This month’s “Animals Near Me” photo contest received a record number of submissions and votes. We’ve had a similar response to one other photo contest. The theme? “Cute Pets.”

As I ponder the overwhelming response to these contest themes, I am struck by the indelible mark that pets leave in our lives and on our families.

In December, my husband and I lost our two Boxer dogs within just a few days of one another.

Our seven-year-old, Suki (left), passed away unexpectedly from the dog equivalent of a heart attack. Suki was a gentle, brindle-colored Boxer who believed there was no human problem so big she couldn’t lick it.

She was shameless and unapologetic about her affection. She rejected the idea that some people aren’t dog people; choosing instead to believe they just hadn’t been loved hard enough yet. She was a bit of a canine evangelist in that regard.

She embraced a simple approach to happiness. She was content with a dog bed in the sun, a companion to cuddle and an occasional treat for good behavior.

She was infinitely playful and never really grew up. She loved hide and seek, and she loved to swim. She taught me to love freely, find joy in simplicity and to never stop having fun.

A few months after we got Suki we sensed that she needed a companion. That’s when we adopted Luna (right). Luna was five at the time and so much older and wiser than Suki. I assumed this was a consequence of age, but I was wrong; Luna was an old soul.

Luna was amazingly intuitive and wicked smart. She had a knack for opening cabinets and doors, and planning escapes and baked good heists that would have made any seasoned criminal proud.

She didn’t give her love as freely as Suki, but once she loved you, she loved you unconditionally and forever.

She was infinitely loyal and fiercely protective of those she loved. She hated to be left behind or left alone, and I always suspected it was because she worried about who would protect her loved ones if she wasn’t with them.

When I would leave the house, I would often lean down and say, “I’ll protect myself now; you stay here and protect Suki.”

We had noticed signs that her health was failing but the weekend Suki died, Luna began a rapid decline. Just three days after we lost Suki, we found out that Luna’s body was riddled with cancer. Perhaps sensing that her earthly work was done, she let us know that it was time.

She taught me to love deeply, to find joy in the quiet times, and to never abandon a friend in need.

Through my pets and your shared pictures of yours, I am reminded of how much we can learn from them about how to love and how to live. The world would be a better place if we emulated the unwavering loyalty and selfless devotion of our dogs.

Or, as Charles Schulz famously said, “All his life he tried to be a good person. Many times, however, he failed. For, after all, he was only human. He wasn’t a dog.”