Shortly after Maybelle was born, a colleague with kids and pets made the surprising claim that kids are much easier. "Kids get bigger and healthier, and chances are they're going to outlive you. With pets," she said, "you're always watching them die."

This has been on my mind this weekend as I hung out with the robustly healthy Maybelle and the elderly Baxter. Biffle and I got Baxter in January 1995, when she was a puppy, and she's been an integral part of our lives ever since. In recent years she's needed more and more medications and assistance to have a meaningful quality of life. She can't go for walks longer than around the block, she needs soft food to make up for the teeth she's had pulled, and because she can't hear particularly well, she only knows that people are at the door when Benya's barking clues her in.

In the foreseeable future, Biffle and I are going to have to start making tough decisions on Baxter's behalf. What kinds of pharmaceuticals are appropriate for an elderly dog? How much enjoyment is she getting from her life? And the biggest question...how much longer do we have?

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