Today was a hard day. It marks the end of an era. Our almost 14-year-old dog Elli has gone to doggy heaven, or wherever good little doggies (and maybe even the naughty ones) go. The vet said she is now running free in Creation as God intended it. I don’t have the theological answers, though I was asked several times by my kiddos. What I do know is that God created her with purpose, loves her as He does all His creation, and is taking care of her now. She is no longer in pain. Yet even with the seven of us, our house feels much more quiet and empty tonight.
So I need to write a post on the passing of our old puppy who was, by many standards, another family member. I realized recently that there has hardly been a day in the lives of most of our kids that she has not been present. The older two kids skipped school today and are still having trouble sleeping tonight. The middle two are sad and bring it up often, but will have an easier time moving on. And Eva, she just keeps seeing someone cry and exclaims, “Erin sad?…. Tissue! Be right back!” Then she trots off, brings back a wadded tissue, and insists on wiping eyes and making people blow. “There y’go.”
Elli was our first “child.” She was a black labrador we purchased from a breeder at 8 weeks old. We knew labs were about the best and safest kind of dog we could get for our future family, so that is how we made our choice. I had planned on naming her “Angel” because I wanted her to watch over us. But the night before we went to pick her up from the breeder, I read in Luke where John the Baptist was foretold to come in the Spirit of Elijah, to prepare the way of the Lord. I knew our dog was going to help prepare us for the rest of our children, so I chose the female version of Eli: Elli. (You knew there had to be a spiritual influence on the naming of even our dog, didn’t you??) As you will see below, “Angel” wouldn’t have been the most appropriate name for her anyway. 🙂
So Elli has indeed done a lot to prepare us for the rearing of mischievous small children. 🙂 A habit I started long ago, to constantly make sure the bathroom door, basement door, and gate to the upstairs were closed, is still in effect today—even with the newest installations of baby door locks. I still fuss at the other kids who forget to close these safeties, as I bring the baby back downstairs again (as I used to do with Elli). We have been reminiscing about the things Elli used to do, and I would like to share some of the highlights.
As labs do, she loved to eat. Anything.
Uncountable baby socks were digested and found in the back yard when the first two kids were little.
Crayons were like candy to her and she would focus and wait like a vulture for an unsuspecting child to drop one or leave the entire BOX unattended for 3 seconds. The back yard was very colorful.
Money was yummy. Once she ate two $20 bills. Yes, I found them in the back yard, ripped only a couple times, washed and sterilized them, and turned them into the bank for new. (What. I had gloves on. 40 bucks is 40 bucks when you are newly married. Or even now.) There was another time when she snacked on a $100 bill sent in the mail from Gramps, but I never found that one.
She loved trash. (Hearing the Grouch’s song in my head right now: “Oh, I love trash….”) She would sneak upstairs to the bedroom trash and rip it to shreds in seconds—hence the installed gate to the upstairs and door closed to the basement. Used tissues were a delicacy—she would focus and wait patiently for the second a fresh one was forgotten, snatch it, and run off to hide and eat her prey. When that was not available, she would devour the toilet paper right off the rolls in the bathroom—hence the closing of the bathroom doors. Her favorite time to sneak off to do these hunting excursions was when the kids came home from school and we weren’t giving her attention (though she often just laid around during the day while they were gone), or while we prayed during dinner. Did I mention she was naughty?
She also loved to eat sewing material, and some of her greatest feasts came with novice grandmas, unaccustomed to the ways of a stealthy four-legged omnivore. She once ate a fully-loaded pin cushion. Yes, it is true. We called the vet and he said to feed her a half loaf of bread then, and another half 6 hours later, hoping to bulk up the pins as they passed. (We swear we heard Elli say, “Yum! Dessert! Thanks!”) They did pass, surprisingly uneventfully. One grandma sewing project, the 12 baby bumper pad ties that got wadded in her stomach like a baseball—well, that one wasn’t quite as pretty.
Her favorite toy was the “Indestructible Kong.” Well, it was the leastde-structible, anyway. It would last several months, as opposed to several seconds with the other dog toys. And she was a retriever at heart. She would play catch-the-Kong (or whatever else you would throw—it’s just that the Kong was the only thing that would make it back to us in one piece) till the thrower gave up. I’m not sure she would ever stop the game if she had the choice. She even bit a whole in her tongue once from catching the Kong in her mouth, but it never phased her. She was ready to go again! The black scar on her pink tongue (as seen in the last picture below) was a regular reminder of her eagerness to persist in her God-given purpose: to retrieve.
The kids would play a fun game with her—they would make her sit and stay (oh so difficult to do but she tried really hard) and they would hide the Kong. Within seconds, she had followed the trail and would return proudly with her prey, eager to go again. When guests came, she didn’t care about getting a pat or a scratch behind the ears. She ran to get her slobbery Kong to drop in their laps. And you couldn’t throw it off or she would become even more persistent—that must mean you wanted to play!
Even like Eva now, Elli loved to “see the people.” If we had bags packed in the front room for a trip, she would lay by them for hours, hopeful we would not forget to take her too. And on school days, she would come stare at me starting about 1:30, wondering if it was time yet to walk to school and pick up the kids. (About every 10 school days, the kids are dismissed at 1:45 instead of 3:00, so I think that’s why she was always hopeful starting at 1:30.) She was like the Central Elementary School mascot. Everyone loved Elli, and I was affectionately known as “Elli’s mom.”
In the last couple years, she finally started losing her “puppy-ness” and was no longer able to join us on our walks to school, as I had to practically drag or carry her on the way home. In the last several months, she was obviously in more and more pain, but still never complained. We got to where we were giving her a push from behind up the outside back steps, and we were worried how much more difficult that was going to be for her in the winter. More and more she was eating less and losing control of bodily functions. I prayed we would know when it was time. Though I knew it would be hard on the kids to say goodbye, I also knew it would be worse to watch her pass at home. And I was concerned that if she actually made it till after Kieran came home, he might forever associate our tears and sadness of losing her, with whom he really had no history, with his coming here to live with us. I would hate that for him and for our family. (He might have even been afraid of her—most “dogs” in Ethiopia are wild hyenas who harm people.) Besides, he will already be grieving much loss as it is.
So it was evident that it was time. Our hearts ache, missing her, but I have to keep reminding myself that it was for the best. Lots of extra pictures and videos were taken by the kids yesterday, Labor Day, after we told them. Below are some pictures Michael took “just in case” before we left on our last trip to Ethiopia.
Goodbye, you little stinker. Oh how you loved us. Even when you got lower and lower on the totem pole with each new kid, you still patiently let them crawl on you and poke and pull and stick their hands in your food bowl while eating, without even so much as a snarl. Thank you for unselfishly preparing the way.