Those of you who've read some of my recent posts (over in the dogs group) will know that I've lost two animals over the past six months: Mabel, an 11-year-old Cocker spaniel, and Lily, a Cocker who was just seven.
As we have several old and/or sickly dogs and cats, there are likely to be more to follow.
But rather than writing about my pets in the past tense - and without becoming ridiculously over-sentimental - I wanted to record and share them in the present, while they're around.
So, while I still have him at home, here's Hector.
At 17, Hector is one mightily well-travelled cat, but sadly that's going to end shortly.
He has been plagued for the past year by a series of tumours on his spine, and while he has overcome three operations to remove them, they're aggressively spreading, and to such an extent that they are now inoperable.
They're not threatening his vital organs but they are unsightly and at some point will become so large that they'll significantly decrease his mobility and make him increasingly uncomfortable.
So it's a waiting game; watching the number of lumps and their size grow, monitoring his eating and toilet habits and checking daily to ensure the tumours haven't ruptured or perforated his skin.
Unfortunately, that's exactly what has begun to happen, and although he undeniably has most of his faculties about him (taking into account his age) and isn't in pain, it's obvious what decision will have to be made sooner rather later.
Of course it won't be easy as Hector has been with me "through thick and thin" for 17 years and that's one heck of a chunk of my life too.
But he deserves to go out in as dignified a fashion as possible. That's the least I owe him.
Born in Germany, Hector has had to up sticks several times to follow his peripatetic owner's lifestyle which has included lengthy stopover's in Italy and Switzerland as well as four moves within France.
Yes, Hector is proof that cats can and do travel. He has adapted to each new home with the consummate ease of a seasoned voyageur and along the way put up with the sometimes uncalled-for attention of a rowdy bunch of Cockers.
As an "adolescent" he would happily trot around the garden late at night when I was potting the dogs, teasing and taunting them from a safe distance and daring them to give chase.
I hesitated before having him neutered because I wanted him to be a "proper" Tom with a masculine head and fully jowled face. But I soon changed my mind after he had spent a night mistakenly locked in the walk-in closet providing me with a malodorous welcome the following morning.
Over the years there have been the inevitable scraps with unwanted trespassers; a slightly ripped left ear bears witness to his youthful indiscretions. But Hector has never strayed far from his "tin opener" and "biscuit provider" and that has proven a huge relief after each move when he was first allowed out to investigate his new surroundings.
Old age has most definitely made Hector less brave and he'll scare more easily at a sudden unknown sound, but even though he's toothless he can still pack a powerful swipe with his claws when it suits him - ask the vet.
He often appears distant, staring at nothing in particular and has developed the habit of taking an eternity before "making a decision".
For example, although he learnt from an early age how to use a cat flap, Hector now sits by the door almost "willing" it open and waiting to be allowed out, taking his time once the cold air has entered before venturing forth, only invariably to appear at a window minutes later demanding to be let back in again.
He might be frail and often give the impression of vacillating, but he's still in fine fettle physically - apart from those blinkin' lumps - and sometimes I see flashes of the "old" Hector.
He frequently hogs "my" chair just as I'm about to sit down, resolutely refusing to budge and instead begins his rumbling purr of contented superiority.
And there are those grooming sessions he shares with Hiro, the air head moggy who so resembles another cat we used to own but which died when Hector was a young adult.
Yes he's old now. I see that. And yes his life consists mainly of eating, sleeping, sleeping and more sleeping.
But, for the moment, he's still very much alive.
So, I'm going to enjoy the last few weeks the vets have said he might have, before giving him that dignified send-off he deserves and I've promised him.
When the time comes I hope I'll be man enough to live up to that pledge.
There'll undoubtedly be a tear or two or several in my eyes and a lump in my throat, but at the same time there'll be oh so much gratitude in my heart for the life I've been privileged to share.
Hector, February 2012