Devonshire Cream, or Devon for short, about a year before she died. (Grace Walker Gray / January 19, 2013)

My wife never had a dog before she bought one as a companion for her then-6-year-old son, Morgan.

After some investigation, she got a white golden retriever, and they named her Devonshire Cream, or Devon, for short. The problem was, as I got to know Devon, I found that they had started at the top. I was raised with beagles, and truly love them and almost all other dogs. But Devon was the best living being I have ever been around.

Devon recently died at the old age of 15½ years, or 108 in "dog years." And my entire family is grieving.

As people with pets soon understand, these are not just animals, they become a part of your family — a large part. Devon became like a sibling for our son. He would play with her, and even try to get her in trouble. Then he would be gleeful when he was successful, saying things like, "Devon got in trouble."

And, of course, we had many good family times with our dog: hikes to Holy Jim Falls, fetching tennis balls or just sleeping by the fire. One time when I organized a contest between our son and Devon to see who could win a race to fetch the tennis ball, our son won.

But he made a mistake and dribbled the ball on his way back to me, whereupon Devon quickly stole it. Tears flowed, along with accusations that "Devon cheated!"

On another occasion, our son observed that everyone in our family had different last names. His was Maeder, my wife's was Walker, mine was Gray, and Devon's was "Surecream." So for years around our house my wife and I used the last name of Surecream.

Of course, much of this happiness was caused by my wife taking Devon to a dog trainer at an early age. By the age of 3 months, Devon was able to stay, sit, come and lie down on command. In fact, my wife took Devon to our son's first-grade classroom, where Devon performed, and that made our son the envy of all of the other children, as well as the teacher.

Not only that, because my wife is a physical therapist, she took Devon to obtain a certification as a therapy dog, which is not easy to get. As my wife tells it, the certification process included lots of other dogs and took all evening, and it was cold.

But Devon was doing famously well, until the last task was for her to put her "paws up" on a couch. Of course, Devon had been trained not to go up on the furniture. But my wife looked at Devon and showed her other dogs putting their paws up and told her to do that. And she did. (More tears flowed!) So Devon was certified without even having had to take the preparatory class.

I once saw a cartoon in a newspaper that had a dog lying on a psychiatrist's couch and saying: "It's always good dog; never great dog." Well, Devon was a great dog! Of course, we loved her, played with her, and she was never mistreated. So I'm sure that helped. (In fact, I think there is a lesson in this.)

Of course, as time went on it became apparent that Devon was slowing down. But my wife rallied. She discovered physical therapy for dogs, and showed me how Devon's shoulders, elbows, hips and wrists were made more limber by physical therapy treatments. (I had never thought about dogs having wrists, etc.)

And in response to Devon's increasing loss of appetite, we started feeding her ground round, sweet potatoes, yams, fresh barley, hard boiled eggs and special supplements — and this approach really worked!

When she started slipping and falling on our hardwood floors, which caused her some pulled muscles, my wife bought and had installed rubber yoga mats, and they saved the day. All of these things prolonged the quality time that Devon was able to be with us. And Devon really seemed to appreciate it — and I assure you that we did as well.

But it was inevitable that we would lose her, and we did. When it happened, we called upon a truly sensitive veterinarian, who said that Devon was not in pain, but was nauseous, and that it was time. So he put her to sleep. If I myself were in the same position, I would want that to happen to me as well. I think that is the humane thing to do.

But there is a hole in our lives that probably only another dog can fill. We all know there will never be another Devonshire Cream, but we want to love another golden. Will Rogers once famously said, "If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went." I will go further and say that it wouldn't be heaven without them.

In the meantime, the lasting lesson for us all is to enjoy our lives when we have them, and enjoy our family, friends and pets in the same fashion. So get your hugs in and create and savor all the precious moments you can. Because life is short.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at JimPGray@sbcglobal.net.