It profoundly pains me to write this, but my sweet Kikoman (formerly Tootsie) crossed that rainbow bridge on August 28th, four days before her 13th birthday. Those of you who met Kiko knew how special she was. If you were not familiar with her, I wish you could have known Kiko, as she was an angel.

According to her DNA test, Kiko was 25% staffie, 12.5% cocker spaniel, 12.5% shiba inu, and 50% food hound – the breed best known for sitting two inches away while you eat, staring at you the whole while, and periodically swiping your leg with her paw to let you know she wanted a bite too. While we aren’t certain what made up the other 50% of her mix, we are certain Kiko was 100% loved.

While we all know you’re not supposed to play favorites, with Kiko I couldn’t help it. There was just something uniquely different about her. Kiko had a rough start to life though. The poor girl came to us as an emaciated, mangy mutt who was less than three months old and terrified of everything. Kiko blossomed into a beautiful dog who was, among other qualities, intelligent, responsible, obedient, trustworthy, and loving. There wasn’t a mean or aggressive bone in her body.

We spent an inordinate amount of time with each other, especially the last six years of her life when I was with her just about 24/7. She was my loyal fishing partner and my trusty sidekick who went pretty much everywhere with me. We went through so much together. I got Kiko in my 20s and am now 41 years old.  Kiko saw me through the trauma and turmoil of my 30s, and without her I’m not sure I would have made it. I suffer from major depressive disorder, and at times Kiko gave me not only a reason to get out of bed but also and moreover one to exist.

She was more than just my best friend though. In the sense that I have never cared for anyone or anything as much as that dog, Kiko was the love of my life. I am not ashamed to admit that; rather, I say it with the utmost pride. Kiko was a once-in-a-lifetime dog who can never be replaced. As far as I’m concerned, I hit the dog lottery with her.

Watching my best friend go downhill so rapidly the past couple weeks due to end-stage renal disease was difficult to say the least. If I could have given Kiko one of my kidneys, I would have. If I could have traded places with her, I would have. But I couldn’t save her, try as I might. When it became clear that it was her time to go, the prospect of saying goodbye to the love of my life by ending hers made me feel sick. I just wasn’t confident I had it in me, but in one final act of love Kiko took on my burden and made the decision (to pass away on her own) so I didn’t have to.

Since Kiko passed, life just doesn’t feel the same. Fishing without her isn’t the same. Going to the dog park without her isn’t the same. There’s one less butt and tail waggling when I come home, excited to see me. I miss her velvety ears and fanned tail. I miss her signature whitish-grey eyebrows. I miss her stealing my seat pretty much every time I (temporarily) vacated mine. I am now filled with an immense sadness and a desperate longing. It feels like a piece of my heart was ripped out, never to return.

However, if this pain I feel is the price I pay for nearly 13 years of genuine joy and love with Kiko, then I happily pay it because it was worth the heartache I now feel. My gratitude for Kiko in my life outweighs all this pain. In fact, I feel like the luckiest guy in the world for the opportunity to have spent close to 13 years with the gentle, beautiful soul that was Kiko, whom I will always miss and love.

In honor of Kiko and in celebration of her life, I ask the following of you: every day cherish your loved ones and never take them for granted. Hug them, kiss them, and say you love them. Be mindful and live in the moment. For every one of us there is only a limited number of tomorrows, and tomorrow is never promised. RIP, Kikoman.