This is the question my daughter asked me tonight.
Luckily, I was prepared. For the second time in about a year, we prepared to put one of the old dogs down.
Last year it was Madison, a border collie cross who'd lived a great life. Some of it with me as I'd rescued her when I was 16 years old. She was about to be shot because she couldn't chase sheep properly, but I brought her home. Eventually I gave her to my mom - it was kind of a forced adoption, I left the country to work in Europe and couldn't bring her with me. She lived with mom since then. She was 16 when we put her down.
Tabby was my little baby. A puppy that I rescued from an idiot who didn't know how to take care of his dogs. I gave him a bag of dog food for her. I used to keep her in my jacket pocket as I drove. She'd stick her nose out the top of my jacket and breathe her little puppy breath on me.
I tried to teach her to speak, but she would not. I think she felt it was rude to bark inside.
But she was a fierce protector. Woe unto you if you stuck your nose or hand into our yard and didn't heed her warning barks. She was also a tough dog. She once got lost in the city and spent 3 weeks out in the cold with temperatures hovering at -40C (-40F). We finally found her on a golf course and mom's husband had to track her across the snow... she was so fearful she didn't recognize him at first, but eventually she saw through her fear and came home to us. Skin and bones.
When we put Madison down last year, Tabby really started liking the kids. She was never overly fond of them but suddenly her tail would wag when she'd see them.
Even tonight as we went to say good-bye, she flopped her tail at them weakly, something she hadn't done for a week.
I prepared the kids. My son is 8 and my daughter is 3 and I can't stomach lying to them about what happens with dogs when they are too old.
"Tonight we're going to gramma's because Tabby is getting put down," I said. The kids froze in their seats. My son said "awww" but he knew why. He remembered Madison. My daughter asked what "put down" meant.
"Well, Tabby has lots of owies inside of her and she can't tell us where it hurts and we've tried to fix it and we can't. So we have to help her be free of pain by helping her die."
I let that sink in as the kids fell silent.
"Why does Tabby have to die?" My daughter didn't understand just yet. My son started to explain how dogs can't tell us where it hurts and we have to be responsible pet owners. Exactly what I told him last year and it choked me up so much to hear him explain it to his sister.
"It's a really hard decision to make, but we know it's the right one because she's in pain now and the only way to help her be free is to help her die. But we'll see her again, she'll go to heaven where she'll be free of all pain and she'll be really, really happy."
Lord, I don't know if dogs go to heaven, but it's all I had.
My daughter skipped into gramma's house and said "Tabby has owies inside her and she's going to die". Matter of fact. We went into the room where Tabby lay on her doggie bed. She looked horrible, like I've never seen her before.
Dehydrated because she had stopped drinking last night. Breathing funny. It was the right time.
My son kept it together. He understood what it meant. It was heartbreaking to see her tail flap as the kids came in, she hardly raised her head, but she saw them through her grey-blue, 14 year old eyes.
As we sat there with her she started to pant and mom decided that instead of waiting for the morning they would take her tonight. After we left they took her. "She went as peacefully as she lived," mom said on Facebook. I chuckled to myself because I thought of her biting that lady on the nose when she stuck her head in our yard. Not funny to laugh at but, dude, the dog was going bats and not in a good way and this silly lady reached half her body inside.
Tabby was a good one, she was a happy dog who had a good life.
What is making me extra sad tonight is that my kids don't have that canine influence in their lives. Sure we have the cats for a little fuzzy company... but dogs were always the best childhood companions in my life. *I* miss having a dog. We haven't had one for a while since we were renters... but now that we own our home it would be perfectly ok to get a dog.
We'll wait. The perfect one will come into our lives.
Until then, I'll keep staring at the hole that Madison and Tabby have left in our lives.