Our kids had a fabulous team of teachers in the third grade at Highland Park Elementary. Those teachers could do anything! Except for one really hard thing. The teacher who read aloud to them did such a great job. Until she came to the part in the story where she needed the other teacher to read for a while. The part where the dog died.
A great story is one that helps us wrestle with the hard questions in life. Like how to go on when we are covered in grief. Like how to come to terms with the loneliness we feel when lose a friend or family member. And because dogs are such perfect examples of a loving friend and family member, many of the really great stories we read as youngsters deal with the death of a dog. Like, Where the Red Fern Grows, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Old Yeller.
It was about the same time our son was in third grade that it seemed like one hard thing after another was happening in the lives of my circle of friends. We even made a dark humor joke about it. We would tell of the struggle, and then someone would say, "And then the dog died."
There are people who own dogs. I've owned a few. Dogs who came and went without a lot of impact. But then, there are dogs who own people. And I've been owned by a few. The first time I ever saw my dad cry was when we had to put down our beloved Spotty when I was a kid. Spotty owned our whole family. Smart, funny, loving...a lot like the Boxer girl, Lucy, who owns Bob and I now.
My sister in law and her husband were owned by a beautiful, funny, smart Golden Retriever named Montana's Hannah Banana who died yesterday. Some people can't understand how the death of a dog can be so tough. It's only a pet, they say. But if they say that, they have not experienced that little piece of heaven on earth that is the unconditional love of a dog. It isn't just the smiley faced dog grins, the efforts to respond to us and please us. It is the also the way dogs make us better people. We have a deep desire to care for a dog who loves us, to make their lives good, too. Hannah had a wonderful life. Her people did a really good job of appreciating the gift they were given in a dog who loved them. They will miss her so much. Because they lost a friend and a family member. Goodbye, Hannah. Good dog.