In the middle of the night, I woke up to find that my pup of 16 years, Charlie, had passed away in his sleep. While this is a time of mourning, it’s also a time of reflection on all the wonderful years that I got to share with my pup. In remembrance of him, I want to walk through some of the most important lessons I’ve learned owning my first dog that you can walk away with to become an even better owner and caregiver moving forward.

1. Love Them As Hard As You Can, As Often As You Can

When you make the decision to adopt a dog, the last thing on your mind is saying goodbye. However, this is something that every pet owner will have to experience at some point during their journey with their beloved pup. Nothing is guaranteed, and time flies by in the blink of an eye. Give your pup as much love as you can, as often as you can. At the end of the day, we all want to know that we’ve done as much as possible for our fluffy friends to give them the best life and create an unbreakable bond that stays with us long after they’re gone.

2. Remember That Caring for a Dog Is a Major Responsibility

I’m extremely fortunate that I have the ability to work from home as Charlie’s last years came with myriad health problems that required extra care and attention. If you’re thinking about adopting a dog, remember that, in sickness and in health, it’s your responsibility to give your pup the level of care that they need to thrive and live their best lives. If you find yourself unable to provide high-quality care for your friend, it can be hard on them and on you as well.

3. Be Patient With Them As They Get Older

Even as Charlie got older and couldn’t see or hear as well, he would always perk up when he knew I was near. That said, he could still have some difficulty doing things that he used to do when he was younger, and patience was a virtue when taking care of him. As your dog ages, they require a bit more patience and love than you may be accustomed to, which can be frustrating at times even though it’s not their fault. No matter what emotions we may experience as we encounter more difficult stages of their lives, love should always be at the forefront.

4. Give Yourself the Permission You Need to Grieve Their Loss

Loss is a difficult experience, regardless of what it is that you have lost. Even when our dogs are older and we know that it may be on the horizon, there’s a major difference between looking at it objectively and truly experiencing it when it finally happens. Grief also comes with a wide array of emotions besides sadness. You may feel relieved, angry, guilty, or, at times, even numb. Additionally, we find ourselves balancing this immense loss alongside our day-to-day responsibilities, which can make us feel as though we don’t truly have the time to mourn like we need to.

Let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling and provide yourself with the space and time needed to do it. It may seem like it’s something you’ll never get over, but it will get easier with time.

5. Always Try Your Best to Be Better for Your Pup

We love dogs for a reason. In return for taking care of them, they give us unconditional love, joy, and companionship. The ultimate goal to have as a dog owner is to always do better and be better for your pup. Whether that means spending more time with them and making them a priority, paying closer attention to your grooming habits to keep them in better health, or even taking them out for more exercise or finding ways to play with them inside, we could always give just a little bit more to make sure they have everything they could need and want.

Rest in Peace Little Man