Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is co-author of Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified pet therapist in the New York City-metro area with her dog, Moose. Find her on Twitter, Facebookor Pinterest.
My husband and I welcomed Choco, our first dog, 18 months before we had our son. Next in line was our little girl, who was the baby in the family for only a year before we added a new puppy, Argus. Our family expanded from two to six in as many years, and we were thrilled!
Both of our kids grew up with canine companions who enriched their young lives every day. To observe them romp around the backyard, with their two big brown dogs following close behind, was to watch happy childhood memories in the making. But, in addition to being our children’s playmates, Choco and Argus added other dimensions to their lives by simply doing what dogs do.
During the years that Choco and Argus were part of our family, they offered gifts to each of us with every tail wag and snuggle. As the dogs aged and became somewhat frail, they gave both kids additional lessons on how to be a caregiver.
At 14, Choco’s legs were weak and it was difficult for him to stand and eat. Our daughter sat patiently by his side feeding him kibble mixed with cottage cheese. He took small bites off the spoon she held out to him, chewing slowly, his eyes looking up into hers.
Years later, our son came home from freshman year in college for spring break and learned that Argus, at 13, had developed a serious breathing condition. He stayed behind from our family vacation to watch over his pup, sleeping on the couch near Argus’ bed, ready to attend to his needs.
The dogs were gentle and affectionate companions to our kids up to the very end. Along with sweet memories, what endures for our children are our family values including compassionate behavior to animals and to other people. As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children what we believe by our actions and through our words. But having these two dogs during the formative years of our children’s lives gave them daily practice in a virtue that we hold dear.
This St. Patrick’s Day, my daughter found a way to include our dog, Mr. Happy, in the celebrations. This idea sprouted from a recent morning when my daughter noticed that we were giving Mr. Happy medication to help with his separation anxiety. She asked if he was sick, so I explained how upset Mr. Happy gets when we leave, and that his doctor gave him medicine to feel better.
My household doesn’t miss a holiday, and St. Patrick’s Day is no exception. This year, in addition to making healthy green smoothies and green pancakes, crafting a homemade “leprechaun trap” out of a tissue box and dressing for the occasion, we decided to celebrate Mr. Happy.
After having our chat about Mr. Happy’s story last week, I noticed that my daughter had provided him with extra love and attention. On Saturday, after a day full of errands, she requested to go to the store to see the “birds, snakes, fish, and cats” to get “something special” for Mr. Happy and for our bird, Diva. I knew exactly where she wanted to go: the pet store. My daughter also wanted to know the name and story of each dog and cat up for adoption at the store that day.
Following our tour to see the adoptable animals, she asked if she could choose special treats for our pets. I was hoping for a quick and easy adventure, but she carefully sorted through toys to find the perfect green stuffed item for our dog and examined each shelf for the perfect food treats for Mr. Happy and Diva. I expected the stuffed toy to quickly enter my daughter’s overflowing collection of stuffed toys, but to my surprise, she proceeded to give Mr. Happy the green toy. She wanted him to feel special and loved, and in her own way, show him that we are lucky to have him in our home. This is a new St. Patrick’s Day tradition that no pin on Pinterest can capture, but is one that we will repeat next year.
About a week ago, our oldest cat, Lily, stopped eating. She began vomiting a bit and quickly appeared dehydrated. She had become very skinny over the past few months, but I chalked that up to age because she was still so friendly, happy and lively. However, one day she was rubbing up on the kitchen chair and spending time with the kids and just a few days later, she was vomiting and parched. I took her to our veterinarian, Dr. Jeff Beverly, on Wednesday.
Initial blood work ruled out a few suspected diseases, like thyroid issues and kidney failure. She was given fluids for dehydration and an ultrasound was scheduled for Monday morning. But on Friday night, she was listless and vomiting again. Dr. Beverly said to bring her in at any time if her condition became any worse, and I did so the next morning. He agreed that she should be hospitalized because she needed IV fluids and had a heart murmur, but since their practice was closed on Sundays, he quickly set us up with an emergency care hospital where they could perform an immediate ultrasound. In less than an hour, Lily was being triaged at the 24-hour facility.
A nice vet that I had never met before quickly proceeded to give Lily an exam and an ultrasound, and then informed us that Lily has intestinal cancer. There was a large tumor in her intestine, which is why she could not keep anything down. Then she said we could put her down that day. When I heard, I was overwhelmed. My brain was spinning and as the vet calmly and sympathetically explained why Lily was not going to recover from this, but I couldn’t wrap my head around it all.
My oldest daughter, Amanda, was with me, and she asked if we could talk to Dr. Beverly before we made any decisions. Just a few minutes later, she came back in the room and said he was coming right over. I asked him so many questions, but they all really boiled down to, “What we should do?” I didn’t want Lily to suffer, but I didn’t want to lose her, either. He said that we could take her home and bring her back at a later time, but I took one look at beautiful Lily and, noting her lethargic look and her obvious dehydration, I knew we had to let her go.
I have said before that Dr. Beverly is outstanding, but he was even beyond that on Saturday. His medical expertise and compassionate, thoughtful words helped us make the decision. My daughter was my rock. We cuddled and talked to Lily for hours that day, and then a little while after we made the decision, we kissed her sweet head and said goodbye.
Even though I know it was the right thing to do, we are all still so very sad. We miss petting her, feeding her and even talking to her. I greet our pets every morning, and it feels strange to leave out Lily’s name. But I also feel slightly relieved because I don’t see her looking incredibly lethargic or trying to get her to eat when it was the last thing she wanted to do. I want to remember her as a healthy, bright-eyed, loving, happy cat. The photo above really shows the true Lily, and that’s the way I’d like to remember her. It is never easy to say goodbye to a beloved pet but hopefully the memories of the good years outweigh the suffering at the end. Lily had a wonderful and happy life and that’s what I try to keep reminding myself every time I miss her. A condolence card from our vet summed it up so well: “Some friends come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave paw prints on our hearts and we are never, ever the same.” We’ll always have Lily’s paw print and we are definitely better for it.
Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is a blogger at Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified pet therapist in the New York City-metro area. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest.
Our family is not very crafty, but each year on Valentine’s Day, I gathered doilies, feathers, and pink markers for our daughter (now a college freshman) who loved making her own straight-from-the-heart designs. I remember her as a little girl as she sat at the kitchen table, gluing red hearts and writing out “I Love You” in glitter while Choco, our big chocolate Lab, slept nearby. That special card for her special dog was one she often finished first.
Did Choco notice and fully appreciate the sweet Valentine from the youngest member of his family? What Choco seemed to crave the most were our daughter’s belly-rubs and ear-scratches—tactile reminders of her affection.
Cho was already six years old when our daughter was born. As she grew from a baby to a toddler, he was her gentle playmate. She tumbled over him while he slept and was patient as she dressed him in our family’s wardrobe of hats. While she played, Choco felt her tiny hand on his head and his back, every caress an expression of devotion.
Touch is a vital component to the relationship you have with your dog. This Valentine’s Day, if you are considering buying your pet a squeaky toy or a card, don’t forget to simply give him a hug. While handling is easy and natural for many pets, for others there can be some hesitancy. Visit the ASPCA’s Pet Care section for tips if your dog resists touch.
Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blogGrown and Flown.
As new parents, even during the first months of our sleep-deprived state, we knew we wanted another baby and dreamed about our tiny son having a little brother or sister. Years later, when our family included a son, a daughter and a seven-year-old chocolate Labrador named Choco, we welcomed a new Lab puppy. Our family now numbered six!
Most of the time, Choco seemed delighted with his new playmate, Argus. When they romped around the backyard together, our older dog resembled his younger self. Meanwhile, the puppy spent many happy afternoons alternating between chewing on and napping next to his big buddy.
Are you considering bringing home a second dog? Here are a few things to think about first:
1. Is your family ready? Are your children at an age where they can interact with a dog? Will they be able to help with feeding, walks for one or both dogs and simple lessons of sit-stay-down for the dog? Are you committed to housebreaking and/or training a new canine friend?
2. Is your resident dog ready? If your dog has mastered basic obedience training, it may be easier to introduce a second dog to your family. If you choose to bring home a puppy, he or she may benefit from learning from your older, resident dog.
3. Are you prepared for the additional cost? Covering the cost for twice the food, vet bills, medicine, insurance (if you choose to insure your dogs), toys and other pet care supplies adds up quickly.
4. Have you considered factors like age, size and temperament of your resident dog? When you are out walking your dog or, if you take him to a dog park, how does he react to other dogs? Does he tend to dominate or is he easy-going? Is he playful and good natured with all other dogs, or does he seems to do better with those who are similar in size?
5. Have you planned for the introduction? When we brought Argus home, we brought Choco out to meet him in a neutral place and had one adult supervise each dog. We made sure to praise both dogs during the introductions, and provided separate food dishes and water bowls for Choco and Argus. As the dogs became used to each other, we enjoyed doing fun things together such as playtime in the backyard and taking walks around the neighborhood.
We loved watching our children and dogs grow up together and, after Choco passed away, we eventually got a second dog to spend time with Argus. I cannot imagine our household without canine companionship. But the decision to bring home a second pet is a serious one, and should not be done on a whim. Carefully consider your second-dog readiness, plan for the inevitable adjustment period, and look forward to many happy days to come—both for your dogs and for the rest of your household.