On Losing a Family Pet

Yesterday morning, I made an appointment to have our faithful, sweet 13 year old black lab put down.  

Max enjoyed ice cubes and a good ear rub. He was equally as passionate about sleep and people food. He was afraid of lightening and firecrackers. And, as a truth teller I’ve gotta add that he had the worst nitro-toxic gas you’ve ever encountered.  His characteristic tail wag is about the only thing that would signal to you that he knew you had walked into the room – but that was enough.

To be sure, he’s not been perfect (see toxic gas situation above) and Megan can attest to the fact that one day in the middle of a stressful house move, I went over to her house with the dogs where Max promptly jumped out of the car window Dukes-of-Hazzard-style and took a chunk out of her…um…posterior. She never wore those work-out pants again because there were 6 holes in the booty portion. Oy! And to think she didn’t sue us and is even one of my blog sisters! Wonders truly never cease, my friends.

But I’m not going to write about how he was just like a brother to my kids or liken him to a human being, but experiencing love for this animal and then watching him fade and decline has been a road of meaning I hadn’t expected.

Lately, he’d had a little more trouble standing up and a little more difficulty keeping food down. It seems like he just kind of lost the ability to do what he does best – be a dog.

So after cleaning up more than a few messes and resorting to hoisting an 80 pound dog in and out of the house for potty breaks and really just watching his decline, we had to have the talk. My husband and I talked about it first. Whispering in the bed at 3:30 in the morning after another bout of cleaning up messes, we asked each other if we thought it was time to say goodbye and, each with a tentative, voice-quivering “yes” we set about to figure out the best way to talk to the kids and actually handle the details.

These are really sweet family moments for my heart – even in their sadness. Our normal days are lined up with “mom, will you pick me up after practice?” and “dad, can you sign my permission slip” and “someone take out the trash, please.” Lots of transactions happen during our regular days. But in these more difficult, tender moments, we family members watch how we handle sad news, hard news.

For one of our kids, it was instant water works at the news and for the other it was shock and then evidence of a good cry in the shower.  

And we’ve all had separate moments since saying goodbye of realizing the stark reality of his absence. No more tail wag, nor more ice cube crunching, no more.

Death is so…final.

There are so many things we can control in this life and there are so many times I’ve been able to tell my kids to look on the bright side of a situation. But when it comes to death, I don’t have the answers. And I think that’s okay. I think kids need to see that their parents don’t always have another option, a better perspective, a new plan. The only phrases I could utter that weren’t deceitful in those moments were things like;

I think we’re doing the right thing

they’ll take good care of him

and

it’s time.

After saying goodbye to Max, each of the kids saw each other during the school day and said things like “I’m having Max flashbacks, are you?” and “I can’t believe that when I get home, Max won’t be there.”

Loss is like that. You have moments of disbelief, moments full of memories, and moments when you are distracted by a chemistry lesson. It’s not linear or predictable or concrete.

But just when I think we’ve tortured their hearts by ever even having a dog….

just when I decide we shouldn’t ever get another dog because it’s just an invitation to hardship and loss….

just when I try and create a protective barrier around my heart and the hearts of my family…

I watch us move on.

I see a resiliency particularly in the kids. Their hearts are still pliable and soft. They can move on. They felt the feels, and they’ll feel some more feels….but they’ll also probably laugh about how someone is mashing up their chips at lunch in the cafeteria today or they’ll recall that they don’t have to smell Max’s stank ever again. They just do that and no one told them to. They move on little by little and the loss of Max becomes a bittersweet part of the road they walk.

I’m taking a lesson from my kids this time. May our hearts be these little beating works-in-progress that never fully harden and never lose hope. In other words, may our hearts (and Max) rest in peace. (miss you, buddy)

Megan’s Take: Oh, Max!! He and I had such a complicated relationship. I mean, he did bite me in the ass and ruin a pair of work-out pants along with leaving a hefty red scratch on my derriere. There’s that. But you know, as I reflect on that moment, the sweet thing is that he was really just protecting his master. He didn’t trust me and he was trying to protect you. Gotta give him serious props for family loyalty. I suppose at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter what his flaws were. The fact is, he was part of your family. And now a piece of that family is gone. You fed him and loved him and protected him and he protected you. Watching any living creature pass from life to death is a profound, holy, no-words kind of experience. I was actually too chicken take our yellow-lab, Sydney to the vet when it was time to put her down. I made Scott do it. He went alone. (Sorry about that, honey!!) But when I saw him hoist her into the car for the final time, I bawled like a baby. Then she proceeded to poop in the car and we knew, just like you did, that we were doing the right thing and yes, it was time. It’s never easy to make that decision. Thinking of you all and praying for sweet memories of Mr. Max!!

Holly’s Take:

Oh, the thought of saying goodbye to pets.  I can hardly stand it.  One of my worst memories ever was watching my golden retriever look at me one last time, before he walked the Green Mile at the Humane Society.  I completely feel to this day that he was begging the questions, “Why are you just sitting there?  Please come with me.”  I literally cry to this very day (and in this very moment) thinking about it.  I’ve never gotten over it.  What, dear Jesus, is my problem?  You’d think that, that memory would pale in comparison to what has all gone on in my life since then and that there wouldn’t be any room for emotion for my long gone dog,  But I’m a firm believer in what is hard, is hard.  We can’t rank our emotions or difficult circumstances or compare them to others harder or easier.  Our emotions just take us wherever they want and we don’t have to always justify them.  Sometimes we just have to walk through them.  So, Christina and family . . . let the memories of Max roll.  Let the tears flow.  Be as crazy with your emotions as you want over your family dog.  It almost makes the world brighter when you get to be ridiculously something as innocent as saying goodbye to your loyal, cutie, stinky, long time, tail wagging family pet.

10 thoughts on “On Losing a Family Pet

  1. Beautiful story, Christina, as always. We have walked this road several times and what I have learned is that – pet or human – sudden or expected, we’re just never quite ready to say the final goodbye. Blessings to your family.

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    1. This very explanation is why I love you so much and appreciate all that you have given to Marvin and our grandchildren. I have seen it from the moment I first met you here in Va. We feel you and your family’s pain. He was the "best" and so very sweet and we will also miss him very much.

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      1. I love you, too! Thanks for being so wonderful to our sweet Max for so long. Love and miss you!

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    2. Paula – oof- goodbyes are never easy. I’m sure your final moments with your pets were as bittersweet as ours with Max. Thanks for reading and mostly for sharing.

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    1. Marlene – I love you. You walk each day with bravery and saucy wit…I needed a dose of that this week. Thanks for being so great to our Max this summer. 💚

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  2. What a great blog! I sat here and read it as the tears flowed. Even though we had to put our yellow lab down several years ago, it’s as though it were yesterday! I don’t think I will ever get over losing him. He was part of our family. He was a great dog, very protective of our family, and like Megan, my husband took him to the vet for the last time. I couldn’t go……I stood in the garage and cried as I watched them pull out of the driveway. He had liver cancer and nothing could be done for him so, also like you, Christina, we knew what we had to do. It was so hard. We had him almost 15 years and still tell stories about him and miss him still today. Enjoy your memories…..and let the tears flow!

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    1. Kathi – oh I can just picture it! These are the most gut wrenching moments. Goodbyes don’t ever FEEL good but sometimes are the best answer. So thankful you took the time to share your memory! What an honor to get to peek into that moment with you. Thanks so much for reading!! Blessings.

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  3. Thank you for this blog. I’m also a friend of Vickie Knipp and we just lost our yellow lab a few days ago. He was 14 and the greatest dog. It’s very hard, but we are so blessed to have had him in our life. Your blog said everything I have been thinking so thank you. I’m sorry you have too have a hole in your hearts.

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    1. Julie – Thanks so much for commenting! We both have freshly broken hearts over our sweet dogs. I am so sorry you lost him. It’s just like Vickie to think of both of us with such compassion. Thinking of you and honored that you read the post.

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