Recently my husband and I had to make the heartbreaking decision to put down our family dog, Sheba. We think she was 15 (we were never sure since we adopted her from my husband’s sister who adopted her from someone else), but she’s been a constant in our lives since 2001. Because of her age she was never a dog who played much. She basically slept all day and only asked to go out and be fed. Nonetheless, we loved her dearly.

When the end was near we tried to prepare the kids little by little telling them Sheba will probably have to go to Heaven soon. They didn’t fully understand, of course, and surprisingly they didn’t seem too upset. I told my daughter we were probably going to have to take Sheba to the doctor soon so he could send her to Heaven, and she replied, “Mommy, the doctor can’t push Sheba back into Heaven.”

So began our struggle with life’s most difficult topic…

Unfortunately Sheba’s condition grew worse very quickly, and on her last day the children had to witness a lot of it. I was a basket case for the sake of the dog and the fact that I knew I was going to have to answer a lot of questions from the kids. Still, everyone seemed together when I left with Sheba. Coming home without Sheba was a different story – for all of us.

My biggest concern was for my four-year-old son who incessantly hugged, kissed and played with (or tried to play with) Sheba. Surprisingly he was OK. My daughter on the other hand, someone who usually ignored Sheba (although deep down she adored her) –  was a wreck. Every little thing that reminded her of Sheba made her upset. Not seeing Sheba when she got home from school. Not having to tell Sheba to “go lie down” when we were eating dinner. Not seeing Sheba sleeping in her usual spots. Not having to feed Sheba dinner. It was like little “after shocks” of an earthquake – just when you think you’re through the worst, something else stirs it up.

In retrospect I think it was the finality of “death” that caused most of her tears. Knowing she will never see Sheba again, or trying to understand why Sheba couldn’t come back, was just too much to grasp. As a family we are blessed that our children have not yet, in their short lives, lost someone close to them. And I am thankful that this life lesson was  learned first with a family pet.

For comfort, we continue to communicate how happy Sheba is in Heaven, and what a wonderful and beautiful a place it is. But the questions keep coming – and not just about Sheba – but also about relatives who passed away before my children were even born. Are they with Sheba? Will Sheba know them? Do they all live together? Will Sheba be able to run in Heaven since she couldn’t run as an old dog? Will she still sleep a lot in Heaven? Can she see us?

A good friend of mine had gone through a similar experience with her sons, and she suggested the book “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant. It was the perfect answer to all the questions. If you are going through this painful situation, or you know you are getting ready to, I highly recommend reading this book to your children. It’s like it took everything I tried to say, and put it perfectly – and simply – in words and pictures.

I found this review online, and wanted to share:
This is a wonderfully written and delightfully illustrated book for kids and adults alike who may be grieving the loss of a beloved dog. The illustrations are charming, and the sentiments are great. Here there are fields to run in, soft beds (made of clouds turned inside out) and “angel children”, because ‘God knows that dogs love children more than anything else in the world’.

There are tasty biscuits shaped like cats, memory trips back to favorite spots and people, and cozy homes with petting hands. Rylant uses simple, comfortable language and an abundance of careful detail to create a place of warmth and happiness.

This book is reassuring and comforting, touching and humorous. The bright acrylic paintings mesh beautifully with the innocence of the text, with their vivid rainbow colors turning the sometimes scary mystery of dying into an adventure spent with happy, welcoming four-footed friends.”

Have you been through this experience with your children? Do you have tips you can share? Or other books – for all ages of children – you could recommend?

R.I.P Sheba – we love and miss you!