Goodbye to the Family Dog

We are dog people and have owned a series of four chocolate Labrador retrievers since we married. Of all of the pups, Argus was the biggest and rowdiest. He was the largest of the puppies in his litter and grew 100 pounds of muscle, topped off by an enormous head. Though we named him after Odysseus’ fabled warrior dog, he was indeed a gentle giant and the perfect companion for our, at the time, six-year-old son.

They were best buddies from the day we brought him home as a puppy; they grew up with Argus acting as a playmate, confidante, alarm clock, and friend. The years of puppyhood, with chewed possessions and indoor “accidents,” are distressing; witnessing your grown child saying goodbye to a beloved yet now-aged dog as he leaves home for college is infinitely more challenging.

dog and baby
Our dog always watched for a treat that might come his way from our baby’s tiny fist.

Families often get dogs when their children are in elementary school

Getting a dog to accompany a child from youth to young adulthood is a true American tradition. And since the estimated life expectancy of a dog is 12.8 years,  part of that tradition is often the inevitable and painful phone call parents must make to their college child telling him that the end has come for his pup.

children and their Labrador
Argus was the center of attention in our family.

Author Willie Morris (1934-1999) wrote about the magic of a family dog in his excellent book, My Dog Skip.  We learn 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.

Teens have to tell their dogs goodbye before they leave for college

As we packed our son off to college for his freshman year, my husband, daughter, and I watched as he hugged Argus and told him he would see him soon. At age 13, the enormous chocolate Lab who joined our household so many years before had accomplished his mission of seeing his boy off to college. He, too, had taught our son about friendship and love. Like Skip, he passed away during our son’s freshman year.

No doubt our son will own other dogs but may never have a relationship like his one with Argus. When I think of him as a really young boy, I see him smiling broadly, running with his giant retriever. It is a memorable image.

teen and dog
Watching our son say goodbye to his dog was a painful part of taking him to college.

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The Perfect Letter Why writing a letter to your college student is one of the most meaningful things you can do for your teen.

About Mary Dell Harrington

Mary Dell is the co-founder of Grown and Flown, the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. She started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and is co-author of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

Read more posts by Mary Dell

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