Prodigal Dad — on death and dogs

Prodigal Dad — on death and dogs

Estimated read time: 4-5 minutes

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PLEASANT GROVE — My neighbor’s dog died a few days ago. Not the beast that skulks quietly and gives me the evil eye when I mow the lawn, but the other one — the one as big as my 17-year-old boy and two of his friends.

The dog’s name was Orion. He had a head the size of a basket ball and walked around on stilts. When he visited our yard he always left a large memento of sorts as a reminder of his roundabout.

Depending on who you talked to, Orion the Great Dane was scary or sweet.

There was such bewailing and sadness from the passing of that dog — not from him, but about him and around him. Waves of grief washed across the backyard, past the hen house and through the flower garden, directly into the window where I was standing, doing dishes.

The emotions were so loud and strong that I thought at first I was being pranked. One would have thought (and by one I mean me) that the house next door had collapsed, for all the emotion wafting over the fence.

I have rarely heard such lamentation expressed, except ... on TV power dramas. It was truly that intense.

I have rarely heard such lamentation expressed, except 20-ish years ago as a missionary for my church, or occasionally on TV power dramas. It was truly that intense.

Trying to be a good neighbor, I walked over casually to offer my services — whatever those were.

There, Orion-the-scary (or sweet) was spread out on the wet muddy ground. Had the circumstances been different and he had been napping on my son's twin bed, there would have been no room left for my son or anyone smaller.

The dog had passed on, that was certain. There were a few timed spasms but no signs of life. I bent over him and felt here and there — mostly for the benefit of my neighbor’s boy who was in fits.

At this point I was more concerned about the boy than the dog. At least the boy was calm enough while I was examining Orion that I knew he was getting air.

When I pronounced that Orion had defiantly moved on to greater kennels, the boy's emotions continued as heartfelt, though somewhat more subdued.


The adults talked. Where does one bury a small horse? Do we just load him into the car? Should we call someone? These are the blessed little arrangements that have to be made reminding us life continues, even though Orion, the 8-year-old Dane with a bobble head, doesn’t.

Some would consider these tasks necessary distractions, happy to have something to take their mind off the tragedy. Others would rather grieve and get it out in the open.

Dealing with death usually brings out the melancholy in me. Had it been my dog (which it may any minute now) I would probably lament quietly, then sit and write my “ode to a dog passing” to deal with my thoughts and feelings. But my way is not necessarily “the” way.

Frankly, if I had seen my kids in such turmoil, I would have raised an opinionated eyebrow and told them to go to their room until they were ready to control themselves in public. But having seen my neighbors' grief from a respectful distance, I am reconsidering what I think is appropriate.

Who says grief should be limited to what is palatable, in popular taste, or what makes the neighbors comfortable?

So, the dad-thing I have learned from Orion's passing is that I have been doing the grieving all wrong — inconsolable or otherwise.

My kids, following my poor example, may grieve in clean, appropriate, emotion-ettes, and then keep the rest of their emotion pent up for a decade or so — just like the family I grew up in does.

This neighbor boy, however, will have completed the bulk of his mourning in a week. He will move on and possibly get another dog he can pour his heart out to — one that will bark just as loudly and often, and be just as scary or sweet.

So, the dad-thing I have learned from Orion’s passing is that I have been doing the grieving all wrong — inconsolable or otherwise. Telling my kids to pipe down when they are anguished, or to get all their tears out before the grandparents arrive may not be the healthiest fathering gizmo in my arsenal of parenting skills.

And while I ponder the nature of grief and the art of being a better dad, I can hear that certain sound wafting in through the open window, past the chicken coop, originating from my neighbor’s house.

It’s the unmistakable noise of someone deciding to get a new puppy.


Main image: A Great Dane, barely on the couch, that is similar to the neighbor's dog, Orion-the-mighty, who died. (Photo:


About the Author: Davison Cheney --------------------------------

*Davison Cheney writes "The Prodigal Dad" series every week on See his other musings at Davison at**

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