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, Atlantic.com, 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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