The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. … He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know” (Ezekiel 37:1-3).
The day we put our dog down I held her head, caressed her face and called her my favorite nickname, Maggie-Moo. And then she stopped breathing. I cried and cried and cried.
My husband and I had tried to be honest with our kids about what was going to happen with Maggie without saying more than they needed to know. When our 6-year-old son left for school that morning and asked, “So when we come home from school, Maggie will have gotten a shot and died?” we said, “Yes.”
Maggie had been my daily walking companion; she sat at my feet while I worked at my desk; and if you gave her a bone she’d wait until you weren’t looking and bury it. Now she was gone.
My husband and I had tried to be honest with our kids about what was going to happen with Maggie without saying more than they needed to know.
The death of a family pet may be the first experience children have of loss. How do we as caretakers help them understand what happens after a loved one dies?
As we observe the season of Lent, this text from Ezekiel comes to mind: “Can these bones live?” Or, as children ask, “Can dogs go to heaven?”
Perhaps our answer need not be any clearer than the response we hear in Scripture: “Lord God, you know.” Granted, Ezekiel wasn’t talking about doggie resurrection but restoring God’s people. And yet, I find the words still work. God’s concern for life, and presence during death, comforts us beyond any specific scenario.
When the kids came home that day, Maggie wasn’t at the door to greet them. In that moment, we held each other and cried.
Next I displayed pictures of Maggie and her dog collar in our home so we could sit with our grief rather than ignore it. We placed these treasured items where we would see Maggie throughout the day—under the cross, at the foot of Jesus.
Death teaches us to pay close attention to what fills our lives with joy and to count each day as a gift. My family still gives thanks for each day we had Maggie in our lives.
- Create a memorial in your house to hold your pet’s favorite things to encourage continued conversation about your pet.
- Help other animals by donating unused heartworm or flea medications or other helpful items to an animal shelter (don’t feel compelled to give away your pet’s favorite things).
- Keep your pet in your family prayers (at mealtime or bedtime). There’s no harm in continuing to pray for your loved one.