It is inevitable that at some point in our lives we will have to deal with the death of a loved one or sometimes worse, a pet. As parents we hope that this won’t happen until our kids are at such an age that they can understand what has happened, however as death is a random act of nature there really is no planning. The topic of death is very much one of Russian roulette when you have kids.
Five years ago before the birth of son number 2, we decided to get a puppy. We already had a dog and we found that after the birth of our first son, she became very withdrawn and grumpy. To combat this we decided to get her a friend and as I had never had a puppy before, we decided to kill two birds with one stone. I had always wanted a male springer spaniel and after a bit of searching managed to find a local woman with a litter of pups.
We went along and I instantly fell in love with this little black and white dog. He had a huge head and huge paws, even at that age you could tell he was incredibly chilled out to the point where you had to put him in front of his food to eat. That was it, I was smitten and chose him there and then. I named him Boris, I have no idea why but it seemed apt for this bundle of fun who went on to change our life as a family.
Boris was a perfect puppy, incredibly obedient and loyal, all he wanted to do was please. We were told that Boris would grow to be a medium sized dog….Wrong. The boy grew and grew and after 2 years weighed a whopping 27Kg with a head the size of a beach ball and I am pretty sure he had size 4 feet. This beast of a dog liked nothing more than climbing up on my lap and having a cuddle. He would lay there and fall asleep with his head on my chest and seemed to be able to give the biggest smile possible.
Naturally my eldest son loved Boris. He would play out in the front garden and “BOBO” as he called him, would be constantly by his side. When boy number 2 was born it wasn’t long before Boris was imprinted on him too. We are lucky to live in a small village surrounded by fields so we naturally spent a lot of time out walking with the dogs. At the time I was lucky to appreciate Boris and he never spent a lot of time away from my side.
Two years ago I received a call from my wife, she told me that Boris wasn’t himself and she thought he better go to the vets. He was struggling to keep his food down and just generally looked a bit miserable. She came back with a crate of expensive special dog food as the vet thought he had a stomach infection and we were told to feed him that over the weekend and take him back in on Monday.
I look back on that weekend with a lump in my throat. Boris was clearly not himself and spent a lot of time laying down. On the Sunday we spent some time playing out on the green in front of our house and whilst I was sat there taking a rest from the boys attempts to give me a heart attack, Boris came over. There was nothing unusual about this except that he nudged my head with his head, then put himself onto my lap. And there he stayed whilst I stroked his head and belly. I knew he wasn’t right and in hindsight I think I knew that he was dying and I think it was his way of trying to say goodbye. I got the rest of the family over and we gave him a group hug.
The boys were oblivious to the situation and on the Monday they went about their little lives. Number 1 went to school and Number 2 went to the child minders. My wife took Boris back to the vets were we received a call saying that they needed to open him up to take a look at his stomach. 40 minutes later the vet called me from the operating theatre and told me that Boris had a fist sized hole in the top of his stomach and that there was nothing he could do, the decision was made to put him to sleep. The vets called me back and I couldn’t help but cry. My wife and I sobbed but little did we know, this was going to get harder.
The kids came home at the normal time and Number 1 immediately noticed that Boris was missing. I sat him down on the sofa and with a lump in my throat broke the news that Boris had been poorly and had to go up to the big farm in the sky. He tried to keep it together as he was at the age where crying was starting to become a bit embarrassing but after a few seconds he lost control and sobbed his little heart out. Through the tears I could hear him mumbling and when I asked him what he was saying he replied “I never got to say goodbye, he was my best friend”. That was it, I was gone. I held my little boy there for 15 minutes and cried with him.
I felt that it was important for my son to see me cry and show that it is okay to display your emotions when you lose something that is close to you. I explained to him that Boris was poorly and the vet was unable to save him and as much as we missed him, it was better for him to be up in doggy heaven and not in pain. Later that night at bed time we were talking about Boris and what a great pooch he had been. As I went to close the curtains my son asked me to stop, he jumped out of his bed and ran over to the window. I asked him what he was doing and he said “I’m speaking to Boris. Goodnight Boris, have fun up there and I will see you soon. Love you Boris”.
I had to step out of the room at this point and let my wife take over. I was a gibbering mess of a man caused by the death of a much loved pet and by seeing my sons innocence taken away so abruptly. A few days later my son said that he wanted to send a card to Boris in doggy heaven. We picked a card and he drew a lovely picture, we then posted it to Doggy Heaven which just so happened to be at the same address as my best friend/brother in law. In a huge act of kindness a card came back explaining that Boris was very happy and not to worry. This helped to draw a line under the whole episode and bring a bit of closure to it. Over the following few weeks we had lots of tearful moments from both kids although I am pretty sure Number 2 was just jumping on the band wagon.
I never wanted to replace Boris and as much as I could put on this big roughty toughty facade, I always felt that a bit of our lives was missing. A few months later whilst having a weekend away in Cornwall, my wife said that she felt the same and also that she believed the kids did too. More importantly our existing dog was also grieving, she needed a companion to bring her back again. There and then we decided to go for it on the rules of No puppy and No springer spaniel.
On the way home from Cornwall my wife found Bear on the internet. Bear is the complete opposite of Boris although he is calming down now. Being this different made it easier for our sons to accept him. If we hadn’t have gone for the opposite of what we had lost then this process would have been more of a struggle. My kids now dote on Bear and he plays a big part in our family.
I would much rather have not experienced this situation however on reflection I think it has been beneficial. Death is not a negative subject in our house and is met with a thought of happiness by my kids. Last year the boys hamster died and we found that we had no tears at all, in fact they found humour in the fact that she emptied her bowels as she died climbing into her food bowl.
Two weeks after his death, Boris came home for the final time. He is a lot slimmer than he was before but nonetheless my boy is home and sits on the bookcase next to my seat on the sofa. Every morning I tap his urn and say good morning. I know it is silly and probably mental, but when you have had a pet that imprints themselves so much onto you, it is hard to just shut the door and stop caring and missing them.
To summarise, you can’t hide from the subject of death when it comes to your kids. You just have to accept that this is life, draw on the positives and move on. Your kids won’t thank you for telling them a lie when they are old enough to understand.