If you have been on this site before, you know that our family loves dogs. If I was smarter, I would also have acted like the media and penned my obits well in advance of the need, way before I had to type through teary eyes.
Our boxer, referred to as my dogter, died last night. She would have been 9 1/2 years old today.
She had suddenly taken a turn for the worst with the high humidity and heat, and I thought I would be bringing her in to be put down. I always thought I would tell my child the truth about a pet dying (or anything, really) but when faced with the possibility of crushing and confusing a 4 year old, I became conflicted. As one person stated, they didn’t realize until they were 25 years old that their family pet had not run away. Was it better to say she took off?
After polling this question I got a few hilarious responses on what to say:
- The dog decided that after many years, he felt he was ready for a change–it’s nothing personal.
- Your father and I haven’t been getting along well w/ the dog and we feel that it’s best for everyone if we just took some time
- The dog was adopted by a richer family w/ cuter children. I’m sorry.
- The dog is serving on a petit jury?
- Look. Just cite “creative differences” and leave it at that!
After a good laugh I found heartfelt answers that all had the same thread:
Tell the truth. A four year old will understand. It will help shape the child to learn to deal with death.
One person mentioned that if told the dog ran away, the child might be holding out hope that it would one day return. Not one person advocated lying. I don’t believe false hope is healthy, and it was comforting to realize that by teaching my son to deal with an issue when it was presented it would help him deal with life in general.
I put that exercise into motion sooner than expected. Our beloved Boxer passed away shortly after my husband came home. A complete daddy’s girl, I believe she waited to see him one last time. We then were faced with sending the child back to bed or letting him see his pet. And he wanted to see her.
By the time we all stumbled into the vet, we were sleepy and weepy eyed. They brought us into a room to say goodbye. It may sound creepy, but I feel it brings closure. My son gave her loving pats and kisses. He asked if her spirit would now go into a human body and become a person (he had recently seen the movie Fluke, where a person’s spirit went into a dog). In the end, he mostly asked if the doctors would make her walk again and when she was coming home. And I was grateful he felt he could ask.
The vet gave us a book to read, called Dog Heaven. It helped to read about the place where “dogs don’t need wings because God knows dogs love running best. He gives them fields. Fields and fields and fields.“
My son kept repeating, “fields and fields and fields.” I recommend it for any family with dogs.
For the people who share the love of a pet, especially a dog, you understand. We were a four dog family, and this is the first loss our son is experiencing. She was also the first dog to join me and my husband, making us an official little family in 2000. It seems fitting that she is the one to show our son first, how to love, and second, how to grieve. Our boxer was incredible in so many ways. She treated my son as if he were her own, never once so much as growling when he would tumble, ride her like a pony, tug on her silky ears. She had a way of laying down wherever my son was, especially when he was sleeping, as if she wanted to block his possible roll off of the bed/sofa/etc. She was beautiful, very smart, fun and lovingly protective. Thanks so much for being our girl.