Mark Twain had it right: “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”

She was an incredible friend – the best. Always dedicated and close by. An amazing listener, hanging on my every word. She had suffered from pulmonary hypertension for years, in her senior years became blind and deaf, and struggled mighty with arthritis. As time pressed on, we spared no effort to sustain and give her an amazing life. It breaks my heart that she’s gone now. Our dog Sparkles died today.

Eighteen years in our home. She was a full card-carrying family member. Even her vet chart was ID proof: “Sparkles Bashe.” She had the knack to anticipate our every move and gave us so much love and laughs. There are few words to describe the heartache of losing a pet who transcended the canine world and was almost human. Sensing our unwillingness to let her go, she gave us a clear sign. We’re grateful that she spared us having to make that “close-call” decision. It was evident. It was time.

We were all with her as her life slipped quickly away. Though this dreaded moment had been anticipated for some time, the shock and emotional pain swept over us like a powerful wave. There was an almost human element to our connection. We’ve lost a friend. She depended on us totally; however, that favor was returned with unrequited love. We had the best part of the bargain. Her unwavering friendship.

I was certain Sparkles had a cultivated a teenager’s sense of humor (she would on occasion enter the guest bathroom when we left her unattended and toilet-paper teepee our kitchen). We would return home to her childish prank and devious smile. Also, dogs can be jealous. In her younger years, Sparkles would often jump onto our bed in the middle of the night, using my back as a fulcrum, she would attempt to push my wife onto the floor. Still, despite earlier competition for my affection, dog and wife grew extremely close. Sparkles was a “life” presence in our home during my frequent travels. Suddenly, our home seems vast and empty.

Through our loving pet, I also learned a bit more about the healthcare system and the therapeutic importance of empathy. Access and caregiving keep people – and pets – alive. Sparkles’ life was sustained by a variety of medicines – vasodilators, appetite stimulators and arthritis and anti-allergy therapies. Most important, her long life-span – 18 years equaling more than 100 human years – resulted from dedicated healthcare professionals and an amazing, loving caregivers. My wife was always ready to shuttle Sparkles back and forth to the veterinarian and keep track of daily pill regimens. In the last months, we took turns transforming “people food” into her favorite gourmet doggie breakfasts and dinners. It was no bother. All a labor of love.

John Bradshaw, author of “The Animals Among Us – How Pets Make Us Human,” shared in a Washington Post interview: “…how does our relationship with animals living in our houses affect the way we perceive the natural environment? The arguments about the planet and what we should do with it tend to focus on logic. Not enough is made of people’s day-to-day contact with animals. You can educate children a lot more about biology — rather than the stuff they get on a screen — by just pointing out to them, ‘This is a dog. This is how it lives and breathes, how it digests its food.’ There is evidence that if you do that, you not only teach kids to be better pet owners, but you teach them to be more empathetic in general.” Empathy is the great sustaining life spark.

Moments after Sparkles passed from this world to doggie heaven, our young adult – visiting us with cat Peanut (who is lovingly called “my son”), asked: “Would you like to pet Peanut?” It was pure sweetness borne out of feeling our loss. Empathy. Animals bring out the best in us. Just as we see human traits in our pets, animals draw out our true selves. I hope that loving and caring for an elderly pet – a member of the family – made me a better person. More patient, more caring and ever ready to go the extra mile for others.

Mark Twain had it right: “Heaven goes by favor. If it went by merit, you would stay out and your dog would go in.”