Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

Last week I had to make a phone call that I knew was inevitable, but one I desperately wanted to avoid.

Jackie (199?-2013)

Jackie (199?-2013)

Jackie was a mutt from the shelter. Dog Snobs might call her a “mixed breed,” but she was A Mutt. A bit of pointer, lab, some kind of terrier, maybe cocker spaniel, who the hell knows. No clue how old she was either, but we brought her home from the shelter in June 1998. I’d never had a dog before, and we didn’t have kids yet, so she was my first pet and my first baby.

We named her Jackie after baseball hero Jackie Robinson. “Dizzy,” for Cardinals pitcher/announcer Dizzy Dean, was a close second — and probably would have been a better choice, because Jackie the Mutt was a lot more cute than smart. We flunked two obedience courses because she never quite mastered the “don’t pull on the leash” thing. So I just kept buying every possible kind of collar and harness and leash until I finally resigned myself to being dragged around the neighborhood by my 25-pound dog.

Jackie adored kids, laid claim to all the blankets in the house, and could hear a cheese wrapper from approximately three miles away.

Cheese? Did somebody mention cheese?

Cheese? Did somebody mention cheese?

She rarely barked, but possessed a remarkable ability to induce neighbors’ dogs into frenzies of growling and howling by simply ignoring them. We like to think she was gloating about her fabulous humans.

She traveled a circuit around the perimeter of the backyard to avoid the angry squirrels who threw things at her from the ginormous maple tree in the middle.



Humans putting on shoes were GOOD because it meant either A Walk or A Treat, but a Human with a Suitcase was BAD. And she hated – HATED WITH A PASSION – pedicures. When I eventually gave up on trimming her Killer Claws myself, she would attempt to fling herself into traffic every time we walked up the sidewalk to the groomer and the Industrial-Strength Nail Clippers of Doom.

But, weirdly enough, Jackie never, ever — not even once — hung her head out the car window, so we still have doubts as to whether she was actually a real dog or not.

[This was going to be a paragraph about how Jackie became more than just a pet during my divorce, but I just can’t go there yet.]

ANYWAY…Over the past few days, I’ve been listening to, and telling my kids, and telling myself, all the usual stuff like “It was the right thing to do,” and “She’s no longer in pain.” But dammitall, my dog was DIFFERENT and all those generic platitudes JUST AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH.

So I bought a book.

Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

My kids are too old for picture books, but no reader is EVER too old for a picture book like this. I put this on hold at Barnes & Noble after making The Call and picked it up on my way home from work. As soon as they saw the cover and title, both kids knew that it was time for The Talk About Jackie.

Dog Heaven - Title Pages

Title Pages

My 12-year-old daughter (aka Thing1), glanced through it, and then said, “I know what happens, Mom, I’ve seen Marley & Me,” in her snotty tween-age voice before erupting into ugly tears and wiping her snotty nose on my sweater. But she clutched the book in her arms as we had The Talk, and she read it to her little brother before bed that night.

"When a dog first arrives in heaven, he just runs."

“When a dog first arrives in heaven, he just runs.”

The nine-year-old little brother (Thing2), however, is A Questioner. Sweet Mother Of All That Is Holy, the QUESTIONS. And he never accepts “I. Don’t. Know.” as an answer — he’ll just keep asking the same question again in a dozen different ways. Uff da. I clearly did not not inherit whatever brilliant skill my dad had for Making Up Shit On The Fly That Trusting Children Believe Until They Graduate From College.

I answered Thing2’s eighty bajillion questions, most of which I’d answered 70 bajillion times before, as honestly as I could. The only questions that stumped me were the ones about cremation (managed to avoid direct answers on those), and of course, “But why does it have to be NOW? Why does it have to be TODAY?” Gah.

God wears a red bowtie and yellow pants.

God wears a red bowtie and yellow pants.

Dog Heaven prompted even more questions, and it couldn’t help me answer the unanswerable questions, but this book did lead us to doing to some Canine World-Building of our own.

In Jackie’s Dog Heaven, there are no suitcases or nail clippers, and the Mean Squirrels will cower in her presence. There will be garbage cans full of Happy Meal remains for her to nose through and nobody will care if she makes a mess of it all over the kitchen. Grandpa Phil will take her for walks and give her pieces of cheese whenever she wants and they will watch all the March Madness basketball games together. She will have a whole couch to herself and she will sleep on ALL THE BLANKIES and never have to sigh over humans warming their toes under her tummy.

Goodbye, Jackie. We love you.

Goodbye, Jackie. We love you.

5 thoughts on “Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant

  1. Darlynne says:

    Some questions are unanswerable, some sorrows too big. After five giant dogs, the one thing I know is that I am grateful beyond words for the time I had with each of them; that they shaped me in ways I could never have anticipated; that one day, my sad and weary soul will hear their tails wag again. Give yourselves time and space to grieve and stare at the empty place.

    God SHOULD wear a red bowtie and yellow pants.

  2. I’ve had to make this decision a few times also and and it simply does not get easier. Ever.

    My heart goes out to you and your family.

    And thanks Darlynne for reminding me that yes, my babies have given me so much more than I could ever repay and I for one, do believe that I will see them again. :O)

  3. Oh, honey, I’m coming in late here but I wanted to send you all my sincere sympathy. You guys shared a lot of love, and a dog’s love is such pure love, and total love. Unconditional and flat-out, nothing held back. We don’t get that anywhere else on earth, only from our dogs.

    I’m glad that Jackie stayed strong in the shelter in 1998 and waited for it to be time for you to come to take her home. Then, after all these years of shared love, she trusted you to do what was right for her. Not easy for you, but right for her. I hope you can feel the hug I’m sending you. I’ve made a donation to the Animal Rescue League here in Des Moines for love of Jackie.


    • I also had to make that decision just yesterday our Sadeemae was 14 my grandaughter was born the same year it’s a hard choice to make but when their hurting it becomes the right choice to make Sadee brought so much love and and left us with so many wonderful memories we will never forget her she use to steal our socks and she loved her pillow so much she would start drulling we had to take that away after awhile and we replaced it with a Kong full of peanut butter. We love you Sadee thank you for making us laugh an your love.
      Thank you for sharing your story I wanted to let people know about our pet

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