It took a therapist to explain why my children weren’t sleeping well a few years ago.
The family dog had died a few months before. Right before our eyes, one night, she lay down and beseechingly took her last breath. How heartbreaking it was to watch her hold onto us as the children cried out for her not to leave.
But, as the human spirit heals it moves on. The kids became accustomed to her absence, or so I thought.
The kids weren’t sleeping well, I learned, because their nighttime ritual had been disturbed. For as long as they could remember, our yellow lab had been a bedtime reading pillow and provided a long lick goodnight. Each child had a slight variations to the routine, but it was impossible for any of them to head to bed without saying goodnight to Boise.
Humans are creatures of habit, which is why it takes so long to kick a bad one out of town. And when a good habit, ritual or routine is disturbed, so is daily life.
It was the final nudge for me to get a new dog, and to this day, no one in this house can hit the hay without a visit from the dog to say buenas noches. Sometimes the routine can drag on for what seems like hours, with pleas of return visits because they didn’t get a really good kiss from the black lab mix we rescued almost two years ago.
I can't blame them. Even I can’t rest easy until I hear the jingle of dog tags creep into the room and set down on the floor.
I know plenty of families who resist getting a pet because of the mess or the responsibility. I'll be the first to say that sometimes I just want the floor free of fur or to take off without finding someone to take the dog for a long weekend.
But then I think of how lost we were without our canine companion for those few months in between dogs. Something about a pet calms us, adds to the family dynamic and teaches life lessons without even trying.
Recently, a big ol' St. Bernard we had come to love passed away. But before she did, my kids asked to go say goodbye and to show support to the dog's "humans." It touched many a human heart that day and I'm proud that they've learned empathy and how to express it through their love of animals.
As a good friend pointed out to me, children can be more grounded and empathetic when they grow up with animals. They learn how to feed, clean up, help, love and, eventually, let go.