As I write this, there's a big vacant space under my work desk where my boy Paper used to be as I've typed countless stories for this newspaper.
Every day he'd lay there and "guard my desk" as he slept, and since he's been gone, writing is harder; my desk area oddly empty.
White fur sticks to the carpet where he always rested, and in the back of my Jeep on my morning drive to work, another fur-plastered space is now vacant.
Our dog's footprints in the snow travel around our house and tunnel through the yard; I dread snowfall covering these tracks for good.
I also dread snowmelt, when his toys dutifully placed throughout the yard will emerge, like they do every spring. Only he knew about treasures buried there, having occasionally gifted to us a stuffed duck we long forgot, a torn tennis ball, a stuffed green Grinch we thought he'd lost.
An intelligent white German shepherd, Paper was 13 years old, having seen his final birthday on what I lovingly call "Grounddog Day." Many said he was a handsome dog. His mother had a sliver of wolf.
He was named after a Vietnam War dog that once saved his handler in the line of duty, but our boy Paper - the older brother to Georgie who lives most days at the Rapids Lodge in Grand Lake - lived a less heroic but full life.
Toward the end, the symptoms of degenerative myelopathy common in shepherds started to become noticeable. He was no longer the skijoring, stick-chasing, kick-butt graceful dog he once was.
He had lost function of his hind limbs, then, his front limbs to the point it finally broke his spirit.
On his final day, a week ago Tuesday, our proud dog no longer wanted to drink water, his breathing labored, and he no longer reacted when we put a ball or stick in front of him. His head rested on the floor, and when we were out of view, he would start to "cry."
For the first time, I saw Paper giving up.
We were by his side his final night. My husband and I slept on the floor with him in the living room with the fireplace on.
The next morning we sat with him and told him how much he's meant to us. We talked about all the hikes we'd been on, the car rides, the swims. We thanked him for seeing us through to the birth of our daughter last July. It was as if he had clung to life until he knew we could handle it from here.
At one point that morning, we carried him onto the deck where he sort of fell into the snow and rested his head. I brushed his fur, which was long overdue. Back inside, we stroked his fur some more.
He seemed at peace.
It's rare to have such a companion.
Now I occasionally hear a sound, and momentarily I think it might be Paper scratching on the door. The other morning on my way to work, I habitually opened the back gate of my Jeep to help him "up-up" before I caught myself.
Out of the corner of my eye, I sometimes think I see him lying there.
And when I feel like I need a warm, furry hug - because I miss him so much - he's no longer there to provide it.
We'll miss you, bud.