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Requiem For A Wolf

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The majestic timber wolf, Amadeus

November 20, 2016, the heavens gained another star. Amadeus, a timber wolf hybrid, crossed over, just a month shy of his 11th birthday. He was loved by many, encompassing a rainbow of species, from canine to feline to human, and all of us sent up one last collective howl of mourning as he made his way into the night sky. Amadeus was a perfect antidote to all the poisonous myths and legends about wolves that have been handed down through the ages. He was incredibly affectionate, sensitive, funny, occasionally mischievous, always sincere, and downright terrified of travelling in a car. He would sing for us and along with us, play babysitter for the youngest members of our pack, snuggle up with his best kitty buddy for a snooze, and always left a blanket of the thickest, softest fur in his wake as a proud marker of his presence. He was certainly a best friend, and one of his nicknames, Ami, reflected his personality—or, rather, canine-ality—perfectly. Mon cher Ami, my beloved buddy, is now heading to parts unknown, charting the stars, leaving us here to miss him deeply, mourn his passing, and celebrate his life.

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Amadeus at 11 weeks old photo by Michael Lazar

Amadeus nearly didn’t have 11 years with us; he came within 24 hours of not making it past 11 weeks old. A near-miracle took place that made it possible for us to spend over a decade with him. My brother, Michael Lazar, had seen a post about pups needing a home, and having decided it was time to add to our family, went to see the pups. The man who answered the door showed Mike the parents and the two pups he had left, both female. Mike agreed they were adorable, but really wanted to get a male, and after chatting for a couple minutes, turned to go. Just then, the father wolf nudged Mike’s leg. Looking down, he saw that the daddy wolf had a very small pup in his mouth, which he promptly deposited on Mike’s foot. Shocked, Mike picked up the tiny furball and discovered that this one was a male. He asked the man about the pup, confused because the man had told him only females were left of the litter. The man told him that this pup was sick, and wasn’t going to make it, so he wasn’t showing him as available. “In fact,” he told Mike, “you can go ahead and take him with you if you want him.” Sickened by the man’s complete callousness and indifference, Mike petted the father wolf, bundled the baby up in a blanket, and headed straight to the vet.

 

The vet told my brother he’d gotten the pup just in time. He was very ill; his tummy was filled with parasites. To make matters even worse, it was a parasite that was easily treated and low-cost to address; the human who had the care of the pups simply hadn’t bothered to spend even a few dollars to ensure the health of the animals. He’d left them to fend for themselves, without vet care of any kind, until they were old enough to be adopted out, figuring that the adopters would take care of the vet costs themselves. The vet treated Ami for the parasite, but cautioned us; Ami needed to be fed round the clock for the next 24 hours, or he wouldn’t survive. He showed Mike the special wet food for wolves that Amadeus needed to have and how to make sure he ate it and sent the pup home with his new dad.

 

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Amadeus the pup photo by Michael Lazar

All of us waiting at home fell in love with Amadeus the instant he walked through the door. Small and fuzzy, with little high-pitched woofs to announce his presence, he wandered in on shaky paws to meet the people and dogs he would call family. We had two other dogs at the time, Sampson (my Rottie mix) and Susie (a German Shepherd), and they were not only excited to meet Ami, but very protective of him. Sampson especially fell in love with Ami, and took him under his wing. He showed him around the house, where the water was, where the doggy door was, brought him the toys they played with, and snuggled right up on the bed with his new little buddy. They were inseparable from that moment on, and where Sampson was, Ami was sure to be somewhere nearby. Susie was a tougher customer after their initial meeting; she would pretend she didn’t want much to do with him and would make him wait until she gave him permission to come into my room, but whenever she thought no people were watching, she’d snuggle up with the baby, groom him, and play with him! She’d feign disinterest or annoyance whenever she knew we were there, but secretly, she adored her new pup so much she even carried him around in her mouth for the first few weeks he was with us and was still small enough to be carried that way!

We had to force-feed Amadeus for that first day, much to his disgust—which he expressed with high-pitched little wolfie yips and howls—but we got the food and medicine he needed into him. After the first couple days, Amadeus not only ate on his own, but at voraciously, making up for all the time he had missed. When he went back for his next checkup a few weeks later, the vet was astounded. He couldn’t believe that the wolf pup who was near death had not only survived, but had gone on to thrive! He’d put on weight and grown a huge amount. It was an auspicious beginning, and when Ami received a clean bill of health, we were all thrilled! He’d found his family and made his mark in just a few short weeks.

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Sampson and Amadeus; best buddies photo by Michael Lazar

Amadeus fit right into our family from the start. People wondered how we were going to raise a wolf, but we never were worried about it. Most things were the same as they were with our other dogs. The biggest difference was that whenever he was in trouble for something, he’d get put in a time-out. For wolves, being separated from their pack is the worst punishment there is (wolves that commit unforgivable infractions are banished from the pack and forced to become lone wolves), so Ami would get a time-out in the bathroom for a couple of minutes. It worked like a charm; he remembered anything he wasn’t supposed to do after one session in time-out. He also let us know when he would get blamed for something the other dogs did; if he was being put in time-out and he was not the guilty party, he’d loudly profess his innocence in howls, while if he was the one at fault, he’d go quietly into the bathroom, hanging his head and tail all the way!

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A wolf and a Rottweiler hanging out

He was a very funny wolf. He discovered the storage shelf we kept outside of the house and next to the doggy door within the first few days of living with us, and promptly adopted the lowest shelf as his outdoor bed. He kept having to accommodate his rapidly-growing size by adjusting how he slept on that shelf. At first, his entire body fit easily, with room to spare. As he grew, it got more difficult and more crowded, until only his head would fit on the shelf. He finally gave up, but not until he nearly got his head stuck while trying to fit it onto the shelf! He walked away with his fur ruffled up like a bantam rooster after a squabble!

Amadeus hated to go in the car, and once he was fully-grown—he weighed 150 lbs as an adult—it was nearly impossible to get him into a vehicle. He’d plant his back feet and refuse to budge. When we finally moved to a new house, he was one of the last to load up. Sampson kept trying to encourage him, jumping in and out of the truck to show him how easy it was and that there was nothing to fear. Although Ami did inch closer to the truck every time, he refused to make the final leap up. Finally, Sampson lost patience with him. Jumping out of the truck one last time, he ran behind Amadeus, put his head against Ami’s rump, and shoved him into the truck! Amadeus was so shocked, he leapt into the truck and we made sure to get the door closed before he could change his mind! He gave us a protest howl, feeling very betrayed by his best buddy, but made It to the new house with no problems. He was thrilled to jump back out and explore the house, though, and it never got any easier to get him into a car. He’d decided his own enormous paws were quite good enough, thank you, and vehicles were not to be trusted!

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Halloween with a sheep and a wolf

Ami was also the most curious creature, and the one most accepting of differences in others. He was so interested in befriending members of other species that, had he been human, he’d have been an anthropologist, one who worked in the field among people with vastly different cultures than his own! He loved other dogs, of course. And he loved humans. But he also loved cats. In his life, he had not one, but two separate kitty friends. The first, Miggs, was a stray who wandered into our house one day. Miggs knew we had a dog and a wolf in the house, since he’d taken to sleeping on our porch for a few weeks and had seen them poke their heads out the door. One day, however, he decided the house looked a lot more comfortable than the porch, and when someone opened the door, he nonchalantly strolled in like he owned the place. Both Sampson and Amadeus loved him from the start, but Miggs and Ami had a special relationship. They would curl up at night and sleep together on the bed or a pillow, so closely entwined that it was hard to see where the wolf fur stopped and the kitten fur started! Miggs, Amadeus, and Sampson would all play together, too. One day I found them lined up like train cars, all playing with each other’s tails! 

Amadeus was as sensitive a soul as Sampson, and both of them also liked birds. They loved to chase them, of course, but had no interest in hurting them, and when we fostered a baby pigeon who’d had many adventures and mishaps in our yard (he fell through the fireplace, fell in the pool, and came to hang out on someone’s shoulder out of the clear blue at various times), both boys would check on the bird and make sure he was ok, but never tried to get into the fenced area we’d created for him. The bird’s parents came down to his little kennel and stayed with him until he could fly, and they were so comfortable with Amadeus and Sampson sniffing the wire fencing that they never even squawked, much less flew away. The dogs could have gotten through the chicken wire in two seconds flat if they’d wanted to, but neither of them were interested in doing so and content to just watch the birds that had moved into our back yard. It was a similar scenario when, while chasing a bird flying overhead, Amadeus jumped and actually caught it. He was shocked, and let the bird go immediately, and Sampson came over to check the bird out, too. The bird, dazed and terrified, sat on the ground for a minute, then shook himself off and flew away without a scratch on him.

Miggs was a different story, though, and he probably was known as the scourge of the neighborhood to the bird population. Having been nearly-feral for a chunk of his young life, he still hunted even after having secured a permanent food source. One day, while I was out in the yard, I heard Amadeus crying at the top of his lungs. I walked over to see Miggs calmly dining on a couple of small birds, while Ami sobbed his heart out. He wouldn’t go near that spot in the yard for days, and wouldn’t cuddle up to sleep with his kitty buddy that night, either. His little wolfie heart had been broken by what clearly seemed like barbaric savagery to him.

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My, what big teeth we have!

Amadeus did howl for plenty of things, but almost always it was for us. We’d ask him if he’d sing, and he’d throw his majestic head back, open his mouth, and emit an aria of epic wolf proportions! In fact, he’d join us if one of us started the howl, too. He’d do it for anyone of us that he considered his pack, but wouldn’t do it for people that were outside that special circle, unless one of the pack was doing so. He learned to say, “I Love You,” and also loved music. Both Mike and I are musicians, and any time one of us would sit down next to the dogs with a guitar, Ami would wait until we hit just the right note—usually the chorus, where the notes were held longer—and then he’d pipe in with a full-throated howl that would go up and down in volume right along with ours! He loved to lay with Sampson under the baby grand piano we had, and also liked to lay next to the stereo speakers to hear music. He never did sing along with the radio, but loved to sing to us, especially if he got us to laugh at his first howl, which encouraged him to put on a performance!

Ami was capable of being sneaky when he wanted to be, as well. One day, I had a personal pizza sitting on a plate that I left on the coffee table when I got up for a minute. When I came back, a piece was missing, and no one would ‘fess up to taking one. Finally, I saw that Amadeus had suspicious smears of orange on his muzzle. He’d carefully taken one single piece of pizza off the plate while I was gone, probably thinking I’d never know it was him. I wouldn’t have, either, if he’d been better about getting rid of all the incriminating evidence; the one smudge of pizza sauce near his nose was the dead giveaway that got him busted!

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Laying down with Amadeus and Lily

Mike and I eventually stopped being roommates and got different houses, but Amadeus and Sampson still got together to play frequently—and Sampson always came to Amadeus! I adopted another dog, Gwen, and she and Ami fell in love with each other. Gwen was Amadeus’ first girlfriend, and the two of them would tear through the yard chasing each other like high school kids. Sampson, over 10 by this time, would lounge contentedly in the sun, watching the youngsters frolic. Gwen was half Amadeus’ size, but she would leap onto his back like a panther, take him down to the ground, and roll around with him. Ami loved it. He missed having Sampson and me live with him, but always enjoyed our visits enormously. He loved having company come to visit him, too, and whenever he knew Sampson and Gwen were at the door, he’d start up with a howl song to welcome us to the house.

When Mike started dating his wife, she brought over her Mastiff, Lily, to meet Amadeus. At first, Mike and Danielle thought their relationship was destined to be stuck in dating limbo; her kids loved Mike and vice versa, and the dogs liked each other’s people just fine. The problem was Ami and Lily; they were not impressed with each other at all at first sight, and both were very protective and jealous of the attention their respective humans paid to the other dog! However, Mike and Danielle decided to give it another couple of tries, and eventually, things clicked. Ami and Lily became besties, and Ami was so happy with Lily that, when moving day arrived and the two households were combined, Ami got into the car with no trouble at all! It was the first time in his life that he didn’t have to be manhandled into a vehicle. There could have been no better sign that things were perfect.

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Amadeus, with RK on his back, and Lily are family Photo by Michael Lazar

Mike and Danielle got married, and after a short time, they adopted a tiny fluffball of a kitten they named RK. Just as enamored with RK as he was with Miggs, Amadeus immediately claimed him as his own special friend. RK would climb up and sit on Ami’s back, and they would hang out like that for long periods of time, with Lily keeping them company. At 190 lbs., Lily was no small ankle-biter of a dog, and when the wolf, the mastiff, and the cat curled up together, they took up a respectable amount of space! They could fill up a sofa and a living room at the same time, and humans who wanted to use the couch had to be very comfortable sharing with animals, since they would only get a corner of one of the cushions for themselves.

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Amadeus meets Kios

Amadeus also loved babies of the human variety. When my son was born, I brought him over to Mike’s and Danielle’s house. Ami took one look at the tiny human bundle in the basket and immediately welcomed him to the pack, along with Lily. Both of them took their turns making sure he was clean, and from that moment forward, they hung around Kios obsessively, protecting him from all the curious humans who wanted to check him out. As Kios got older, Ami would help him toddle around the house whenever we visited. When Kios became fascinated by the stairs, Ami was right behind him every step Kios climbed, making sure he wouldn’t fall backwards. When Kios would descend, Ami walked diagonally down the stairs with him, partly in front of him and partly to the side to give Kios an extra support to hold onto. He’d lay down next to Kios when the little one plopped down on the floor, and he’d come up to me and lean into my leg, his head comfortably grazing against my hip whenever I was holding the baby. Ami would curl up on the floor with me and snuggle, and follow me around the house wherever I was going even when I didn’t have Kios with me. When I did have Kios accompany me, Ami was even more solicitous, wanting to be near both of us. He’d play with Kios, sharing his toys and bringing him different ones to throw in the back yard, and made sure he was in whatever room Kios wandered into in order to keep an eye on him. The magnificent wolf, so maligned in history as vicious and evil, made the best babysitter ever.

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Amadeus keeping Kios company
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Amadeus keeping Kios away from the top of the stairs

As he got older, Amadeus slowed down, of course, but he never failed to sing with us or snuggle up with us. His boundless energy was no longer boundless, but he’d still participate in everything he used to, even though it was at a slower pace. He loved being included in holidays, loved his walks, and loved his people, along with his various friends of assorted species. He was the best ambassador for wolves ever.

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Amadeus keeps Kios safe

I will forever be grateful that I got to spend his last hours with him. It was storming the night I got the call that there wasn’t much time left, and I raced over to be with him. He’d been on my mind the entire week prior, and I wasn’t entirely surprised to be getting the call, as he’d seemed more tired and worn out in the last few months. Still, the descent to his final hours was sudden, and shocking for all that it wasn’t surprising. I loaded up what dog medicines I had so I could help make him more comfortable and drove through the storm to get to my beloved wolf. Halfway there, I got a message that his breathing had changed and they didn’t think he was going to make it. “Tell him I’m coming,” I begged Danielle. She did, and he managed to hold on.

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Smiles for me, even when seriously ill

When I got there, it broke my heart to see him, the wolf so full of love and life who usually bounded across the room to greet me, stretched out on the floor with labored breathing. He was no longer able to stand up and was uninterested in water any more, and one look at him told me he was dying. I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face in his silky, silver fur. “I’m here, buddy,” I whispered. “I love you,” I told him. “It’s ok, buddy. You don’t have to fight anymore. We’re all ok. If it’s time, you can let go.”  He lifted his head up, rolled to the side, and his eyes lit up as he saw me. He made an enormous effort and lay at attention after that, leaning into my hands as I rubbed his ears and stroked the fur on his back. I gave him the pain meds the vet said he could have and gave him a kiss. There was no question at all that this was his time to go; his kidneys were failing, and it was evident in the odor of his breath as well as his inability to get up. He was having some difficulty breathing, too, and each labored breath tore at my heart. The mobile vet my brother stayed in contact with throughout the night confirmed what we thought and said the best thing we could do was make him comfortable with medication and spend his last hours with him. There was no way we could transport him and even if we had, there was no fixing what was wrong. We and the vet felt it was far better for him to be at home in his own comfortable surroundings than go through the anxiety and stress of being in a vehicle or a strange, antiseptic environment, and so our death vigil began.

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Last kisses and tears for Amadeus

Throughout the night, Lily stayed right by Amadeus’ side. She was very sad, needing comfort from us at various times, while curling up a couple feet away from Ami at others. RK, normally a very anti-social cat when it comes to humans, was right there with us as well. RK almost never wants to be petted by those outside of his immediate family, yet he came up to me again and again for comfort, mewing and snuggling against me in between times of being next to Ami. Lily and RK both knew their best buddy was getting ready to cross over, and both were mourning right along with us. Mike and Danielle’s children were there, as well, telling Ami they loved him and doing everything they could to make him more comfortable. They adjusted his blanket and pillows many times, brought water drips to his mouth to moisten his tongue, and gave him as many gentle hugs as they could. This was a family affair, and no one was going to let Ami cross over alone.

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Mike cuddled up with Amadeus, while Lily keeps watch

We spent time laughing about Ami’s antics over the years, talking to him about Sampson, and singing songs to him. In spite of being so desperately ill, he enjoyed the attention and love enormously, occasionally shifting from lying flat to his side or lifting his head to turn and look one of us in the eyes. His pain meds had kicked in, so his discomfort was more bearable, and he was very aware that we were all there to see him off on his journey and to say goodbye. It was our requiem for him; our last dirge for Amadeus, who’d loved us all so completely, regardless of species.

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RK says goodbye to Amadeus photo by Michael Lazar

We’ve always made our animal family members the promise that we’d fight for them as long as they were still willing to fight. But we also promised that when they’d decided they were ready to go, we wouldn’t force them to stay for our own selfish reasons. As much as it broke our hearts, we knew Amadeus was ready. We weren’t going to let him go into that dark night alone, though. We gave him hugs, held his paw, lay on the floor with him, and did everything we could to make that journey less scary and as comfortable as possible. That’s part of the pact we make with our loved ones, especially the ones who do not have words to tell us. Letting them go is incredibly difficult, but it’ part of the deal we make when we add animals to our families. We have to let them go when it’s time, but we never will let them go alone.

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Danielle comforts Amadeus

We didn’t know if Amadeus would make it through the night, though the vet was scheduled to be there the next day just in case. I had to leave eventually, as I had to get back to Kios and the dogs at my home. I was extremely reluctant to leave Ami’s side, but I had no choice, so I made sure he knew just how much I loved him. And I made sure to thank him for all his years of love and care. I told him Sampson would be waiting for him on the other side and that I’d see him again. I kissed and hugged him once more and had to leave, with pleas to my sister-in-law to keep me posted on anything that happened.

Just as I got into the car, the rain that had stopped as I arrived, resumed. I had a half-hour drive ahead of me, much of it in deep desert uninhabited or even lit up. It was the perfect setting for my aching heart and mind to sift through memories and think of Amadeus, who’d given me so much joy through the years. The rain finally stopped just before I got home, and I walked in to take care of my dogs and tell them just how much they meant to me.

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Amadeus getting ready to sing

Just under an hour later, the storm started up again with renewed intensity. A gigantic clap of thunder announced the returning storm, and an enormous spear of lighting spiked the sky with ethereal blue light as the rain flooded down with a vengeance. Not five minutes later, I got the call. Just as the thunder shook my house, Amadeus had crossed over and begun his journey. Even the sky was crying for our loss, while the thunder announced his passing and the electric display lit the way for him. They say that when a great king dies, an enormous storm often announces his passing. It was a fitting farewell for Amadeus, a king of wolves.

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Amadeus and Alex

It hurts enormously to lose Amadeus, especially since I lost Sampson two years ago. But that pain is a reminder of just how deep that love is. I find comfort knowing that the reason it hurts so much is that they take a piece of our hearts with them when they go so that they can always find us. Requiescat in pace, Amadeus. Someday we will see you again. Thank you, buddy, for all the memories and the love.

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Amadeus

 

 

Sampson’s Memory Box: Explaining the loss of a beloved dog to a young child.

 

 

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Sampson with his beloved ball and sunglasses

My son, Kios, was only a year old when Sampson passed away, but he still keenly remembers and misses his buddy. At such a young age, it’s hard to explain what’s happened, and it was especially difficult since Kios was there when Sampson died. He’s shown his grief in different ways over time, but hadn’t been able to describe it or ask about it until very recently. Now, age 3.5 years, Kios has a lot of questions he is able to articulate to some degree and has been able to express his feelings of loss and confusion. But we’ve had many experiences that have shown how much he misses Sampson and that he hasn’t understood why Sampson wasn’t with us anymore along the way.

One of the first ways we knew that Kios remembered and missed his buddy was his instant and complete attachment to a small Rottweiler figurine I had. It had been packed away until we moved into our current house a couple years ago. He was two by the time I unwrapped the figuring and set it up, and the first time he saw it, his eyes lit up like fireworks and his smile glowed like the sun. “Sammy!,” he exclaimed, pointing to the figurine, and reached out with his little hands to pet it. I didn’t have the heart to not allow him to touch it, and after a few months of admiring it on the shelf, Kios asked if he could hold Sammy. I allowed him to sit with the figurine in his lap or next to him on the couch, telling him every time that he needed to be careful because it was fragile and could break. Amazingly, he listened and always handled the porcelain dog with great care, even putting it on the pillow next to him for extra safety. One day, though, when Kios wanted to have his buddy and I was out of the room, he climbed up to get the figurine down from the shelf by himself. He managed to get it down with no problem, but tripped over the rug and dropped it, shattering one leg and leaving sharp edges and shards everywhere.

Kios was devastated. He was a little worried about getting in trouble, but mostly was torn up over breaking Sampson. He desperately wanted to fix it, but repair was impossible. I did put the figurine back on the shelf to make Kios feel better, but we couldn’t keep it. That sparked the first conversations about Sampson being gone. Kios knew that the figurine wasn’t really Sampson, but it had become a substitute for him in some way. Once the porcelain dog broke, Kios was able to start talking about his buddy and what happened to him.

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Kios and Sampson: best buddies

Sometimes those conversations were so heartbreaking I felt as if it was my heart that had shattered instead of a fragile statue. One day not long after the figurine broke, Kios asked if, “Sammy was a bad dog?”

Taken by surprise, I looked at him, shocked that he was asking. “No, buddy,” I explained, “Sampson was a great dog. Why do you think he was a bad dog?”

He was able to explain that he thought we got rid of Sampson because he was bad. I had to fight back the tears; it was soul-searing to hear a little one think that being bad meant being banished forever! We talked about how Sampson was a wonderful dog, but even if he’d been bad, we would never have gotten rid of him. He was part of our family, no matter what. It was also our first talk about death. Kios didn’t really understand what death or dying was, but at least he was reassured that we didn’t just ditch the dog. He was also comforted knowing we wouldn’t ever get rid of him, as well. I still don’t know why he thought someone would be sent away for being bad, since that’s never, ever been a comment made even as a joke. I was glad I could express to him that we wouldn’t just throw someone away, and sad that he had been worried about it.

Not long after that, on a trip to Home Depot, we saw a woman with her gorgeous Rottie girl walking through the store. Kios was enchanted; he was thrilled when he got to pet her and couldn’t stop giving her kisses or hugs. He was in tears when it was time for the woman to leave, and even once I got him to stop crying, he was a bit withdrawn and quiet. His usual reaction after a Home Depot trip was to talk incessantly about potties—he loved the aisle with all the toilets on the wall—and grills and the garden center. This time, he didn’t have a lot to talk about. He shrugged it off after a trip to the playground and a nap, and I thought the incident was over. However, he’d been processing it and thinking about it for quite a while, because about a month afterward, he asked his grandma if we could go see Sammy at Home Depot again. He was absolutely convinced that the dog was Sampson, and no amount of explaining by grandma that it was a different dog would suffice. My mom told me about the conversation, which of course, had me choking back tears and a lump in my throat, but I waited to see if he was going to ask about Sampson instead of bringing it up.

Sure enough, a day or two later, he asked me. “Sampson died, Mommy?,” he asked me, a little wrinkle on his forehead showing just how confusing the subject was. “Yeah, buddy, Sampson died,” I gently agreed. “He’s not at Home Depot?,” Kios wanted to know, somehow both very confused and also certain I was going to say his buddy was really at the store after all.

This lead to our first conversation about what death really means. It’s hard to find a way to express such a difficult concept in a way that a child can understand it without being completely frightened by it. I was finally able to explain it in terms and in relation to things he did know about and understand though. He was very familiar with the batteries in his toys running out of energy—something I was always secretly relieved by!—and with some toys breaking and not working anymore, even if we put new batteries in them. So I was able to explain that sometimes our bodies wear out like the toys do. We talked about how, if a body doesn’t work anymore, even recharging our batteries won’t make the body work and then our energy has to go somewhere else. I explained that even though we can’t see or pet Sampson anymore, we can still remember him and that his energy is still out there. Then I was able to show him our Sampson memory box and explain what it is.

He’d known the box was there, but not that it was our Sampson memory box. It’s a beautiful stone chest, inlaid with gold and lined with velvet that has Sampson’s ashes, photos of him, and various things that either belonged to him or remind me of him. It holds his two favorite toys, his sunglasses, his collar and name tag, the bag he wore to carry his balls and toys to the park, and his favorite blanket. It also has two stone hearts, one amethyst and the other a rock randomly shaped like a heart that I had painted in memory of Sampson.

sampson-memory-box

Kios loved the box immediately and it resonated with him because he loves to put his various toys and rocks in different bags or boxes. He loved the pictures and was drawn to the rocks so much that he needed to carry them around with him everywhere for a few days, letting everyone know they were his, “Sammy mem’ry rocks”. He also asked questions about Sampson and wanted to see all the pictures of him over the years. We talked about how the memory box was filled with good things that Sampson loved and reminded us of him and we could always open the box and play with everything whenever we were really missing him or happened to be thinking about him.

It was the first time that remembering made sense to him as a concept, especially in connection to mementos. It also was an enormous comfort to him, and he asks to see it on a regular basis now. At least once a week, we open up the memory box and look at everything and talk about Sampson and find pictures of him. Kios’ favorite photos are the ones that have both he and Sampson in them, but he also really likes the ones of Sampson with our other dog, Gwen. He gets a huge kick out of seeing some of the funny ones, too, like the one with Sampson eyeing his 10th-birthday-cake topped with marshmallows like it was the BEST THING ON EARTH and the one with Sampson in his sunglasses. Kios understands how memory can help keep someone with us, even if they are no longer alive, and that just because we can’t see them anymore doesn’t mean we don’t still love them or that we will forget them. As long as we remember them, they are still in our hearts, just waiting for us to open up the memories and let them come visit us once again. That’s as true for adults as it is for kids; the Sampson memory box is equally as comforting for me as it is for Kios, and having those tangible objects to touch and see along with the photos is far more comforting and, somehow, more real, than just looking at pictures alone. Sampson’s energy may have left his body, but he definitely left some of it behind for us in the things he loved and used all the time, and each time I see and touch those things of his, I can smile and remember him, even if it’s still difficult.

Every night before bed, I always gave Sampson a hug and told him, “I love you, buddy. We’ll be together forever and ever, amen, in this life and the next life and the one after that because I will always find you!” I am firmly convinced that the reason it hurts so much when we lose our dogs is because they take a piece of our heart and soul with them when they go so that they can always find us again—love’s version of a microchip. It may be in a dream or in the opening of a memory box, but one way or another, they will always come back and they will always be with us.