Mary Dell writes: Long ago, our house became one of the favorite destinations for the kids’ playdates and we have a big, brown, furry family dog to thank. During our 20+ years of marriage, we have actually owned four (!) chocolate Labrador retrievers beginning with our engagement gift puppy to the dog who joined our almost empty nest two years ago.
Of all the dogs, though, Argus, a Christmas present to 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 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 saying goodbye to a now-aged dog as he leaves home for college is infinitely harder.
Acquiring a dog to accompany our children 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 or her that the end has come for their pup.
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. At age 13, the enormous chocolate Lab who joined our household so many years before, had accomplished his mission in seeing him off to college. Argus, too, had taught our son about friendship and love. Like Skip, he passed away during our son’s collegiate years.
No doubt our son will own other dogs but will probably 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.
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This post also appeared on the Patch.