Facing God: Family Dog’s Death Teaches about Love

Here is my column that appeared in Saturday’s Northwest Arkansas Times:


A few weeks ago, we had to do what other families have faced, but it was a first for us. We had to put down our family dog. Her name was Sydney, a border collie and yellow lab mix. She was nine and a half years old. And a member of our family.  

family dogWe got Sydney when we lived in Michigan. My wife and I went into a pet store to look at turtles and ended up with a puppy. I don’t, by the way, recommend getting puppies at pet stores; there are so many shelter dogs that need good and kind homes. But you know what happens when something steals your heart and you end up doing something you don’t normally do? That’s what happened to us that day. Sydney stole Vanessa’s heart, and we went home with a dog instead of a turtle.

I wish I could say that Sydney was the ideal dog, the perfect picture of obedience and reliability. She simply wasn’t. She wasn’t a bad dog necessarily, but she also wasn’t a particularly good dog.

Though she loved our children, she couldn’t tolerate the neighborhood kids. Though she seemed to understand every word we said, she refused to learn commands or tricks. Though she loved riding in the car, she would often do things to make us not want to take her for rides. Like jump out the window at a stop sign. (If you ever saw a guy in Springdale abandon his car at the corner and chase a blonde dog through people’s yards, it might have been me.)

Sydney was a not a saccharine sweet dog. Her personality was kind of sarcastic, and for that reason she fit right in with the rest of us. She was a part of our family, and we loved her, orneriness and all.

A few months ago, Sydney began to slow down. We noticed that she wasn’t playing very much with our other dog. She wasn’t eating much either. When we took her to the vet, our worst fears were confirmed. Sydney was in kidney failure, most likely from a tumor.

After some long discussions and restless nights, we made the hard decision. A couple of days later, we took her back to the vet’s office for what had to be done.

The few weeks since that day haven’t been easy. There have been many tears shed in our home, many stories told, and many wistful moments of expecting Sydney to be there only to remember that she is not. Whenever our youngest daughter prays before dinner, she asks God to keep Sydney safe. It still tugs at my heart.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of lessons that losing our family dog has taught us.

First, life is a series of seasons. Some are happy and full of joy. Others are sad. Some seasons feel like they will last forever, and others are over before we can blink. The passing of a dog reminds us that nothing lasts forever. We had seasons of laughter and enjoyment with our friend. And now we are in a season of sadness and mourning.

This is life. We are using this opportunity to teach our kids and remind ourselves that we need to experience the seasons for what they are. Don’t fear the darkness, and don’t hide the sadness. Feel it. Mourn. Cry. But also, don’t miss the sunshine. Relax and enjoy it.

We’ve also learned a lot about love through this experience. The unconditional love of a dog for its master has become rather cliche. But maybe the stereotype is rooted in truth. Sydney didn’t demand anything from us. She didn’t require us to do anything to earn her affection and loyalty. We were her people. She simply wanted to be with us. In fact, her favorite times were when we stopped working and simply sat so that she could come over to us to be petted.

In this imagery is a picture, I think, of God. God simply loves us, simply wants to be with us. God doesn’t require us to earn divine love. God just wants us to stop working and be still. That’s what love is.

In the scrapbook of my mind, there are several clear images of pure love that I have experienced. There’s my encounter with Jesus that changed my life. There’s the day Vanessa walked down the aisle and said, “I do.” There are the arrivals of each of my children into our family.

Alongside these pictures, I’ve added one of Sydney, standing next to me waiting for me to pet her. She was our dog. And we loved her.


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