“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one is diminished.”

Dean Koontz.

HE’S LYING AT my feet now under the table with his head on my right foot. He always does that when I’m writing. He’s really her dog, but he seems to be able to share his love like someone sharing ice cream with friends, with the biggest bite saved for whom the sharer loves the most.

This is Jack at my feet now. Jack is an Old English sheep dog, my favorite. He’s my fourth. Butch was my first. I got Butch when at age 12 I was sent to live with my mad brother Matt and his new wife in the woods across the lake from Seattle. I didn’t want to be there, but my mother, widowed at 48, was wrapped up in the tangled threads of making a new life for herself and had little time to deal with me.

At Matt’s house I was constantly distraught and became a bed-wetter.

Matt, the Dark Prince, still recovering his war-torn soul, sensed that I was lost in my own darkness and asked if I wanted a dog.

We answered an ad and went to a house in another part of the forest where a man had a litter of Old English puppies. They were huddled around a furnace in the basement. I got to pick one and named him Butch. He was my first dog and cost five bucks. Jack cost a grand.

I had Butch only two years, and we grew very close, but he and Matt didn’t much care for one another. So when I left the dark forest to return to St. Louis, Butch ran away and was never found. I always fantasized that he went looking for me across America and probably lost my scent at some bend in some river deep in the Midwest. I don’t like to think about that much.

Then there was Gatsby, my Hollywood sheep dog. We bought him on a visit to Maine, and because we loved him, we had to buy a car to drive him back to Hollywood. Gatsby cost $600. I don’t know what the car cost.

Gatsby was our first family dog and much beloved. In Hollywood, I would walk my daughters and their neighborhood friends to school each day. Gatsby would herd them,circling and nosing them into a line. Thus the phrase “No child left behind.”

Gatsby never liked Hollywood. When we moved back to Maine, he came with us. He died here at age 13, the first dog I had to put down.

It wasn’t long before we bought Polo. Polo was so named because he tore the label off one of my shoes and came to me to show me the name he had chosen.

Polo lived to the age of 13 and, like Gatsby, died of cancer.

By now, I had become Charon, the boatsman who ferried each family across the River Styx of pets.

For some reason, on an impulse I guess, we bought Charlie, an Irish wheaten terrier. Charlie was cute for about a year, then turned nasty and we had to give him away.

Now, She, the gentle soul each dog loved more than me, and I find ourselves in what the flyers from retirement homes call the autumn of our years. So we have decided that caring for big dogs, or any dog for that matter, is a young person’s game, and so Jack will be the last of the family dogs.

It’s been a good life with dogs, but the weight on the heart and soul from saying goodbye every 13 years has become too much to bear.

Of course there is Ms. Kramer, the cockatiel who sits in a white cage in the kitchen. Ms. Kramer has been with us for 20 years and shows no signs of flying across the rainbow bridge. She will be in the will or the final garage sale, whichever comes first.

Jack is a little lame now. He caught Lyme disease from a tick we didn’t catch, and it has given him pain. He takes medication of course, and this morning is at the vet’s having a boil removed from his butt. While under dream drugs, they will clean his teeth and X-ray the front leg that is giving him trouble. When I turn him over to Marsha at the animal hospital, who has cared for all of our dogs since Gatsby, he looks back at me as he’s led away. I know that look, and I whisper in his ear that he need not be afraid, that this is not the boat ride, that he will come home tonight and sleep next to her bed.

I know it’s She he loves the most. Me too.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. His book, “Will Write for Food,” is a collection of Morning Sentinel columns.

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