When a new job forced my husband Bob, daughter Melissa and me to leave our comfortable home in central New Jersey and head an hour south to Medford, in the southern part of the state, the promise of a new dog made the transition much easier. After all, my six-year old had been begging me for a cuddly canine for years.
Melissa soon developed a deep connection with Emily, the Rottweiler mix who willingly left the confines of the animal shelter for the comfort of a single family home in the ‘burbs. However, as much as she loved the dog, the adjectives I’d use to describe him would not include the word “cuddly”. Instead, I’d go with loyal, aggressive, anxious, and, unfortunately, terminally ill.
Veterinarian bills notwithstanding, we tried our best to make sure Emily’s last few months were comfortable and happy, while keeping the severity of her condition a secret from our six-year old. However, the inevitable day eventually came when the only humane decision left for Emily would be to put her down.
To say goodbye to a pet is difficult, to tell an innocent child what must be done is heart wrenching. With only the knowledge that Emily would seemingly be going to the doctor to get better, she happily boarded the bus for a typical day of first grade activities. After the bus pulled away, putting our child safely out of earshot, Bob and I coaxed Emily into the car. Since Bob worked from home and my job involved a 45 minute commute, logic dictated that he take Emily on her last journey to the vet. I made him promise not to tell Melissa until I got home at 6pm, so that we could sit her down and, with strength in numbers, break the devastating news to her together.
At 3pm, Melissa bounded off the bus into her father’s waiting arms and with excitement and anticipation, asked the question Bob had hoped would wait until I got home. “Daddy, how is Emily?”
A few minutes later I sat in my office, staring, horror-struck, at the phone.
“You told her what!?” I exclaimed.
“I told her we sent Emily to the home for sick dogs in Florida,” he quietly confessed.
Sigh. So much for my carefully planned speech about heaven, forever love and stuff like that. In her sweet, innocent mind, Melissa now believed her beloved pet would soon recover, thanks to the exceptional care at the home for sick dogs in Florida.
I can’t blame Bob. He looked into his child’s eyes and did what all parents strive to do from the moment their children enter their lives, protect her from pain.
So, we perpetuated the lie, and endured the strange looks from adults when Melissa told them where Emily now lived. My mother-in-law, with her wicked sense of humor, dubbed Emily’s new “fictional” residence, The Boca Del Vista Home for Sick Dogs in Florida.
Every few months Melissa would ask about Emily, and soon those months stretched into years. Finally, when our daughter entered her teen years, Bob and I finally admitted that the home for sick dogs had only existed in our minds. But, we are all convinced, Emily has lived happily all these years in the home for good dogs in heaven.