His name was “C.K.” and I buried him last week.
C.K. is short for “Clark Kent,” although many people assumed it meant we had a weird fascination with Calvin Klein perfume. My wife said I could give him this name since I’ve always been a Superman fan (and she’d never name our future kids “Lois” or “Clark”).
It all started 15 years ago when I headed out of our small house and kissed my bride goodbye. Standing on our mini-porch, we saw a little puppy actively sniffing around the property we lived on. My wife knew exactly where this was heading.
“But honey,” I said, “we haven’t even talked about it. Look, I know the ladies are coming over in a few minutes for lunch, so how about if he’s still here when I get back then we’ll talk about keeping him?”
“Argh, fine,” she said, heading in.
Double-checking she wasn’t looking out the window, I fed the dog. “Ironically,” he was still there when I came home. I lifted him up, put his face side-by-side with mine, and knocked on our door.
“Can we keep him?” I asked, flashing my brown eyes and his at my wife. She never had a chance to resist.
That first month was a challenge, for not only did C.K. arrive full of burrs and dirt but also had a codependency we hadn’t planned on. At night we tried putting him in our laundry room and kitchen, but his constant whining and scratching exhausted us to let him sleep on our bedroom floor.
There was also the hurdle of his desire to chew on everything. We once came home to find our backroom entirely full of paper products from our wedding that he’d shredded. In another home, the mail came through a slot on our door and C.K. would rip it out of the mailman’s hands, making bite marks that made bill paying quite humorous. Wherever we lived, we had to replace carpet… and in one home, an actual door that he ate his way through.
We couldn’t cage him either. Once when we tried we came home to find that he was walking around the house, and yet the cage was still intact. Granted, there was a handful of hair from where he’d forced his forty-pound medium-sized body through the two-inch gap between the bars.
Five years ago we had to temporarily move in with my wife’s parents. Unfortunately, C.K. couldn’t come with and it was difficult for us all. He became a symbol of hope for when life would feel “normal” again. After 11 months apart, we were all tears when we picked him up from a kind caretaker.
Speaking of which, our dog moved with my wife and I as many times as we did. Just as our lives needed to adjust to new relationships and surroundings, he rolled with the new sights and smells as well. Over the years we tried to make it easy on him... often buying vehicles that he'd have a special spot to ride in. Before kids, we even bought two station wagons for this very purpose.
I can still hear the thump.
And I still expect him to come down the stairs with me when I head into my basement office.
Or pick up the food I happened to drop on the kitchen floor.
And this year... we won't be buying him the traditional Flintstoned-sized bone that he can barely lift.
Many of you may face a similar situation, so here are the steps we took, right or wrong:
- We determined not to react. This last year was hard, as not only did C.K. became more codependent but he didn’t realize how loud his natural noises had become. He also struggled with natural body functions, from horrible gas to random urination. My wife and I resolved, though, to not end it because it was inconvenient, modeling commitment to our kids.
- We called our veterinarian. While I was alarmed by what I saw, I knew I needed to talk with my vet into order to speak to my kids with credibility.
- We sat down as a family. I began with, “We know C.K. has been really sick a long time. God gave us an extra year with him, but I spoke with C.K.’s doctor and she told me that it’s gotten worse and he is dying. We have the choice to let her help him die without pain, and that’s what mom and I believe we should do.”
- We dialogued honestly. My 9-year old wanted to know what would happen, and my 6-year old wanted to know if we’d see him in heaven. We took each aside and gave them simple, true answers that matched their questions without “over-answering” them.
- We used technology. I gave the boys a digital camera and camcorder to record a “last day” with C.K. The memories they made will last a lifetime.
- We kept the appointment. As I pulled out of the driveway with our dog, I heard my boys cry out in a way I hope I never hear again. As tempting as it was to turn around, I took our dog to the vet while my wife comforted the boys at home. Everyone wept hard, including me.
- We had back-up. I knew I’d be an emotional wreck so I had a good friend help me transport and bury our dog. I also can’t say enough good things about our vet, Dr Janine Pepin. She created a warm environment for a hard moment, took paw prints of our dog for my boys to keep, and even sent flowers that arrived at our home within an hour of it all happening.
- We followed-up personally. I purchased flat stones for our family to decorate – a large headstone and four medium-sized squares. We decorated them with personal thoughts, and later placed them by his grave.
- We didn’t move on. Many people have asked if we plan to get another pet, but we haven’t. It’s easy in our world to “replace” our hurt with something new, but clogging up a hole doesn’t help it to heal.
One day it won’t, though. That’s incredible news for those of us who embrace God’s promise that “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”(Revelation 21:4)
In the meantime, the Bible isn’t clear on if our pets are in heaven, although it does hint at the presence of animals. My boys hope that one day we’ll see our dog again, and I think my wife and I yearn for that, too.
But it doesn't say... no matter what my heart wants it to say. Many animal lovers speak about this with positive conviction, but the truth is that at best we just have a good guess. So I'll toss my guess in that direction, too.
All I know is his name was “C.K.” and I buried him last week.