I lost one of my oldest and dearest dog friends today.  A broken heart is an occupational hazzard in my profession, and though I've been through it several times, it never gets the tiniest bit easier.  I met Alex in late 2000 or early 2001 - his owner had lost his wife to cancer and needed some help caring for his two Labradors.  Alex was about 2 or 3 years old and was instantly one of my favorite dogs - he was a big silly happy guy with a GIANT heart.  We used to roll around in the grass together and he'd pretend to bite my arm, putting almost no pressure into it, then give me these funny panting laughs.  Over the last few months, Alex started to struggle to get around.  Those old hips just wouldn't cooperate and his walks got shorter and shorter.  He never seemed to mind, though - he was always all wagging tail and smiling eyes.  Last week was rough and I started to say my goodbyes - we spent some time cuddling and endulging in extra treats.  Alex loved the attention (but mostly the treats)!  He lived to be almost 14 years old, which is ANCIENT for a big Lab like him.  He was a lucky dog to have such an exciting and well-loved life and he seemed to know it.  I will miss him every day.