My little family began the day that my husband and I got married in January 1996. By June of that year we had purchased our first home. And then on August 29th, our family grew when Mike brought home our first puppy in celebration of my birthday that year.
The ultimate mutt of a pound dog, she was the runt of her litter and all of her litter mates had chewed on her tail to the point that it had very little to no fur left on it. Mike had great compassion on her and she became our Daisy.
Our family grew again on September 24th of that year when I brought home a tiny little dachshund puppy. A red smooth miniature dachshund to be exact with the softest coat of fur, biggest puppy eyes and cutest floppy ears this side of the Rio Grande. Her name was somewhat of a compromise as Mike really wanted to call her something along the lines of “Frankfurter” or “Oscar Mayer.” As neither of those names were acceptable to me, we finally settled on Frankie.
Fast forward 12 years, another puppy (Gus, a Welsh Corgi) and two kids later we had a full house. Our two children have never known life without Daisy, Frankie and Gus. They had not known what life would be like without any of these precious little creatures until May 6, 2008.
On that day, at just shy of 12 years old, Daisy finally succumbed to a several month ordeal which we are fairly certain was a cancer in her gastrointestinal tract which had metastasized and spread to her lungs. Normally a 55-60 pound dog, she had lost so much weight that it was painful for us to see her like that. There came a day when we just knew her fight was over. As her owners we had to make a decision that day that we never wanted to make. We had to end her fight for her. Peacefully, quietly; she suffered no more.
Nathan was young enough at the time, not quite 3 yet, that he just took it in stride that Daisy had died. But Sarah was 7 and really took it hard. I simply told her when she got home from school that day that Daisy had died at the vet’s office. We sat on the couch in the living room and cried on each other’s shoulders for quite a while. To this day she still keeps a picture of Daisy in her locker at school and we all talk about her often.
Then on Saturday September 10th, just a few short days ago, at the age of 15, our little dachshund, Frankie, died. She had battled and taken medication for congestive heart failure since January. We knew she wasn’t well on Saturday morning but then she just got progressively worse throughout the day until she had what we believe to have been a massive heart attack Saturday evening. We all gathered around her as she lay in my husband’s lap and petted and loved on her. Then, after I had left with the kids because of previous plans, she breathed her last there in his lap. Yet again, peacefully, quietly; she suffered no more.
I know that talking about a pet’s death doesn’t seem like an overly spiritual thing to talk about, but I believe there are lessons to learn if we allow ourselves to be open to them.
We have never been ones to shelter our children from death. Dying is a part of living on this fallen planet. While Sarah’s first experience with death was my grandmother (on my mom’s side), she was young and had not had the opportunity to be very close to my Nana. Daisy’s death in 2008 was her first real experience with death hitting very close to home. And this, with Frankie on Saturday was Nathan’s first real experience with death when he could process it and fully feel the emotion of it.
I have to tell you, I have never seen a 6 year old boy as sad in my life as Nathan was on Saturday. We’d had a baseball game on the television and as we sat there and petted her he said, “I don’t want to watch TV right now.” I asked him if he wanted me to turn it off and he said that he did. It was like he felt the reverence of a life slipping away and knew that having a baseball game on in the midst of it was just not right. He sat in my lap for a while and cried and then so did Sarah.
As hard as it is to lose a pet, I am so thankful that my kids have begun to learn how to grieve and to process the idea of death in the sheltered atmosphere of our little home in this way. Because, you see, we have a loved one who is ill. A loved one who is very close to us. We have no idea how much longer he will be with us here on earth, but we do know that our time with him is so much shorter than we would have ever anticipated. However, I know that when he does pass away that it won’t be my kids’ first encounter with death. And as hard as it will be on our whole family, it will be just a little easier to know that my own children, even though they don’t know the full extent of the illness to this point, will have just a little bit more understanding of what is going on and will have a past experience to draw from.
It’s true that having pets while your children are young is such a training ground. It teaches them how to care for another living being who is totally dependent on them. It teaches them responsibility. Having pets can help teach them kindness and gentleness. But, unfortunately, and as much as it hurts, having that little furry creature in your home that wiggles its way into the fabric of your family and heart can also teach them about death.
Lord, I hope it’s true that all dogs go to heaven. Please take care of my Daisy and my Frankie until I get there. I know that Daisy can wake you up barking at night and Frankie seems like she’s always underfoot while you’re cooking dinner, but they really are good dogs. And by the way, Lord, they both like their bellies to be rubbed. Often.