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Saying Goodbye to a Beloved Family Pet

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I had been dreading writing this daily dose. Our beloved golden retriever, Maddie, died this week. We are a “dog family” and throughout our marriage and raising our children we have been blessed to own two very special dogs. I really believe that children need pets, and we had one of everything (gerbils, snakes, hamsters, cats) while raising our children.

The first dog, a precious mutt named “Mrs. Brown”, was given to us by my brother who is a vet. While I was finishing my pediatric residency and pregnant with our first son, my brother treated a stray dog that had been hit by a car, and was brought into his animal hospital.

The woman who found the dog was named Mrs. Brown, and she insisted to my brother that she wanted to pay to have the dog treated, but was unable to take yet another dog home. Over the course of the dog’s treatment my brother became attached to the sweet mutt, but he was a bachelor living in a small apartment, and really had nowhere to put a dog. So…. after calling us about the dog, and insisting that we would love her, despite our protestations, my brother drove the dog from his Houston clinic to our small home in Dallas. He really only called us because we had a fenced in yard!!

I came home from the hospital after being on overnight call, to find my brother and a very “ugly” skinny, black and white dog ensconced on my sofa. The dog, who was now named, Mrs. Brown, moved in and as they say, the rest is history.

She was the best dog, smart, never chewed, had accidents and adored our newborn son. They grew up together and she later welcomed the next two boys. She was like Lassie throughout their childhood. She followed them when they went to play, walked with them to school and as they got older she was “just one of the boys”.

She was good until the day she died when we estimated her to be about 14 years old. We were all grief stricken and that is one of the first times that our children really had to deal with death. We swore we could never have another dog like “MB”.

It took us about a year, and then we all knew we were ready for another dog. This time the boys decided that they wanted a BIG DOG. After much research and numerous “fights” among the boys, we decided on a golden retriever. Being the only female in the family, I insisted that we get another female dog.

On the first trip out to “look at puppies”, as my husband reiterated to all of the boys that we were “not buying the first puppy we saw”, of course we returned home with Madrid (named for a son’s recent trip to Spain), a eight-week-old golden retriever.

She too became the love of their lives; although I remember a lot of puppy training, house training and chewed chairs and shoes (always the most expensive) during her first several years. But with age and a lot of “school” she grew into yet another perfect family dog. As each son left home, Maddie seemed to know that she became even more special, as we had more time to take her on walks and pay attention to her. After our youngest went off to college last year, she even moved from sleeping downstairs with the boys, to climbing the stairs each night to sleep beside our bed. She was loved by the neighbors and their children and was part of the family.

In the last several months she developed health problems and I kept praying that she would live until the boys were home in mid October to tell her good bye. But sadly she died before that and we had to call each son to tell them about Maddie. It was not an easy phone call to make. Somehow, even though much older this time, I knew it would be difficult for each of them.

But I remembered a book that we had read to the boys when they were younger, “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant. It is such a beautiful book with sweet text and bright illustrations. It made our boys feel so much better about Mrs. Brown’s place in heaven, where she could run forever, eat biscuits whenever she wanted and was walked by angels before the dogs fell asleep on a cloud.

It is the perfect book to read to a child who is saddened by the loss of their dog (or substitute any pet). So we all read it again, and felt better just knowing that our Maddie was now asleep on a cloud, next to Mrs. Brown, and probably talking about their favorite escapades while “raising” our sons.

That’s your daily dose, we’ll chat again tomorrow.

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