“Please keep calm,” said our British pet sitter, “Quigley has run off in the wood but we’ll find him.”
We were American expats living in the UK and we were visiting home for the holidays. We hated leaving him behind for the same reasons that lurk in the back of everyone’s minds—the ones we hoped would never come true.
My children were three and six-years old when Quigley went missing at the hands of our pet sitter. Although it wasn’t logistically possible for us to bring Quigley back to the U.S. for every holiday visit, I was overcome by an irrational sense of guilt for leaving him.
We cut our holiday trip short and searched non-stop for months, but we received no closure. Once the reality set in, the kids asked if we could get another dog. “No,” I said every time they asked the question, “I won’t. I can’t.”
The pain that I felt for my children during this time was harrowing. They were innocent and too young to have to experience this profound sense of loss. I wanted to shield them. I believed I was handling it the right way.
At school, it killed me when people tried to make the kids feel better by saying, “It’s only a dog.” The problem was that he wasn’t “only a dog.” Quigley was a member of our family. He was our first child — our kids referred to him as their big brother. And for passing on these beliefs to our children, I felt even more guilt. If only I’d treated him like a dog then my kids would’ve been able to fall asleep every night instead of wondering if their family member was alive or dead. I was a stupid, horrible mother, I thought.
One day, my oldest gave me a hug. She felt my stiffness as I bucked up in anticipation of hearing the question again. So this time, she phrased it differently, “Mom, if we get a new dog, he’ll make our family happy again and Quigley will still live in our hearts forever.”
That was when I looked down at my six-year old child and marveled at the wisdom she’d amassed during her short life. Even though I’d lived decades longer, she was the smart one. She knew that the happiness she experienced by loving Quigley far outweighed the horrific pang of loss she felt now that he was gone. She wanted to enjoy the happiness a dog brought to our family and she was willing to take the risks of loving someone. She didn’t want to be shielded. I was holding her back from happiness.
So, we rescued a new dog — a spitfire of a Jack Russell terrier named Chili Pepper — and my daughter was right. The love and respect my children have for him and the joy he brings to our family overrides anything else.