Goodbye to the Family Dog

Thursday, October 31, 2013 - 11:15am
Woman sits next to chocolate lab

Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown

Long ago, our house became a favorite destination for our son’s playdates, and we have a big, brown, furry family dog to thank. During our 20+ years of marriage, we have actually had four chocolate Labrador retrievers, beginning with a puppy when we got engaged and ending with the dog who joined our almost-empty nest three years ago.

Of all the dogs, though, Argus, a Christmas addition for our then six-year old son, was the rowdiest, matching up in temperament perfectly with the pack of energized little boys who came over to play. As he trained (somewhat successfully) his unruly pal, our son gained a playmate and confidante, alarm clock and buddy; in fact, he gained a brother. The years of puppyhood, with chewed possessions and indoor accidents, are distressing. But witnessing your grown child say goodbye to a now-aged dog as he leaves home for college is infinitely harder.

Author Willie Morris (1934-1999) wrote about the magic of a family dog in his wonderful book, My Dog Skip. We learn of how Morris blossomed from an awkward and lonely (only) child to a confident college student and recipient of a Rhodes scholarship, all with the help of his loyal dog. As the story ends, an ominous call arrives for him in Oxford telling Morris of Skip’s death.  He writes:

The dog of your boyhood teaches you a great deal about friendship, and love, and death: Old Skip was my brother…. They had buried him under our elm tree, they said—yet this was not totally true. For he really lay buried in my heart.

As we packed our son off to college for his freshman year, my husband, daughter and I watched as he hugged his dog and told him he would see him soon. For 13 years, the enormous chocolate Lab who joined our household so many years before, taught our son about friendship and love. Like Morris’ dog Skip, Argus passed away during our son’s collegiate years.

No doubt our son will have other dogs, but he may never have a relationship quite like the one he had with Argus. When I think of him as a really young boy, in my mind’s eye, he is smiling broadly, running with his giant retriever. It is an indelible image.

Mary Dell Harrington, a graduate of the University of Texas and Harvard Business School, began her career in the media where she worked for NBC, Discovery and Lifetime. Most recently, she and Lisa Heffernan co-founded Grown and Flown, a parenting blog that looks at the entire arc of family life from the point of view of moms with kids 15-25. Their writing has appeared in Huffington Post,, PBS Next Avenue and Lifetime Moms. Along with her chocolate Labrador partner, Moose, Mary Dell is a certified Pet Partners animal therapist and volunteers for New York-Presbyterian Hospital in that capacity.

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joan corber

just reading on yours words brings to my memory the story of my poor beauce adopted and shared to my family /kids 25 years ago too.
this story looks as a copy to my dog/female, always beside to my kids at all that wars¡¡ for the best and worse time wholehearted.¡¡
she passed away oldie 16's, due to a poisoned herb eated for himself in a trip-holidays at Alps walking green meadows there.
my daughter and son were in downfall able as a whole desperation shock for days after this even.
actually, we have her photo, shared with Us by xmas, in memory ¡¡
only in xmas....

Mary Dell Harrington

Joan, so sorry to hear about your Symba who sounds like a wonderful family dog. Must have been terrible for your family when she died.

Diane Lovette

Argus sounded like a wonderful dog and such a great childhood friend for your son. I saw the movie 'My Dog, Skip, and it touched my heart to the core. You and your family, especially your son, are lucky to have such wonderful memories!

nick krakana

A Dogs Life

My dog he like's to stare at me
He know's my every frailty
He know's when my day is good or bad
Or if life has made me sad

He's always glad to see me home
He's not the kind who like's to roam
Running with the horse's was his favourite time
Through the bush keeping Joe in line

His heart is big as the moon on high
When he goes I know I'll cry
For now we'll walk the slow walk thru
He can't run no more - his hip's sore too

A mushers sleigh he pulled so hard
Full of laughing children
I think he loved to hear there chatter
I swear that's what he was after

He once was a juvenile just like me
Getting into mischief one two three
Like all young eyes we showed him how
Not to go running afoul

I did from time to time go look for him
Like when he crossed the line so thin
T'was then I saw his face in mine
Like the horse who chatters when a bear is near

Oh please just get me out of here
Can you tell me why it's so
The creator delt the dog this harsh blow
To live a life so short and fast

Of all his creatures around down here
The dog is the one that becomes so dear
Could his reason be a lesson for each of life's season's
For He know's no treason - Love is His only reason

Nick krakana


Nick, yes, "love is his only reason." Thank you for sharing your wonderful poem.


My husband and I rescued Maggie, an American Bulldog, Thanksgiving Day 2010. Someone had dropped her off and left her to fend for herself in the bitter cold rain. She found our house and just peered through our back door until my husband noticed her. She was cold and hungry. It was evident that she just recently had a a litter of puppies. We figured she was from a puppy mill. The next week I took her to my vet and discovered she was seriously infected with heart worms. The vet said that if I took her to an area shelter that they would probably put her down because she looked like a Pit and that she had the heart worms. I brought her home, and we decided to keep her. Much to our surprise, and to the surprise of our vet, she gave birth to "one" little boy puppy...Beauregard on December 21, 2010,at about 3 a.m. She was such a good mother, she knew exactly what to do with her pup. Maggie and I became attached at the hip. She was so special to me. I've had other dogs in my life, but none like Maggie. I tried to make up for the lousy life she had previously, and spoiled her rotten. She was afraid of thunder storms at night and I would get up with her and sleep with her so she wouldn't be frightened. She would always give me kisses, and she would sit with me every night when I would read or watch TV. On October 13th of this year, I lost Maggie to an aggressive form of mammary cancer. I was with her when she died, but I am just heartbroken. We still have Beau, and I'm thankful that I still have part of her with me, but I miss her dearly.


Ellie, thank you for sharing your story about Maggie. It sounds like you two were meant for each other. I am sorry for your loss of your sweet pup but happy that Beau is your companion. You will always have wonderful memories of your sweet dog.

Marie Pichler

my son grew up with his part black lab/timber wolf mix, he was on his own when we had to make the call, at 16yrs it was time to say goodbye. My son being in another part of the states was unable to be there with her. My husband and I were with her as she closed her eyes at her favorite vet office the last time. I know he was very sad, they had spent many years together as best friends & when my son moved away she had become my beloved companion and other child as I dealt with an empty house. The hardest thing was saying goodbye, but her death was a new beginning as we work on "Kita's Funding." Our area is rural an small and vet care is a needed thing in our community. With so many homeless, unemployed and elderly with four legged family members we realized that shots, meds and check up's were not easily attained. We hope to grow to serve the whole northern Nevada area one day. But right now we are only in Carson City... and in process of becoming a non-profit organization. A loss of our loved ones can be most difficult, but honoring them in a helpful way has helped our son and myself included.

Mary Dell Harrington

Marie, what an inspiring way to turn sadness into into something positive that helps others. You are honoring Kita's (was that your dog's name?) memory through this wonderful work. Thanks for sharing your story.