She had just lost her beloved family dog and was not sure her heart would ever heal. Until she received a special message…
Posted in , Jan 25, 2021
It was midafternoon, and I was already curled up on the couch in the living room with no plans to move. The day before, I’d had to put down my beloved dog, Ben. I’d spent the rest of the day in a haze, agonizing over my decision. Ben had been 12 years old, with rapidly declining health, and his veterinarian had assured me I’d made the humane choice. But was it? Had I really done the right thing?
On the other side of the room, my husband, Jon, was helping our six-year-old son, Gus, with his homework.
“Which of these worksheets should we have him do first?” he asked me.
“I don’t know. Just pick one,” I said, distracted.
Our older sons, Ted and Lou, played together, chatting happily. My stepson, Oliver, was in his bedroom. With four boys, the house was never quiet. Still, it felt so empty now without Ben.
Before Ben became the family dog, he’d been all mine. In 2008, I went through a difficult breakup. I had just bought my first home and found myself in the perfect situation to finally have my own dog.
I went to my local Humane Society. I walked past rows of kennels, filled with dogs of all shapes and sizes. Some pushed their noses against the bars, tails wagging. Others hung back, scared.
One dog in particular caught my eye. A big black dog. He looked like a Lab mix and was shy and sweet. He was so massive that I was sure he must have some wolf in him too. As soon as his large, golden brown eyes caught mine, I knew we were meant to be together. I signed the adoption papers and took him home that same day. I named him Ben.
Life together was an adjustment for both of us. Ben was a nervous dog. He wasn’t yet fully housebroken. When I left him alone for any length of time, I was certain to find a mess waiting for me when I came back. He chewed up my couch and shredded the pillows. I tried to crate-train him, but he escaped every time and wreaked havoc. Like an unruly, furry Houdini.
As Ben’s training improved, so did my life. I married Jon. I had my first son. Then my second. Then my third. Ben was the best big brother. He was patient and kind, tolerating high-pitched screeching and little hands pulling at his ears with a steadily wagging tail. My family felt complete.
Eventually I noticed that Ben was slowing down. He played less and grew tired quickly. His tail still wagged whenever I invited him to snuggle, but he could no longer make his way onto the couch. Ben seemed to get progressively more confused, walking into rooms and then seeming to forget where he was. When he started having episodes of shaking and problems with his balance, I knew something was seriously wrong.
I took him to the vet. He confirmed what I already feared. Ben was suffering from age-related neurological problems. He was in pain, and his quality of life was no longer good. The best thing to do would be to put him to sleep.
I stroked Ben’s soft black fur as he closed his eyes for the last time. Holding his head in my lap, I was fraught with uncertainty over the decision I had made.
“Do you believe in God?” I asked the vet as I gazed at Ben.
“And do you think dogs go to heaven?”
“Of course,” he said sincerely.
I cried all the way home and had a sleepless night. Now I sat on the couch, trying in vain to get comfortable. I looked over to Gus, hard at work on his worksheet. It had been so hard to explain to him and his brothers that Ben wouldn’t be coming home again. For the youngest ones, this had been their first experience with death.
Still, kids are resilient. My boys might have been sad, but I was demolished. I wasn’t sure my heart would ever heal.
“Beth,” said Jon, “could you come over here? You have to see this.”
Sighing, I got up from the couch. “What is it?” I asked. Jon pointed at Gus’s homework.
Each worksheet had the same premise. There was a jumble of six words on each page. Gus had to cut out the words and arrange them into a sentence, then glue them into place. Only one correct sentence was possible.
I stared at the words Gus had carefully strung together: We love our big black dog.
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