Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why I Cried When Our Dog Died

(Note to reader: This blog post does not reflect on the current state of my two adult children who have developed into very responsible, respectable citizens. I am very proud of both of them. It reflects what goes through a parent's mind during the process of raising them.)

I am not a huge fan of pets. I’m not against animals, just animals in the house. They are expensive, need constant care, and are too often doted on and loved more than human beings. Many of our pets are fed better than people in the developing world. I think there is something wrong with this.

Children, however, are drawn to animals in the house like I am drawn to freshly-baked bread. So when children entered our lives, we had to put up with a constant begging for pets. We acquiesced, first with a gerbil and gold fish, later a parakeet. We kept advancing and got a cat, each progression to larger animals with some trepidation on my part.

“I want a doggie,” our son would continually beg us in the most pathetic and desperate sounding voice he could muster for all his eight years. This begging went on for years. Dogs, being the most dependent of domestic creatures, were the last thing we wanted to have under our roof.

But the begging continued. So eventually we gave in. Yep, guess we are wimps. We started visiting the local SPCA shelter for a dog we thought would meet our standards. The first one we adopted turned out to be a big mistake; it had apparently been abused by its former owner and responded by biting several of our son’s playmates. We returned that creature pretty quickly to where it we had found it.

I was not too keen on trying again, hoping that the kids had learned their lesson, but they were determined. My daughter did research on the Internet and decided that a cocker spaniel was the perfect dog for us. Boy, was she wrong! But I am getting ahead of my story. We found the cutest four-month old brown and white cocker spaniel puppy at the SPCA. We brought him home and named him Benji. That’s when the fun began. NOT.

Benji was an extremely excitable dog, jumping nervously at every noise, particular ones like the door bell setting him off uncontrollably. The kids worked with him, but had a hard time making any breakthroughs until they enrolled him in obedience school. He was fairly smart and they taught him a number of neat tricks. He almost became tolerable. Almost.

Most of you know that there is more to taking care of a dog than teaching him tricks and getting him to perform them. Apparently our children didn’t. There are such things as walking him twice a day so that he can do his duty, feeding him, seeing that he gets water, taking him to the vet, seeing that flea stuff is applied. And of course, cleaning up after he has emptied the garbage can, ate a loaf of freshly baked bread off the table or barfed up some the dozen foil-wrapped chocolate Easter eggs. By the way, if you thought, or heard that chocolate is poisonous to a dog and can kill it, I’m skeptical.

You probably know where I am going with this. Somehow the children came up MIA when hard duty called. The reverse begging and pleading on our part fell on deaf ears. Threatening to get rid of the dog was met with mocking laughter. I know, by now you are really wondering about our parenting ability.

My wife and I were stuck with doing the dirty work while the kids enjoyed his play. Our son taught him to pull his sled up the hill so that they could coast down together in the snow. Such energy and ingenuity could have been used on the ordinary daily tasks, but to no avail. Ok, so maybe the morning duties were a little early for the children, but there was plenty of time other time during their waking hours that their helping hands could have been useful.

I was used to jogging every morning since I was in my twenties. By now my knees had reduced me to a daily walk instead of a jog, so I included the dog in my morning routine. We developed various routes of two miles in our neighborhood. Benji eagerly and faithfully accompanied me. After a lot of coaching he learned how to heel. For several years I decided to be paid for my morning exercise, so I took on our neighborhood paper route. My wife Esther joined me for part of those years, and so did the dog. I thought that being paid to walk the dog was pretty fair compensation for the responsibility that I thought belonged to the kids.

I complained loudly and bitterly about the dog, especially after dealing with one of his numerous mishaps. My son continually replied, “Dad, you love him and you know it.” Of course, the dog curled up at my feet and came to me since he was fed by my hand and accompanied me in the mornings (Esther did the evening duties), but I would show absolutely no recognition of affection for said creature.

Leading cross-cultural programs for several months several different years made us give up the paper route. First my daughter and her friends, who were now in college, took care of the house and the dog. The second time my son and his roommate took on the duties of house and dog. Each time we returned, the poor dog, who was used to a strict routine from middle-aged owners, was all out of sorts. It took weeks for him to settle back into his (our) beloved routine. At least our kids finally had their turn at total dog duty!!

Our son just before leaving for the vet
The last time we left for a cross-cultural semester, we left the house and dog to some trusted students. At exactly the half-way point, Benji got sick. Our neighbor lady, who is a huge dog lover and keeps her eye out for us and our house whenever we are gone, noticed something was wrong. The students said he wouldn’t eat. So along with our neighbor, our son decided to take him to the vet. He had a tumor on his liver. Already being 13 years old, and any means of intervention seemingly to no avail, by recommendation of the vet, they decided to put him down.

At the time we were visiting our daughter and husband who were doing a term of missionary service in Nicaragua. I knew something was wrong from the cryptic messages on Facebook from our son. We were staying in a wonderful bungalow-like hotel when the news came. Our son sent the picture of him and Benji shown here. I was overcome with emotion. Tears are filling my eyes as I write this. If I have such a distain for pets, and if Benji was such a nuisance to me over the years, why did I cry?

One reason was because it was hard to see my son having to go through with the most difficult and final duty of caring for a pet—putting it down. He really loved the dog even if he didn’t do much with it over the years. It was hard for me to be so far away and not be able to support him.

Beyond that, Benji, as annoying as he was, was a living, breathing creature. He was a piece of God’s creation and marvelous handiwork. Psalm 24:1 declares: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; yes, even Benji. He loved life and his owners. It was hard to see his quick demise, but he didn’t have a long time of suffering. His short life taught me to be faithful no matter what, to be dependent on others and God. He also taught me that as another creature of God’s handiwork, I too must die. May he rest in peace.


  1. I bawled when we had to say good-bye to our kitty... I know what you feel, my friend.

    If I may break netiquette here, this is my own experience, probably more recently than yours.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience with me. Very touching. You ask some interesting questions and I think they are appropriate because pets reflect our own fragility within the cosmos.