A very special dog in our lives had to be put to sleep last month. Kestel belonged to my husband's grandmother. He was a 14 year old black dachshund and absolutely loved children, and our three-year-old son loved him back. In fact, one time before our son was born, there was a garage sale at the house and there was a toddler with her mother. Kestel loved that little girl so much that he started following her back to the car. They thought Kestel would have gone home with her!
For all of my son's life he's known Kestel and loved him. Last spring, I bought him a special pastel yellow sweater vest to wear over a light blue dress shirt for Easter. It had a dark colored wiener dog on the sweater vest, and it cracked me up because the dachshund was so long that front half the dog's body was on the front of the vest and the other half with his tail was on the back! It was seriously adorable. My son loved that vest and wore it to visit Kestel and to buy dog food at PetPeople with me. It was a big hit.
Last year we told our son that he had to be extra gentle when visiting Kestel because he'd had eight teeth removed. Our son was still so small but seemed to understand, and he was very careful to only pet Kestel on the top of his head, very softly. He wanted to make him feel better so in his toddler mind toys would help! See how patient and good Kestel was with toys being stacked all over and around him.
Kestel stayed patiently and just wondered why this kid was dragging every toy from around the house to a pile around him. Kestel's teeth didn't seem to be bothering him too much after the surgery, thank goodness. He was back to his old self pretty quickly.
For Christmas, my son got a very special surprise - his own stuffed Kestel! He's never been one for stuffed animals, so it was a SHOCK to us that he started sleeping with his Kestel and carrying it from room to room. He talks to him, has Kestel answer questions by barking - which only he can translate for us, and has Kestel lick his face and our faces. So much for all those stuffed animals who sit in the nursery completely ignored, never played with for a minute. He only has eyes for Kestel. No one ever expected he'd be one for playing with a stuffed animal, so that makes the relationship with the real Kestel so much sweeter, because they clearly love each other so much.
It came as a sad surprise when we heard that Kestel had been put down, about six months after the above photo was taken. He had not eaten for a week and his bloodwork came back with terrible results. The vet agreed the best option was to put him down, and they did it the same afternoon as the results came back. I feel terrible for my husband's family because this dog was so special to them. They really loved their sweet boy.
Speaking of boys, I still had to tell our three year old human child that Kestel had died. I waited until just before our next visit to his grandmother's house. The internet has a lot of great resources on how to speak to a child about death, but all the reading I did didn't make it any easier. Luckily, my son is sensitive and listens and somehow made it easier on me. What I explained to him was based on what I'd read online of how to break the news. I told him that I had some sad news, that Kestel had passed away, and that means when someone or something is very old their body eventually stops working. Although we won't be able to see him any more, he will live on in our hearts and in the stuffed Kestel dog he got for Christmas. He paused for a second, then said quietly, "Now Kestel's teeth won't hurt him."
Oh my goodness, that response got me choked up. I'm still emotional thinking about how that was my three-year-old's first instinct, to point out that Kestel's not in pain from his mouth surgery last year. That was not a response I ever dreamed of, and it made me give extra hugs and kisses. So tonight, as he was going to sleep with his stuffed Kestel, I let him translate some extra Kestel barks and give me a few more Kestel licks on the cheek. The time with our dear family members - with fur and without fur - is so fleeting. I had to commit this to a blog post so I can revisit the relationship between my son and his friend Kestel.
You were a good dog, Kestel, and we know your mouth isn't in pain now. We'll see you again someday, boy.