My wife Maggie and I have faced few tests more agonizing than the decision last week to put down our Shar-pei Bingo, a beloved member of our family for nearly 12 years.
For some time, Bingo was blind, mostly deaf and so discomforted by arthritic legs that he could barely lift himself sometimes.
But he ate heartily most days and we weren't ready to say goodbye to a dear friend who always brought our family positive vibes, good-natured company and fearless protection.
Recently, however, Bingo sprouted seeping lesions that were obviously cancer, and we couldn't delay a talk with the vet any longer.
And when she spelled out the grim options, we couldn't subject him to painful surgery that might or might not have extended his life a few weeks or a few months.
Now we find ourselves constantly looking for him in the places he's supposed to be — keeping guard at the gate, sprawled on the porch collecting flies, snoring loudly at the side of our bed.
I miss the dismissive look down his nose he'd give me when I interrupted a nap.
I miss the way he anticipated when I wanted to move in my wheelchair and found just the right place to camp out and block my path.
I even miss his distinctive fragrance — a combination of pungent body odor, slobbery drool and persistent gas.
His passing has been hardest on Maggie, who picked Bingo from a litter in 'Aiea when he was weeks old and formed a tight bond.
She cooked him steak to make his heartworm pills go down easier, heated his dog food in the microwave so he wouldn't have to gulp it cold and covered up for him when he relieved himself where he shouldn't.
She'd fan him when it got hot, and would drive 20 miles out of her way to let him in the house so he wouldn't have to be alone in the yard too long.
Not that he was a sissy dog who demanded pampering; he was a tough customer with a ferocious bark and intimidating teeth who put a serious fear in unknown suspects who approached our house.
But he was all gentleness with our grandchildren, never losing his cool when they stole his prized rawhide bones, teased him with make-believe treats, yanked his corkscrew tail and twisted his wrinkles.
It's comforting that Bingo lived a good life, making it three years past the average Shar-pei life span.
He had plenty of turf to patrol in the yard, was always welcome in the house and was never chained.
He passed his days with leisurely naps — a little sun on the patio in the morning, the shady grass in the midday heat, curled up by our recliners in the evening.
He'd awaken occasionally to chase butterflies, stalk imaginary prey and bark at delivery trucks.
The columns I wrote about Bingo were some of my most popular, making him new friends who sent him treats for the holidays that would take him the rest of the year to finish.
Political junkies found hidden messages in the Bingo stories.
Gordon Trimble, before he became a state senator, translated a tale about Bingo's battles with kibble-swiping pigeons into an allegory about Hawai'i's overburdened taxpayers feeding a fat bureaucracy.
My favorite Bingo letter came from Francis Nakayama in Arizona, who said I was destined for a Shar-pei on the basis of my name, which could be constructed as Sha(r)-p(e)i-ro —with "ro" being the Japanese word for male offspring.
In other words, a clever way of calling me a Son of a B...ingo.
David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.