He was just a dog.

I kept trying to tell myself that, but my broken heart just wasn’t buying it.

“He” was Oliver, our 14-year-old black Labrador retriever, whom we had to put down shortly before Christmas several years ago as his body finally gave out.

In many ways Oliver was just a dog, but he also was almost everything you’d want in man’s best friend. He wasn’t the smartest or the most obedient, but he was a sweet and gentle knucklehead who loved people.

Every time someone came to the house, he was exuberant, as though he had never seen a person before.

Like most Labs, he loved to eat, with cheese and avocados being among his favorite treats.

He would sit by patiently any time cheese was brought out of the refrigerator, ever hopeful of a dropped slice or a bite thrown in his dish.

Oliver the black Labrador
Oliver the Labrador Credit: Tom Bolton / Noozhawk photo

And he’d rummage under the avocado trees for a half-rotten treasure whenever he got the chance.

A purebred, we got him as a puppy when my kids were still school age, finally giving in to years of pleading that they “would do anything for a puppy.”

And they did for a while, dutifully helping with all the canine chores.

But as we all know, puppies eventually turn into dogs, and their allure can wane as children stay busy with the business of growing up.

Although Oliver was always “our” dog — a member of the Bolton family — in many ways he eventually became “my” dog.

My wife often joked that I was his Alpha Dog, and he never seemed more content than when he was lying at my feet. If I moved to a different part of the house, he’d relocate to get as close as he could.

As a young dog, Oliver was full of energy and stricken with Labrador puppyhood, which we’d been warned lasted at least three years.

To be honest, I’m not sure he ever outgrew it.

In his prime, I’d take him running or on long walks into the hills. Almost to the end, if he saw me picking up the leash, his tail would start wagging and he’d wait by the door.

But dogs, like people, don’t live forever. It’s something we don’t like to think about, but there it was.

Oliver had slowed way down in recent years, to the point where our walks had dwindled to just down to the corner and back. Then just to the backyard, as his body continued to fail him.

In his final days, I think he was ready to go. Beyond his infirmities, he just seemed to have lost his spark.

The look in his eye somehow told me what I needed to help him do. So, on a cloudy Thursday, we took that last ride to the vet.

As sad as we were, we were so glad that, with the help of our wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Bill Wallace, we were able to pet Oliver to sleep and over the Rainbow Bridge. It was a terribly sad day, but one that had to come.

I wish I could say there was a profound message in all this, or that Oliver was somehow truly different than the countless other dogs who go through this with their people.

But there isn’t.

In the end, Oliver was just a dog, and I couldn’t have asked for more.