I’ve heard it said that all dogs go to Heaven. I sure hope so. I’d hate to think about spending an eternity without my best dog Honey, a yellow Lab I cherished for 13 years. It’s probably not scriptural, but the idea of our pets and favorite animals follow us into Paradise is very comforting, especially to young children. The permanence of death is just too severe for some kids to embrace. Some parents fabricate stories or embellish the truth to soften the blow.
However, growing up on a ranch with cows and goats, my children were accustomed to death as an inevitable part of the great circle of life. They had to help us haul off carcasses when sickly or injured animals died. They became a little calloused about it when we owned a meat locker.
They used to point at the building when we drove by and said, "There’s where they bonk the cows, Mama."
They learned to pluck doves and quail, and helped clean the deer that their daddy shot.
My sister’s 6-year-old granddaughter Madison has had a different, more sheltered, early life. When her granddad found an orphan goat on their ranch, he decided to give it to Madi to bottle feed. He suspected its chances of survival weren’t great because he didn’t know how long the mother had been dead or if the kid had received any colostrum from her. But Madi was thrilled when she saw her Papa K open the door of his pickup with a tiny Boer goat kid on his lap.
She squealed with delight and picked it up carefully, nuzzling its furry head and caressing its soft hoofs gently.
"I’m gonna name him Taco!" she announced.
"Uh……..ok," said her mom, wondering how this new responsibility would work out in the long run.
Madi was so excited to feed Taco each day. She watched in awe as he latched onto the plastic nipple after butting the bottle a few times. She giggled when he wagged his tail like a windshield wiper as he enthusiastically sucked down the last drop of milk.
But soon Taco started looking puny. He wasn’t gaining weight and would lie around his pen listlessly. Madi’s mom called my sister and asked her to come and take Taco back to the ranch where they could try to help him. They put him up in the barn in a horse stall and gave him some shots. They installed a clip-on heat lamp to help keep him comfortable during the chilly nights.
However, in a few days, my sister called with the bad news. Despite all their best efforts, the goat kid had died. Wanting to spare her tender-hearted little girl from the brunt of such grim news, her mom started telling her about Heaven, how that’s where her sweet granny was. That was where Jesus was. It was a happy place up in the sky. And that’s where Taco had gone.
Stunned, Madi said, "Right now? I wasn’t ready for him to go up there yet."
Her mother continued talking, but Madi was done listening. She spun around on her dainty bare feet and ran out the front door. When her mom found her, she was kneeling in the grass looking up into the night sky, her little hands clasped tightly in front of her.
"Taco! Taco!" she cried. "Come back! I’m not ready for you to leave."
Then she started crying. Her mother picked her up and Madi buried her face in her mama’s hair. She tried to comfort the little girl who seemed so bereft.
"I didn’t even get to tell him good-bye."