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When an Old Dog Nears (This) Life’s End

Looking for films that will help prepare my children for dealing with death of a dear family member

Every Thursday, I head over to the local Blockbuster to pick out the DVDs for weekend viewing. (I know that’s an old-fashioned way to get videos, but for some reason, it feels easier than the online option.) With three young children, a PG-rated movie is as wild as we get, so it’s a narrow set of aisles that I wander through. Inevitably, I end up with one movie about dogs (or maybe an occasional horse) because they are reliably safe. And as a lifelong dog lover, these are the movies I actually stay awake for as I lie on the floor with my old dog nestled between my ankles.

That old dog, Rose the Basset Hound, turned 14 last week. She’s almost entirely blind and mostly deaf, though that deafness seems more selective than total. Other than those disabilities, which she handles pretty well with a little patience and guidance from us, she’s in remarkably good health. But at 14, I have to wonder if she is going to make it to her next birthday.

With the exception of my childhood daschund, who made it to 16 and a half, she’s the oldest dog I’ve ever had. Her “sister,” an Old English Sheepdog born a day earlier and who joined our family three hours before Rose, died over four years ago when my older two children were very young and the youngest not yet even born. Yet, looking at Rose, the day is upon us to prepare my children for, well, dealing with death of a dear family member.

There’s not a lot of film that really deals with the demise of dogs. It’s not a pleasant subject to begin with, and it would be quite a Friday night downer to send the kids to bed after crying over the end of a filmscreen dog’s life. “Marly and Me” dealt with it a little, but mostly from an adult’s perspective, and the Jeff Bridges starring role in “A Dog Year” also had a brief, sad snippet too, again from an adult perspective.

Stretching further back, “Old Yeller” does, though like the more contemporary “I Am Legend,” it deals not just with a dog’s death, but with the owner’s need to end the dog’s life. And not through a peaceful, veterinarian-assisted euthanasia, but with a weapon and, in an unforgettably moving scene, by hand. Those may be wrenching, as is “My Life as a Dog,” where the child identifies with the dog the Russians launched into space, who then dies of hunger, and who is lied to by the adults around him who euthanized his real-life dog, but I’m talking about more garden-variety experiences of dealing with a dog’s death, like my children will have to do and which readers – if you have a dog – are more likely to have.

I’m writing a book now on this topic and I’d welcome any readers’ thoughts on (a) how would you prepare kids for the death of their pet (dog, cat, hamster, whatever) and (b) do you know any films, adult or kids, or books that you think are helpful? You are welcome to post your response to this blog, or if you would prefer privacy, you can send it to me at theafterlifeofdogs@gmail.com.

Dr. Timothy Fort, is the executive director of the Institute for Corporate Responsibility, holds the Lindner-Gambal Professorship of Business Ethics at George Washington University School of Business.