we really had no idea what we were in for. Boundless energy and always in need of more affection, but always willing to adjust to our lifestyle.

He openly welcomed our first child into our home with enthusiasm and love. Two more children would follow, and they too would be greeted with licks and a wagging tail. He also graciously accepted the changing dynamics of our family and soon learned to accept being woken out of sound sleeps by crawling babies.

The children opened up a whole new world for him, mostly enjoyable, but it also included pulled tails, tennis balls (bounced off his head) and plastic screw drivers in places I would rather not mention. Through it all, he maintained his poise and virtuous temper.

At times he was more than we bargained for, an incredible food thief, with a stubborn side that always reminded us he rarely did anything he didn't want to. No matter what tactic we employed, he always found a way into the family garbage. A true master he was.

Nevertheless, at some point Father Time becomes a dog's worst enemy. You begin to notice he is sleeping for longer periods of time and isn't greeting you at the front door with the warp-like speed he once displayed. These changes are subtle, but they are the beginning.

His decline seemed gradual to me, but as the years went by my energetic dog preferred sleep to just about everything, with the exception of the kitchen garbage.

As he moved beyond 10, his arthritis would deny him the end of our bed, but he would always lie on the floor next to my bedside. Our night-time walks, which once were 45 minutes, dropped down to 10 and finally I would find him hiding under the dining room table when I went for the leash.

About a year ago, his decline began to accelerate, but I was not ready to contemplate the end. I wanted to keep that picture in my mind of him chasing balls and running through my house on mad dashes. But this 12-year-old version of my dog struggled to lift himself to his paws. His accidents in the house became more frequent, and his vision and hearing began to fail.

In March, my wife and I made the decision that it was time to let go. As we arrived at the Erie County SPCA, we quickly completed our paperwork and then waited to be called. As I watched my wife pet him with tears in her eyes, I wondered where the 12 and a half years had gone. It seemed like only yesterday we brought him home. When he was called, he did his best to get up, but it was not to be.

The technician carried him toward the euthanasia room, and then something happened that I cannot explain. This blind dog -- who had not wagged his tail in weeks -- looked over at my wife and me from more than 20 feet and wagged his tail. I knew in my heart it was his way of saying, "I am OK, and I am ready too." Minutes later he was at peace.

Later that night, I looked over at the floor near my side of the bed at the vacant area and then it hit me -- he really was gone, and now it was my turn to adjust.

ANTHONY M. SAN GIACOMO lives in Lewiston.