There is an old saying that tells us that dogs are our links to heaven. Anyone who has ever owned one knows this is true. Our relationship with these noble creatures stretches back all the way to pre-history, to times when we ourselves were still hunting and living off the land. Ancient cultures worshiped them, building statues and shrines in their honour, and to this day, they selflessly serve a great number of human needs, far beyond their main role of companionship; they give eyes to the blind and comfort the depressed; they risk their lives tirelessly with our police and fire departments and, in more remote climes, they continue to help us hunt and fish, even carrying us determinedly across barren landscapes where we would undoubtedly perish without their help.
For time out of mind, we have raised these wonderful creatures from puppies and kept them as family, walking by their sides throughout their lives and devotedly caring for them, just as they do for us. And, as with all great love affairs, the hardest part is always saying goodbye. It is just such a shame that it happens so soon. Many of us have known and loved more than one dog in our time, and we are always left heartbroken and wondering at their short lives in the end. As adults often do, however, we have over-complicated a very simple situation. The following story, an online anecdote for years, author unknown, provides an explanation that is instantly recognizable to the heart of any dog-owner. It’s an overwhelming ‘of course‘ moment. And, of course, it took a small child to point it out to us.
Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten year old Irish wolfhound, named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa and their little boy Shane were all very attached to Belker and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer.
I told the family there were no miracles left for Belker and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog. Ron and Lisa told me that they thought it would be good for the four year old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.
I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few moments, Belker slipped away peacefully. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion.
We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.” Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I had never heard a more comforting explanation.
He said, “People are born so that they learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The four year old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”