Saying Good-Bye to Dingo

Saying Good-Bye to Dingo

From Chicken Soup for the Dog Lover's Soul

Saying Good-Bye to Dingo

My daughter Ella had a unique and remarkable relationship with my parents’ loving but irascible poodle mix. As a rule, Dingo didn’t like children. He would simply move away from them, or, if necessary, growl for them to keep their distance. But he loved Ella. She was always very gentle and kind and he trusted her. She trusted him, too. Trusted him to always be there for ball-fetching, raspberry picking or just for softly stroking his ears.

When Ella was eight years old, Dingo was seventeen and in very poor health. My parents delayed the inevitable as long as they could, but one bright spring morning my mother phoned me to let me know the time had come. I held the phone tightly and looked out the window, my welling eyes making the daffodils and tulips in my garden blur.

“Dingo’s in a lot of pain. We’ve made an appointment with the veterinarian for this afternoon,” my mother said, trying to keep the choking emotion out of her voice. “It’s against my better judgment to tell you,” she said. “But I wanted to let you decide how to handle it with Ella.” My mom always wanted to protect her children and grandchildren from any and all heartache; her way to do that was to only tell us about painful events after the fact, or not at all. But for whatever reason, this time she included us. I will be forever grateful to my mother for that phone call. It was a generous gesture, and ultimately, it would have repercussions beyond what any of us could have guessed at that time.

I agonized for a while, thinking that maybe my mother was right, just let it happen and we’ll tell Ella afterward and “spare” her the heartache. By phone, I talked at length to my husband and a couple of close friends about whether to offer Ella a chance to say good-bye to Dingo in the comfort of his own home. Was she too young to choose for herself how, or even whether, to say good-bye? I looked at our own aging wheaten terrier mix, Petey, sprawled across our kitchen floor, and our spunky Persian cat, Albert, snoozing in the morning sun on the couch. When their time came, we would certainly want to be able to say good-bye. Could I deny that choice to my daughter with her adored Dingo? I decided to trust my mothering instincts, which dictated that we pick out the important “eight-year-old” points of this sad event, and help her to decide for herself.

My husband took the afternoon off from work and we walked to her elementary school. Ella’s teacher allowed our daughter to leave the classroom with us. My husband and I sat with Ella on the deserted playground and spoke softly, all holding hands.

“Sweetheart,” I said, grateful that I could control my own voice at the moment. “As you know, Dingo is very old. And you know that he often doesn’t feel well, right?”

She nodded solemnly, looking from me to my husband and back again.

“Well, the past few days he has felt very bad. He hurts all over and the vet says he’s going to die soon. Nana and Da don’t want him to hurt anymore, so they are going to take him to the veterinarian and he’s going to help Dingo die and not be in pain anymore. Do you understand?”

Ella’s eyes welled up with tears but she nodded.

The emotion began to creep into my voice now. “So, even though it’s very sad, if we want to, we can go visit Dingo right now and talk to him and tell him we love him and say good-bye. Your teacher and the principal say it’s fine. But only if you want to. If you’d rather write Dingo a letter or draw him a picture, we can do that.”

Her feelings revealed only by the tears falling down her cheeks, Ella said in a strong, clear voice, “I want to go say good-bye to Dingo.”

We took her out of school, with the full support of her principal and second-grade teacher, both of whom knew that this old dog would likely teach Ella a more powerful life lesson than any they could offer that day.

So the three of us went to visit Dingo at Nana and Da’s house one last time. My parents graciously arranged to be absent when we arrived. Ella sat next to Dingo on his round, plaid bed. The old guy couldn’t lift his head, but when she put her hand near his mouth, his soft pink tongue gently kissed her. Her tender eight-year-old voice and the ticking kitchen clock were the only sounds in the otherwise silent house.

“Remember how I would throw the tennis ball and you used to chase it, Dingo?” she asked him. “Remember when you helped me hunt for Easter eggs?” She held his paw with one hand and stroked his ear with the other. “Remember going up to the cabin and walking across the bridge? I was always afraid to go across that bridge but you waited for me. Remember?” A tiny tip, tip, tip of his tail. She fed him his favorite treats and gently hugged him, told him how much she loved him, her warm tears falling on his gray fur. My husband and I both said our good-byes and cried, too. The three of us hugged around his bed, Dingo in the center of our love. We all knew together when it was time to leave.

Ella wanted to return to school. As she entered her classroom, several friends rushed to her with comforting words and hugs. Her teacher later told us that she had then read to the class The Tenth Good Thing about Barney. Then they had all talked about love and loss and the many different things we learn from our pets. The teacher said it was a remarkable day.

Although I knew then how important and loving that good-bye experience was for all of us, especially Ella, I had no idea what lay ahead for our family in dealing with death. I knew in my heart that we were wisely seizing a “teachable moment,” but my head wanted reassurance that we didn’t make too big a deal of it. Had I known that in the next twenty months our family would say good-bye to Ella’s loving grandfather “Grampi,” her wonderful great-uncle “Gruncle,” and then our beloved Nana herself, I wouldn’t have questioned our response to Dingo’s death, not even for a moment.

Saying good-bye to Dingo helped us all to know how important and helpful it is to say good-bye, in any and every way opportunity presents. Grampi died suddenly, with little warning and a thousand miles away. There was no chance to say good-bye before he died, so we wrote letters and drew pictures and put them in the ground with him so he could read them in heaven. Gruncle, too, was far away, but he was able to read our missives of love before he died.

Thankfully, because she lived just three miles from our home, we were able to say good-bye to Nana in person. Over the course of many special visits, we hugged her and kissed her, we talked about special times, we cooked her favorite meals for her. We told her over and over how much we loved her, as she died of cancer in her home. We knew how to do all this because we’d had a wonderful teacher: a little gray poodle mix named Dingo.

Elizabeth Wrenn

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