We knew the day was coming, but we didn’t know it would be Saturday. Our faithful dog, Whidbey, died yesterday and was buried by our old apple trees. It was a sad day, but we are thankful that we had so many years with him.
One day, more than eleven years ago, the children were outside playing and saw a chocolate lab run into the yard. He was friendly, so we took him into our backyard to keep him safe until his owner was found. Within minutes a man drove down the block looking back and forth out his windows, trying to locate the dog. Being friendly, I told him my kids were going to be sad to part with his dog, and he replied that he had another lab who needed a home because the two dogs were not getting along; were we interested? Of course, the children needed no convincing, but Russ and I were not considering adding a dog to our family of seven.
We decided to bring the dog home for the afternoon to let the children play with him and see what we thought. Russ went down the block and returned with a skinny and tall black lab who cowered when anybody moved quickly. He had sores on his back where the dominant dog had attacked him and he only ate if we offered him food from our hands. His name was Trouble, which panged me; no dog should be named Trouble. As the afternoon progressed, the kids grew more hopeful that we would keep the dog. By evening we were all growing attached, but there was one rule, he had to be an outside dog because he was huge and besides, I just didn’t want a dog in the house.
That night we made a bed for him in our carport. We tucked the kids in and went to bed only to be awakened at 10:30 by the sound of the dog howling outside. Russ got up and tried to settle him, but as soon as he came back to bed, the dog began howling again. We knew our neighbors were not going to be happy, so Russ put the dog on the leash and walked him back down the block to his owner. The owner’s house was quiet and dark, with only the faint flicker of a television showing through the window, so Russ brought the dog back home.
We put his blanket just inside the door and he curled up happily. Back to bed we went with plans to return Trouble in the morning. Just as we were drifting off to sleep, we heard the click, click, click of his nails on the wood floor as he made his way to our room where he curled up on the floor next to the bed and fell asleep. That was the end of any doubts we had about keeping him and the end of his days as an “outside dog”. We resigned ourselves to having a dog the size of a calf in the house. We also named him Whidbey, after Whidbey Island, our favorite place.
The children were sad to lose him yesterday and there were many tears, but they also found productive comfort in digging a grave and helping bury him. It was hard for me to use words like grave, dead, and bury, but it was also important. As much I want to shield my children from pain, death is a part of life. For my Ethiopian children it has been a very present part of their lives and the lives of their friends in the orphanages. They have seen far more suffering and death than most of us ever will. Dimples said, “Now I know three people who died, my Ethiopia Mom and Dad, and Whidbey.” Honeybee said, “My Ethiopia Mommy and Daddy no die,” but we have talked about it and she knows they have. She has no memory of them since they died when she was a young baby, but fortunately we do have a lovely photo of her in her mother’s arms.
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