I became a father for the first time at age 41. It was by adoption, and I was all the things a new parent would be: nervous, scared, uncertain and a bit naïve. The baby was just 4 months old when I brought her home. She won my heart immediately, and thus began a most beautiful friendship. Cue up the Courtship of Eddy’s Father theme– let me tell you about my best friend.

I thought the saying was a myth, but this was love at first sight. And I mean the BIG love. Heart-pounding love. Enamored. Swooning. All-encompassing love. And what a beauty!

The catalyst for my decision to become a father was from a curveball life threw at us. My sister had a health scare, and it raised the question for me of “when will the ‘someday’ actually become a ‘now’? How long do you put something off until the time is right?” When we knew my sister was just fine, I decided that I should act on something I had set my mind on for a while. Becoming a father wasn’t exactly the right thing at the right time and place, but I wanted to seize the day.

So, one evening I gathered my family together to spring them with the announcement about becoming a father– to a 4-month-old fawn English Bulldog. (I actually always wanted a pot-bellied pig, but getting a bulldog was the next best thing.) That night over dinner we had a brainstorming session for names, and Annie just seemed perfect. In no time she became Annie Love, which is what she has been all about.

I had visited a local breeder and first met Annie with her mother, brother and sister. Apparently, she was considered the runt of the litter and stood taller and less wrinkly than the others. To me she looked more like a boxer, and I had to double check her breed with the owner. She had an award-winning underbite, a tongue that didn’t fit in her mouth (it’s in a perpetual Bronx Cheer) and one eye that looked as beautifully painted with eyeliner as Cleopatra’s.

The day I went back to pick her up, I really didn’t have my plan thought out completely. In my typical busy style, I brought her with me directly downtown to a meeting. She walked in to the middle of the room, into the middle of the group of people already gathered for the meeting and peed on the floor. It was her grand entrance and introduction to my life and to my world.

Potty training took a long time despite all my best efforts and preparations. My apartment was covered in pads. My office was covered in pads, and Annie made sure she missed them all. Carpet cleaning and paying for carpet cleaning was a regular thing. She peed on Alissa’s pillows in her apartment when we had slumber parties. Annie was determined to be the only female around.

I never really got it about someone being a “dog person” before until Annie came along. It’s the total unconditional love and sweetness that comes with the companionship. Sure, there is a massive adjustment to your schedule with feeding, exercise and basic care, but it’s all part of having a loving new family member. She filled a space in my life with her cute face, snorts and noises and snuggles.

As a baby (FYI: Alissa and I still refer to Annie as “the baby”), she was high energy and would go, go, go until she needed a nap right there on the spot. On my way home from work each day, I used to have to pull over at Marshall Junior High to do wind sprints with her until she was sufficiently panting and out of gas. Sometimes during the day I would take her to Los Cerritos Park to do her wind sprints so we’d all have some peace in the office. On weekends, it was the Seal Beach Dog Park, and then I was thrilled when the Uptown Dog Park opened up close by. We’d go to these parks, and Annie would run and chase all the big dogs because she thought she was one. I still couldn’t believe she was a bulldog by the way she ran so fast because I was told that bulldogs just skulk around and drool. Nope. She would do huge leaps for the tennis ball. I’d throw the ball, and she would do a mad sprint to get it. She’d kind of tackle or run over the ball and then just stand there staring. I’d have to run over, pick it up and throw it again across the park. I got as much of a workout as she did. Not once has she ever brought the ball back to me in the conventional sense of fetch.

It was a total game changer for us all when she discovered the joys of a dog beach. Our sweet animal turned manic once she hit the wet sand. She’d be making laps and laps up and down the beach, challenging the waves and ignoring her body type by diving into the water to chase the balls and expecting to swim to shore like a retriever. We got as much joy out of watching her as she did frolicking.

Most nights Annie and I would sleep cheek-to-cheek, and I considered her snoring a wonderful white noise lullaby. To me, it meant she was happy and comfortable, and she looks like a beautiful angel (But her gas, however, is not so heavenly). There are still many nights when she gets up to slink down the hall for water and comes back to burp or upchuck in my ear.

When young, she chewed everything possible. She ate the legs of my chairs, desk and toys of all types. She ate a cell phone, the lunch off my desk when I walked away for a minute and would chew on the loafer tassels of the ad rep’s shoes who came to visit us. She’d climb up on my lap and sit in all my meetings. It was difficult, but I had to attempt to remain professional while the baby snored in my arms. I would have to try to type around her when working.

I also discovered early on that she had OCD. She hates plastic bags, anything that moves suddenly or unexpectedly, anything blocking her normal walking path, and she won’t leave a room or get up unless you get behind her and she walks out first. She goes on the same path when going for a walk or to do her business outside and never deviates.

I was talked into taking Annie to obedience school, where she did fine until the last class and final test where she then rolled on her back and misbehaved. All progress went out the window. She got a consolation prize for “Best Look,” where she at least could stop, stare, drool and accept her treat. She has been a rascal ever since.

And boy is she stubborn! The trait runs in the family, so she fit right in. She will lock in a stare with a bovine look in her eyes and not move. She’s won every staring contest we’ve ever had. When we go outside to do her business, she will get distracted if she spots someone walking across the street or parking their car in front of us. She’ll stop and watch someone until they walk out of view. This is always especially appreciated when I’m in a hurry, and she gets “stuck,” even in the rain– much to my dismay.

She has many faces– she rises up like a fierce lion to get attention, and her eyes go black when she postures and barks, challenging me to play or chase her around. Often she can look like Edward G. Robinson, and when she’s tired, she has the most sincere and, well, puppy-dog eyes, while her tongue sticks out pink like bubble gum. She’s my sweetheart, but she never gets up to greet me, only looks up with that dry tongue sticking out sideways. She definitely recognizes me, but she doesn’t race to the door, jump up and down or spin around to meet me.

Annie has always been spoiled from the start. We brought her with us to a dog-friendly hotel in Santa Monica, where she stretched out on the king-sized bed enjoying the ocean view. Some weekends we’d drive her down to Laguna Beach Dog Park so she’d have acres and acres to frolic around and then enjoy the ocean view coming home via PCH.

Our hearts broke watching her walk away from us into the PetCo Hotel while we went off to celebrate the holidays with Alissa’s family in Las Vegas. We spoiled her with her own big room and a TV showing Animal Planet and paid for plenty of play time. On the drive both directions, she was sitting upright and looking out the window the entire time. Our baby.

And quite appropriately she was the ring bearer at our wedding.

I like it when the whole family comes home from being gone all day and watches Annie confidently walk upstairs into the house– her house. She is definitely our first child, and our place seemed more like home when Annie walked back inside to prepare for the night.

I’m writing this in the third and final act of this most beautiful creature. She’s now 10 ½ and, over time, she’s acquired all types of conditions: skin, eye, leg, arthritis. She’s been better than most of her breed, and I have to give kudos to loving doctors and staff at the Uptown Animal Hospital for doting on her daily. She takes pills three times a day for a neurological issue; gets dips for recurring ringworm and sometimes has goopy eyes. But oh, how I love her. And she’s been loved deeply every day of her life. She’s never lonely and is always greeted with love and kindness by friends and strangers. Our family counts on her being there for every special occasion. Her framed portrait is displayed in all our homes.

When the day does come where she leaves us to “go away to the farm,” I will indeed be heartbroken but filled with the joy she brought to my life. She prepared me for having our second child, Marley. Annie opened me up to the love that’s as wide as the ocean views she’s enjoyed. I’ll miss the smooches, the slobber, the snoring and all the long rituals of hygiene and healthcare. I’ll miss the slow and stubborn walks. I’ll miss her sitting on my foot and her crawling up and putting all 60 pounds across my chest. I’ll miss her in the backseat of the car looking out the window watching the world go by with her sincere expressions. But her gifts have been many, and my cup runneth over.