It seems like here lately I’ve been having a lot of bittersweet conversations.

Granted, when you spend time on the waiting list, you tend to have a decent amount of those.

From Hurricane Harvey to kidney sisters to family and everything in between, there’s just been a lot of talking going on here lately. But there’s one thing in particular that Phillip and I keep going back to, and it’s one of the more bittersweet topics we converse about: our oldest dog, Tiny.

August 22 marked eight years since we walked into a Petco in Round Rock and were adopted by a sad-eyed, sweet, incredibly lazy, absolutely gorgeous dog who at the time was named Goliath. We’d gone out looking for a lab mix, but after stops at several shelters we just hadn’t found a dog we clicked with. Our last stop was at the Petco close to our house (at the time), because I’d noticed an advertisement for a local humane society being there that weekend. We talked to the main guy and told him what we were looking for. He pretty much ignored what we told him we wanted and said, “I have the perfect dog for y’all. Come inside.” And there, laying on the floor right in front of the treat bar, was this massive (okay, at the time he was massive to us, which is really funny to think about because he was underweight and now weighs probably forty or fifty more pounds than he did at the time), tawny dog with the most beautiful, soulful golden brown eyes I’d ever seen.

I squatted in front of him, Phillip following suit. And this dog lifted his head and then his paw, putting it in my hand as if to say, “Hello. Nice to meet you.” He then did the same thing with Phillip before standing and giving me what I now call “Tiny kisses” followed by a “Tiny hug.” (He’ll lay his head on my shoulder like he’s hugging me.) Neither of us even questioned it, we just knew that THIS was our dog. Or maybe we were his people. Either way, all three of us fell in love that Saturday afternoon.

young tiny

Tiny when we first brought him home

That night we took him to Opal’s, a local restaurant/bar with a patio area that allows dogs, and as we were getting out of the car Phillip said, “Come on, Tiny dog.” And we just looked at each other and said, “That’s his name. Tiny.” Because even after a couple of hours we knew that Goliath just didn’t really fit him.

We knew nothing about Great Pyrenees or Anatolian Shepherds at the time, just that they got pretty big. So we did a lot of research, because that’s what we do, and learned as much as we could in order to be the best doggy parents possible. He had separation anxiety issues at first, and we discovered fairly quickly that he loved pizza and long naps on the kitchen floor, but we also found that he was the most loving, gentle dog ever. Not to mention quite handsome. To this day people still stop us to tell us how beautiful he is, and like a proud mama I’ll be all like, “I know” as if I personally had something to do with that.

At any rate, for the past eight years, Tiny has been our constant companion. We’ve been through so much with him, from family deaths to his heartworm treatment to moving to getting married, and he’s just always been there to put a smile on our faces or to give me a soft place to cry into. Yes, we’ve had Kimber for the past five years and she, too, is the sweetest dog ever (at least to us–she’s not very people-y, to be honest) and also holds a very special place in my heart. But Tiny? He’s my Tiny Dog.

And my Tiny Dog is getting old.

We’ve noticed the change over the past year or so, the slow graying of his once-black muzzle, the way he’s gradually slowed down and gotten a little grumpy at times. But over the past couple of months it seems like things have just accelerated and we’re noticing all sorts of signs of his advanced age (to be fair, we’re not 100% sure how old he is, but we’ve had him for 8 years and think he was around a year old when we adopted him, so we’re pretty sure he’s between 9 and 10, and Pyrs have a shorter lifespan than, say, labs do). Old dog breath (anyone who’s ever had a senior dog knows what I’m talking about here). Grumpiness. Occasional confusion (forgetting where his crate is, for example). A couple of months ago I found a small lump on his spine, but it felt firm and was small so we’re pretty sure it’s not a tumor or anything. But over the past few weeks it’s like his back legs just don’t want to work quite as well anymore. Sitting bothers him. Standing bothers him. So he lays down a lot more than he used to. Even going on a walk around the block wears him out. When he walks his back end wobbles a little bit. And the past couple of times we’ve taken him for a ride in the truck he’s been unable to so much as put his front paws on the running board and balance his weight on his back legs without almost 100% support from us.

Even more alarming, though, are his drinking and peeing habits. He’s incredibly thirsty all the time (moreso than he ever was before), to the point where he’ll drink two or three bowls full of water in about ten minutes, but then won’t have to pee for hours on end. Sometimes he’ll only pee once or twice a day, and then other days it’s like he has to go outside every twenty minutes to pee. In other words, we’re afraid his kidneys are failing. And while most of what I’ve read says that dogs can actually live for quite some time with failing kidneys, with Phillip being in renal failure and having no kidney function we just cannot let him go through that if that is indeed what’s wrong with him.

tiny and kimber ranch

Tiny and Kimber drinking water meant for the deer out at the ranch.

Kimber, too, seems to have noticed the decline. She’s being sweeter to him (their relationship can best be described as siblings who love each other but argue a lot and really like their own space) and sniffs him constantly with this very curious look on her face, like she’s trying to figure something out (okay, yes, I totally anthropomorphize our dogs–deal with it).

We deal with the specter of death far more often than people in their 30s should. Phillip was literally weeks away from dying when we found out he was in renal failure, and dialysis is–let’s face it–nothing more than ambulatory life support. So to be dealing with this now just seems to be a bit unfair. I mean, why can’t our dogs live as long as we do? Why do they have such short lifespans? I know that to some people dogs are “just dogs.” But for us, they’re members of our family. For me, they’re my babies, and the focus of all the love and affection I would have given human children if those had been in the cards for us.

So we’ve been having so many conversations here lately. Do we take him back in to the vet (they just had their shots a couple of months ago) and have him looked at to see if our suspicions regarding his hips and kidneys are correct? Or do we just wait it out, because in our guts we just know? When it’s his time, what do we do with him? (That one was actually a pretty easy decision that we agreed upon last night.) How will Kimber react when he’s gone? How long should be wait to get another dog? Should we even get another dog? Will Kimber be okay with another dog? And then feeling guilty for seeing a photo of a Great Pyrenees puppy and melting into a puddle of goo because it’s the cutest ball of fluff ever (FWIW, all Great Pyrenees puppies fall into the category of “cutest ball of fluff ever.”).

It’s just all very bittersweet. Knowing that our time with our Tiny Dog is finite, and probably going to come to an end much sooner than either of us would like. When you’re on the waiting list, you derive joy from wherever you can, and for us that includes our dogs. They comfort us, make us laugh, make us angry (like when Tiny opens up the supposedly dog-proof trashcan and spreads trash all over the kitchen), and make us know what unconditional love feels like. We’re always on the edge of loss, and walk a fine line between hope and despair. At least we have time to prepare for the loss, to spend as much time as we can loving on him and giving him pets and taking him to the ranch and giving him treats and taking him out when he seems to be feeling up to it.

But having that time doesn’t necessarily make it suck any less.