My recent article for Everything Mom is about helping children deal with the loss of a pet. Unfortunately we’ve faced death and loss on the farm a little more–and more intensely–than the average goldfish flushing. While never fun, we do try to keep our emotional distance from animals destined from the start to go “up the road” as we like to say. This is actually a little easier for the kids because they don’t get to know the nuances of behavior for each animal like Mr. Fix-It and I have to while keeping track of everyone’s health and well-being.
And while we don’t lie or shelter them from the truth about death on the farm, we do try to keep them from seeing most of it. They know if animals are sick, or that they died, but they don’t see it most of the time.
But our horses are pets. Our dogs and cats are pets (well, the inside cat anyway). And that kind of loss is a whole different story.
I lost my dog, Kenzie, this past February, 2010. Just a few weeks before what we would have counted as her 15th birthday. She’d been my baby, my companion, my buddy, my friend, for almost 14 years.
That’s a long time.
Me and the Kenzie-dog were together longer than most marriages last these days.
She spent hours in the backseat of my little red Tempo driving back and forth to see my family, Mr. Fix-It, and whatever other adventures I found myself in. She loved to travel and would sleep on my suitcase once I started packing to make sure she didn’t get left behind. She learned to jump in the front seat and stand on the horn if she thought I was taking too long at the gas station. Being crate-trained made her a good visitor almost anywhere, most of the time, and she learned to run back into her crate and pull the door closed behind her when the door was unlocked to pretend she wasn’t out while I was gone or to escape puppy pestering.
She also taught me that dogs should always ride in their crates in the back of an open-bed truck–just in case they happen to tangle with a skunk while picnicking halfway home from WV. (Tomato juice is a myth, folks. So is vinegar, dish soap, dog shampoo, people shampoo, Bath & Body Works Sweet Pea shower gel, and Skunk Out.)
She packed up and moved with me to Blacksburg, to Falls Church, to Pennsylvania, to Suffolk, to Smithfield…apartments, houses, farms…and finally her very own back yard with sheep and chickens to watch over, moles to dig up, and fences to go over, under, through, and around.
She was with me when my car broke down (10,000 times), when I got married, when we built our house, when our kids were born, and when I lost my parents. And she was with me when I thought staying in bed forever would be the easiest way to escape the pain.
And here’s the hardest lesson about helping children deal with pet loss–you’re dealing with it at the same time. And it hurts.
Your pets know who you are when no one else is around. Even if they don’t pinkie swear, they’ll never tell anyone that you ate the whole pack of cookies in one night, or that you cried yourself to sleep for a month because you were homesick, or that you passed out in the dog bed one night after too many Alabama Slammers. They’ll never tell the office that it was a “mental health” sick day, or whisper about your piles of laundry and unmopped floors, or mention that they saw you wipe your kid’s nose with a dirty tee-shirt rather than an antibacterial, aloe lotion tissue. Who you are is what matters to them, not what you do.
That’s why all dogs go to heaven.
And that’s why it hurts so much when they’re gone.