It was a sad day in our house yesterday. Our standard poodle, Samson, died after being part of our family for the last fourteen years. We knew it was coming, for he had been declining for a while, but that didn’t make his going any easier. To quote my friend Janine from a sympathy email she sent me over Samson’s death, “I think there is only one downside to having a pet and this is it.”
I’m really not a “dog person.” In fact, I stalled for years before agreeing to bring a long-legged black canine into the house. Allergies, you know. To be honest, I was less worried about sneezing and itchy eyes than I was about cleaning up messes and the responsibility of caring for another creature. Finally, with assurances from the rest of my family that I wouldn’t be stuck with all the dog-duty (and they kept their collective word), I relented.
Somehow, Samson’s death has brought to mind precious memories of life. I find myself recalling three very excited and attentive children playing with a bouncy puppy. It’s a mental snapshot full of life and energy. I thought about all the hundreds, probably thousands, of miles my husband and I put on our feet as we walked through our neighborhood while Samson strained at the edge of his leash to chase geese, squirrels, and blowing leaves. Lately he hadn’t been quite so energetic, but the jingle of his tags and the taps of his toes on the kitchen tile were daily sounds of life in the house.
The experience of bringing a pet into the family, of caring for him, playing with him, loving him and then losing him causes me to think about life, love and loss from a wider perspective. In a way they are all inseparable. To really live, we must dare to love. To really love, we must dare to risk loss.
Like the joy and enthusiasm of children embracing a puppy, when we open our hearts to another person or to a pet or to a dream we enrich our lives with new energy, possiblity and hope. We also risk disappointment and loss.
I realize that the loss of a pet, while genuinely painful, is relatively low on the loss-meter. Losses of loved ones, marriages, livelihoods, health, homes, or close friendships are more intensely difficult experiences. Maybe that is why I can reflect on Samson’s death a little more broadly. I am experiencing real loss, but at a threshold low enough to be able to see beyond the present hurt.
Samson enriched our lives, and I’m thankful for him. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn to understand dogs and even, a little reluctantly, grow to love one. Last night, at our dinner table, we were discussing whether or not we will meet our pets in heaven. I’ve never concerned myself much with that idea, but now I understand why it is an important question for many people. My son Kenny said he’s sticking with C. S. Lewis in the belief that heaven will be well populated with animals. We decided we can’t think of any bibilcal reason why Samson wouldn’t be in heaven.
Randy Alcorn, in his book Heaven, quotes Joni Eareckson Tada who wrote, “If God brings our pets back to life, it wouldn’t surprise me. I would be just like Him. It would be totally in keeping with His generous character…Exorbitant. Excessive. Extravagant in grace after grace.” Works for me.