On Preparing Kids for the Death of a Dog

sad dogOur pup was still a teenager – in dog years anyway – when the fear began to creep inside. Fear of her death. Morbid? Indeed.

But our daughter had just begun crawling, and she delighted in nothing more than working her pudgy little body up onto her knees and heading straight for our beloved mutt. Grabbing clumps of fur in her hands, she would pull herself up beside her furry friend, giggling as a long, rough tongue darted out of the dog’s mouth to cover her with kisses.

It was both disgusting and adorable, the relationship between a little girl and her dog, and already debating whether we would stop after one child, it played right into the neuroses inherent in new motherhood. By all accounts, pets are good for kids on physical and emotional levels. But the problem with dogs, as we all know, is their lifespan is but a small fraction of a human’s. I’d given my baby perhaps the only sort of sibling she would ever have, and already I knew that pseudo sibling wouldn’t see her through high school.

It’s been some nine years since that realization first hit, nine good years. The puppy once discovered, abandoned, beneath a house who came to live with us quite by accident has been – as they say in the children’s classic Eloise – my daughter’s “mostly companion.” She’s put up with tutus slipped over her snout and hung round her neck for “ballet recitals,” handled paper towel rolls tucked into her collar to approximate wedding trains, and graciously gobbled down vegetables sneakily scraped from dinner plates into doggie dish.

She was, and always will be, our daughter’s first best friend.

And now she’s dying. Not dead. Not gone. But dying.

Like one out of every three dogs in America, the pup with the velvet ears and the feet that smell like Fritos has cancer. And the vet, for all his caring and knowledge, has no magic bullet to fix her. Nor does he have a crystal ball to tell us how much time we have left.

And I’ve found that in 10 years of preparing myself to explain the death of a best friend, I forgot to prepare myself for the chance that we would have time before the end, that I might one day have to admit that she may go to get off the bus to find a friend wagging her tail at the front door … or she may not.

Explaining the end to a child is not easy. I’ve had to do it more times than I would have liked to in the past nine and a half years, twice about beloved family members. The very comfort we take in seeing small children move on from a loss becomes more painful when, a short time later, we lose another person and realize they’ve largely forgotten the last loss. Each time it feels as though we start over from scratch, and to do so we dig a little bit deeper into our own souls as their questions become bigger, more thoughtful with age.

We find ourselves being forced to face questions that we can’t answer ourselves.

Like the vet, I can’t answer how much time is left. And somehow, right now, that’s harder than explaining the end, trying to explain “almost.”

 

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Comments

  1. I am so sorry that you have to go through that. It’s so hard losing a family pet.

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