When I was 16 I took a trip to our local animal shelter. I found a sweet 9 month of German shepherd mix, Brandi. I don’t often believe in love at first site, but believe me when I say- it happened for me that day. I am a firm believer that pets our family. Rescuing dogs is such a rewarding feeling because these dogs are so grateful for you. Some rescue dogs don’t know what it’s like to have a home, to be warm, to be loved. If any of you have gotten rescue dogs, you know that it’s not always sunshine and rainbows. These dogs are often skittish, defensive, and untrained. It takes a lot of patience to raise a shelter dog.
When I started to have children of my own, she wasn’t exactly keen on the idea. Small children made her very nervous. She always wanted to be around them (and me) but wasn’t very affectionate to them, she was very defensive. That being said, we did separate her from the kids unless we were there to supervise. Because of this, my children were never really close with my dog. They both still got the love they needed from me, just not with each other.
13 years after I took her home from the pound we found ourselves having to say goodbye to my “first born”. Very common with shepherds, she was losing strength in her back legs, she was losing a lot of weight, and also losing her hearing and vision. There is never a right time to say goodbye to your pet. You don’t want to say goodbye too early, but you also don’t want them to be in pain or suffering. It’s an impossible decision, one that I did not want to make. With heavy heart I scheduled her to be put down.
Introducing death to children
We have experienced death once before. My grandmother died December 2018 when my son was 4. It was very difficult for him to understand back then. The only thing he did really know was that I was flying back home for a week and he had to stay in California with his dad. To him that was the only part that mattered, which to me, is very age appropriate.
To prepare my oldest about Brandi, I told him that she was getting sick and was going to die soon. Eli, who is normally very emotional, just kind of shrugged it off. It kind of caught me off guard but he wasn’t that close with her, so I let it go. A couple minutes go by and Eli casually says to me, “Mom, when Brandi is dead, can we put all of our toys in the middle of the yard?” uhhhhhhh, sure.
The day we planned to put her down, I took one last swing at explaining things to him. I again said that she was sick and that we were taking her to the doctor and we were putting her down. He didn’t really say much again. He did tell me that it made him a little sad but he would forget about her. I said well of course you will, you’re only 6 and you weren’t that close with her. It would be totally normal to forget about her. What he said next just blew my mind. After a beat he says “When you die I will probably forget about you too.” I said well I hope not!!!!!! To which he replied “I will just find another lady and say ‘will you be my mom because mine is dead.” Lol WHAT!?
Listen, 6 years old is still very young to understand death and dying. I know this. I also know that it is very easy for children on the spectrum to view things as simply black and white. They can often be very blunt, have difficulty understanding and processing their emotions, and usually don’t react the same way as average functioning people would. If Eli’s ipad dies while he is in the middle of a game, what does he do? He is up in arms, falling to the ground, sobbing, he’s inconsolable. When it comes to the death of a family member or pet, not even a single sad feeling. I think this is the beauty of children. They don’t understand life yet. They are innocent. No real understanding of life, death, hardships, tragedies, war, etc. Of course, I’m not speaking for all children. There are definitely children who have lived these, and understand these. But When I look at my children, I see innocence. One day they will get to the point where they know and understand these things.
My children will one day feel true pain, and when that day comes I will be here, I will be ready. In the meantime, all I can do is mourn the loss of a dog that was in my life for over 13 years. The day I put her down will forever be etched in my memories.
To Brandi- I love you so much. You were a beautiful, loving creature. You were my best friend and my “first born”. You are irreplaceable.