When my 13-year-old beagle, Lou, had lost the use of his back legs, was borderline blind, had elevated liver enzymes and a heart murmur, I knew in my heart it was time to say goodbye. It was a horrible week at the time — both kids had strep throat, and a huge storm was coming. I knew I had to let him go. So with all the strength I could find, I called my husband to come home and sit with the kids while I took my sweet pup on one last car ride. The vet and I made the decision together, and I could not have asked for a more caring staff than the one at vet’s office. They let me say goodbye as long as I needed, and I stroked his once brown ears until the doctor shook her head and said, “His heartbeat is gone.” I chose the option of cremation, and I would have his ashes back in a few days.
I don’t know how I made it home safely; my eyes were swollen from weeping. Arriving home without the only dog my kids have known wasn’t easy either. My daughter understood, but my son was too young to understand the scope of what happened. I think it was for the better. Now, I’m certain that most people would understand if my story stopped here. I had a wonderful dog for almost 14 years who passed away. Case closed. No more dogs. My heart was hurting and so was the hearts of my little people. What I did next shocked not only them, but also my husband and friends.
I brought home another dog.
Not just any dog. A dog who had been at a local shelter for almost a year. A dog who had been taken from one foster home to another. A big boy who just needed a home. I brought a dog home before I even had my deceased beagle’s ashes in hand. Why? To me, the answer is easy. A home without a beloved pet is no home for me. I did not want my family to get used to the idea of life without a pet. Pets bring so much value to our lives, and I did not want my children to live without one.
Sterling’s first sleepover.
Through an interesting turn of events, I brought home a large mutt named Sterling. A friend of a friend was trying to find him a forever home, and I met them the next afternoon with my daughter. I knew it was a perfect fit from the start. This large and gentle dog was the calmest dog I had ever met. Maybe he was so calm because he had to be to stay out of the shelter. Now, this was not the dog I would have picked for me. He was bigger than any dog I had ever had, and I had some incorrect preconceived notions about his breed. The first night at our home, he slept at the end of my children’s bed. It was meant to be.
Having a gentle giant in our home has also helped my kid’s cope with the death of our old dog. Memories that may have been sad are now happy memories because we are mourning the loss of Lou, not the loss of a pet all together. That’s where I think some parents get it wrong. Death is a part of life. Shielding kids from caring for another living thing only does them a disservice. Animals teach kids not only responsibility, but also empathy.
Here are the top three reasons why your kids need a dog:
Dogs get your kids moving. No fights over screen time at my house because everyone wants to walk the dog! According to the Centers for Disease Control, children need 60 minutes of physical activity a day. With the lack of recess time in schools, a pet is a perfect excuse to get moving! A jaunt with your four-legged friend can be a family affair. My kids and I look forward to the long walk around the neighborhood after dinner.
Responsibility. The children don’t get fed until the dog does. I explain that if they are hungry, then certainly the dog is as well. That’s an easy thing for even a young child to understand. Scooping food out of a container and making sure his water is clean is a simple way to make them feel like they are contributing to the family.
Empathy. When we adopted our pound puppy, I explained in an age-appropriate way how Sterling had been a dog without a home. Someone once loved him but couldn’t care for him anymore. We talked about how difficult it probably was for that person to let Sterling go. We talked about how sad Sterling must of been in an outside shelter through all kinds of weather. My kids talked about their own emotions and times they were sad and uncertain. We also discussed what it meant to be a family and that everyone was important and belonged. The way our family connected with Sterling was a much deeper connection than if we would have bought a puppy. Sterling had a story, and so did we. He was so incredibly grateful to have a home with our family. The kids feel it and love being a part of his story.
That brings me to possibly the most important part of this blog post — the hundreds of dogs (and cats) in Jacksonville and all over the country- who just want a chance with a nice family.
I realize not everyone is in the position to adopt a pet at this very moment, but chances are you could donate something off their wish list to your local shelter, such as cat litter, dryer sheets or even old towels and blankets.
UPDATE: Since writing this post, I had a Wisdom DNA panel done on my beloved shelter dog. Turns out, he’s a 100% pure breed American Staffordshire Terrier. Puppies of this breed cost around $800-$1200 EACH. It just goes to show that one never knows what gems, pure breed or otherwise, are just waiting for the right family.