Before dinner at a friend’s house, he asked me to look at his dog. I did, she was bounding around as Labs do, playing with a smaller dog as if she were smaller and a puppy herself.

“You don’t think she’s ready, do you?” he asked.

“Ready?” It took me a minute to understand what he meant by ready but when I did, I shook my head and said, “No, she’s not ready, she looks good.”

“Ready” in this case meant ready to take to the vet. “Ready” for the last car ride. “Ready” for the last supper.

Since putting down Poco, our 14-year-old blind chocolate Lab, I have become the expert. Sort of the opposite of the dog whisperer — the dog executioner. The canine version of the hanging judge.

I had been in his shoes. A couple of weeks before Poco died, I was looking for guidance myself. When was the right time? I didn’t want to take her in too early and deny her the pleasure of one last sparerib but wait too long and spareribs don’t matter much.

“You’ll know when it’s time,” a friend said but I wasn’t convinced because I wanted somebody to take the ball out of my hands. I wasn’t one of the players who is keen on taking the last shot in the final seconds of the seventh game of the NBA finals with the game on the line.

“Here, you take the shot. I don’t have the guts. I’ll probably throw it over the backboard.”

When it was time for Poco, a friend made the call and we took her in. That made me some sort of de facto expert because now the friend with the bounding, looks-like-a-puppy Lab was asking my opinion.

“She’s still eating,” he said.

I’m not sure what that meant. Labs eat all the time, no matter how many times they ate that day. They’ll eat on their last day and then the day after their last day and then grab a snack on their way to the Rainbow Bridge.

Whether she eats or doesn’t eat is not indicative of anything other than that she’s a Lab and Labs are professional eaters. They eat like Justin Turner hits, or used to hit when sports was sports and June was baseball.

We had a golden retriever, which is marginally like a Lab, at least in terms of this column. Big John once dragged a half-eaten turkey off the counter during Thanksgiving and afterwards polished off a gallon of ice cream for dessert and he still wanted kibble in his bowl that night.

“Look at her move,” I said to the friend with the Lab. “She’s bounding.”

There is a business in this somewhere. Not a business I’m dying to go into but sort of like a homegrown doula or midwife when you can’t get to your vet. The guy you call to make the call.

If I were to do this, when called in on a consultation, I’d bring a stethoscope and a sparerib and I’d leave the stethoscope in the car because I really don’t know what to do with it anyway. If the dog lifted his head off the cement to smell the sparerib, that’s a good sign. If he snatched it out of my hand, I’d leave and say,”Call me in the morning.”

***

Columns on pets, especially dogs (cats are in second place), find more readers than any other subject. Grandchildren are second. Romance is third.

People love their dogs. Love their dogs and feel especially tender about their older dogs and the prospect of losing them. If pressed, in private, or in a room full of people, they will admit that they like their dogs more than they like their friends and in most cases, their spouses and children.

Several writers said as much, tongue in cheek of course. Thank you for your emails and letters and according to many of you, Poco is probably playing with your dog right now, and one day we shall all be reunited.

***

Charlie has never had it so good. Charlie, the 4-year-old dachshund/terrier mix, had a couple of down days, or what seemed to be down days, but has bounced back. I took Poco’s big comfortable dog bed and put it on top of Charlie’s so now Charlie has a two-story dog condo, although he has to leap up to get to his second story bunk.

He’s spending more time inside. He sits by my desk when I write. Keeps us company at night when we’re watching “The Wonder Years.” The only thing better than a good dog are two or three good dogs.

Herb Benham is a columnist for the Bakersfield Californian and can be reached at hbenham@bakersfield.com or (661) 395-7279.

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