Saying goodbye to Sassy

My dad is taking his dog to be put down today, and my heart aches for both of them.

Sassy is a gorgeous malamute, the kind of dog that other people stop you on the street to tell you how beautiful she is. She was also dumb as a bag of hammers, and stubborn as the day is long, but it was all a part of her charm. (I’m drifting between present and past tense, I know. It’s hard to think of her in the past tense, but her hours are numbered as I type this.)

My parents adopted Sassy from the Humane Society not long after they moved to Ottawa five years ago. At the time, they figured she was youngish – more than a pup, but barely. Over the years, though, they came to believe she was older than they first thought, and now they suspect she’s in the range of 10 years old. Just before Christmas, she developed some sort of tumor in her nose and in just a few short weeks, it has grown enough to obstruct both her nostrils and distort her snout. It’s obvious she’s in pain now, and can no longer breath through her nose. It’s time to let her go.

My parents have a knack for picking out good dogs from the Humane Society. When they moved up here, having just recently had to put down their previous dog, my dad was still recovering from liver transplant surgery in 2001 and his health was sketchy. Sassy, good natured though she was, also turned out to be a needy creature who craved long walks every day. Before long, my dad was walking her several kilometers a day, in all sorts of weather. All that walking reaped some impressive health benefits, and before long the chronic mystery pain he had been suffering for years had abated and then disappeared entirely. There’s little doubt that his daily walk with Sassy was the contributing factor to the disappearance of what had been a debilitating pain.

When I was Tristan’s age, we had a Shepherd-mix mutt named Happy, and my folks had to put Happy down at the insistence of a neighbour when Happy nipped a little girl. I clearly remember the entire incident, and the dog had acted only in playfulness – a playfulness that got out of hand, yes, but even at that age I knew the difference between aggression and accident. I was in my twenties when I found out that Happy hadn’t in fact run away, but had been put down. I thought about this last night as I debated whether to be completely honest with the boys about Sassy, or to cop out with a story about Sassy going to live with another family or some other fiction.

I’ll be honest with them, I think. Death is an inevitability, and losing a pet is the price we pay for loving them and letting them into our hearts. But if it moves me to tears at my age, with my capability to rationalize, it breaks my heart to think of how they’ll feel. And I’m breathless with grief for my dad today, bringing his companion in for this final act of compassion.

Goodbye, Sassy, and thank you for being a part of all of our lives. You were loved, and you will be missed.

Author: DaniGirl

Canadian. storyteller, photographer, mom to 3. Professional dilettante.

22 thoughts on “Saying goodbye to Sassy”

  1. We had to put one of our cats down a year ago November. Reid talks of him still, in the present tense. When we talk about who loves her, Mars must be included and when people ask if she has any pets, she says that she has 3, one of whom is in heaven. It’s all matter of fact. It helps make a connection to my dad who died when I was a teenager since she knew Mars and now he is in heaven with Poppa.

    The only caution I would urge is to keep it clear that not all trips to the vet end in death (not “put to sleep”) nor do all illnesses. It’s a tough conversation to have, mostly because our sense of time and “forever” is more developed than our kids. Hugs to you and them.

  2. My parents had to put our dog down last summer. Carter was only 3, but I told him the truth too. It was devastating, but I think he understood it as much as he could. He still talks about Rudy, and still asks why people/dogs get sick when they’re really old. And, of course, he wants to know if he’ll get sick and really old too. These are tough questions whenever they arise, but you’re right, death is a part of life, and though difficult to accept, I think your boys can handle it.

    So sorry for your family and Sassy. 🙁

  3. I think it is so important that kids see that death is part of the life cycle. It makes it less scary, IMHO, and more concrete. For me, it makes life so much more sacred (in a non-religious way).

    I think what may be difficult for children your boys’ ages is distinguishing between pets and people. My children don’t quite understand why we cared for Great-Grandma while she was very, very sick but that we (generally) don’t do that for pets.

    I’ll keep your dad in my thoughts today. How very sad for him.

  4. So sorry to hear of this loss in your family, especially for your Dad. I feel for you…this will be a tough one to explain to the boys, but I’m sure you will find the best way of approaching it.

  5. That’s always a difficult thing to do. I remember my mom leaving our dog at the vet when I was about 12. I cried and cried….
    That said, younger kids are different. When I was 24, my dad died of cancer. He was 46. I was pregnant with my second son and my oldest was six. He (my first born) was close to my dad and yet he took it really well. I think he was too young to know what it all meant – even though I tried to explain.
    Anyhoo, my point is that I’m sure your boys will take the truth much more easily than you think they will. My son did okay with the loss of a grandparent. I would think, for a child, loss of a grandparent’s dog would be similar, if not easier.
    Good luck. Oddly, one of the hardest things about losing my father, was having to tell my son! It was definitely helpful that he didn’t fall apart like I did.

  6. Isn’t it amazing how dogs enrich our lives so fully? And how the pain is so acute when they leave us. I know you count yourself lucky to have had Sassy and I hope that it doesn’t take too long before you and your dad can remember her without tears.

  7. I am so sad to hear about Sassy, she was a beauty! Please pass on my sympathies to your Dad and Mom. Poor Katie is gonna miss her!

  8. Poor Sassy and poor dad! We had our golden retriever put down when our youngest child was 5. I told him that Casey had gone to heaven (without telling any of the gruesome details). He cried, asked if she could come back from heaven to play a little bit, and then life went on. He still misses her, as do we all, and I’m sure it made an impact on him. But i think it’s by far more devastating for the adults.

  9. Dogs make life sweet. I put down my Schipperke in January of 2005 and I still grieve her. What joy and goodness she brought to my life. I was happy to be able to relieve her of her suffering as painful as it was.

  10. When my parents had to put BeautifulShepherdMix down, I talked about it with MM gently. He still remembers playing with him, 3 years later.

    Love and sympathy to you and your family.

  11. Thank you for all your sweet comments. I still haven’t told the boys yet… is there ever a right time for this? Probably at least NOT while the in-laws are visiting for a late Christmas, right?

    Oblivious to everything – or perhaps not – Simon announced yesterday that one of his favourite stuffed toys, a husky dog on a leash he won at a carnival game last summer, will now be named “Sassy” instead of his former appellation of Puppy.

  12. I’m so sorry to hear about this loss in your family Dani. Pets own our hearts in a very unique and wonderful way, but it makes losing them all the more difficult.

  13. My heart breaks for your Dad. I think you should be honest with the kids, just because you have pets at home and you might face something similar in a few years. I did know of a Lab in need of a loving home back in September, not sure if he was adopted or not, but I could check for you.

  14. We too are facing having to put our beloved Duchess the yellow lab to sleep in less than an hour. She is 10 years old and suffering from multiple bleeding turmors on her kidneys and liver. This all happened so fast. 2 weeks ago she seemed fine and then one morning we awoke and she could barely walk. We finally got the ultrasound done to see what was wrong and the vet said there is nothing we can do. We took her home for a couple of days but yesterday when she could not get up to go out I knew it was time. We have all shed many tears the past few days and now at 5PM it will be time to say goodbye to our wonderful Duchess. The love she gave us over her life time makes this the only choice I could make. I will not let her suffer. We will be with her as she passes from this world today to her place in Dog Heaven.

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