Goodbye to the Family Dog

Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 11:15am
Woman sits next to chocolate lab

Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown

Long ago, our house became a favorite destination for our son’s playdates, and we have a big, brown, furry family dog to thank. During our 20+ years of marriage, we have actually had four chocolate Labrador retrievers, beginning with a puppy when we got engaged and ending with the dog who joined our almost-empty nest three years ago.

Of all the dogs, though, Argus, a Christmas addition for our then six-year old son, was the rowdiest, matching up in temperament perfectly with the pack of energized little boys who came over to play. As he trained (somewhat successfully) his unruly pal, our son gained a playmate and confidante, alarm clock and buddy; in fact, he gained a brother. The years of puppyhood, with chewed possessions and indoor accidents, are distressing. But witnessing your grown child say goodbye to a now-aged dog as he leaves home for college is infinitely harder.

Author Willie Morris (1934-1999) wrote about the magic of a family dog in his wonderful book, My Dog Skip. We learn of how Morris blossomed from an awkward and lonely (only) child to a confident college student and recipient of a Rhodes scholarship, all with the help of his loyal dog. As the story ends, an ominous call arrives for him in Oxford telling Morris of Skip’s death.  He writes:

The dog of your boyhood teaches you a great deal about friendship, and love, and death: Old Skip was my brother…. They had buried him under our elm tree, they said—yet this was not totally true. For he really lay buried in my heart.

As we packed our son off to college for his freshman year, my husband, daughter and I watched as he hugged his dog and told him he would see him soon. For 13 years, the enormous chocolate Lab who joined our household so many years before, taught our son about friendship and love. Like Morris’ dog Skip, Argus passed away during our son’s collegiate years.

No doubt our son will have other dogs, but he may never have a relationship quite like the one he had with Argus. When I think of him as a really young boy, in my mind’s eye, he is smiling broadly, running with his giant retriever. It is an indelible image.

Mary Dell Harrington, a graduate of the University of Texas and Harvard Business School, began her career in the media where she worked for NBC, Discovery and Lifetime. Most recently, she and Lisa Heffernan co-founded Grown and Flown, a parenting blog that looks at the entire arc of family life from the point of view of moms with kids 15-25. Their writing has appeared in Huffington Post,, PBS Next Avenue and Lifetime Moms. Along with her chocolate Labrador partner, Moose, Mary Dell is a certified Pet Partners animal therapist and volunteers for New York-Presbyterian Hospital in that capacity.

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Suelyn Crisp

A quote from Anatole France "Until one has loved an animal, part of their soul remains unawakened"

Carla (Wis)

For as much a part of our lives pets are, it just isn't fair that they live such a short time!

Mary Dell Harrington

Carla, at least we always have the memories of our pets, though.


I just read the most wonderful book, "A Dog's Purpose." It has a story like this in it.

Mary Dell Harrington

Beta, thanks for the suggestion


The only fault of a dog is that they don't live as long as we do. I lost my first dog after he had a grand mal seizure~something I never want to have to see again. My second dog had to be put down when she was only 5. I still remember my Dad calling to tell me because I had moved to Chicago. The first time I came home to visit was so hard because she wasn't there to greet me.

Mary Dell Harrington

Rachel, I'm sure that was very difficult.


A little over 2 weeks I had to say goodbye to my 13 year old lab Saddie. I got her when she was 6 weeks old. 2 years later I had my daughter who grew up with her and thought of her as a sister. We were with her til her last breath and it was the most peaceful I had seen my Saddie girl in a very long time. Taking her to the vet for the last time was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life. I know I did the right thing, but everyday I still look for Saddie and I miss her like crazy. I know I'll have another dog, but none will compare to my Saddie Mae. She was my first baby and we had a bond that was like no other. She was always by my side and acted like a mom to everyone. She never met a stranger and many were very sad to hear of her passing. his past Friday I had her actual paw print tattooed on my foot because she was always stepping or standing on my foot. Thanks for sharing your story. Very special.

Mary Dell Harrington

Angela, sounds like Saddie was a very special pup. You will always have your wonderful memories of her and lots of great stories. You gave your daughter the gift of growing up with a gentle dog which she will cary with her. So hard to put a dog down; that must have been very painful. Take care and thanks.

No name please

If wishes of mine come true, Argus and his family of other chocolate labs (and I hope ALL pets), will live as long as the Alaskan malamute that lived behind my apartment building in 1978; I saw him walking the same street in 1998.