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Catholic Adoptive Parenting Columnist Heidi Hess Saxton

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“Playing Fetch with Jesus”

The only thing worse than finding my nine-year-old border collie reduced to a bloody clump of blood and gore was the prospect of telling my son that he had lost his best friend. My husband and I made a pact: He would bury Missy, I would explain to the kids what had happened.

Craig courageously fulfilled his unsavory task while I removed the crate from its usual place in the dining room and tucked away her food and water dishes. Then it was time to pick up the kids from school.

They noticed immediately. “Where is Missy?” asked four-year-old Sarah. “What did you do with her house?” Christopher wanted to know.

“It’s time for a talk, kids.” I led them to the couch, trailed by Craig.

“A serious talk, Mommy?” Christopher asked.

“Yes, honey. Do you remember what I told you about when someone dies, how the body is like a Christmas package – we set aside the outside and keep the real present on the inside?”

Christopher’s chin began to quiver.

“Well, today there was an accident. Missy was hit by a truck so hard that she died. It happened very quickly … so quickly, in fact, that I’m sure she didn’t even know what happened.” I had not seen the accident that took her life, but her remains had told the story. “Daddy buried her body in the backyard. But the part of her we love the best … her personality and her love and her sense of fun, that part is chasing rabbits in heaven, and playing ‘fetch’ with Jesus.”

Theologically speaking, I knew I might be on shaky ground. Animals do not possess the same kind of rational soul, imprinted with the divine image, as we do; therefore, we cannot know for sure whether they share our eternal home after their demise. Scripture is silent on the subject. However, since animals cannot choose sin, neither do they need salvation as we do – and it is not unreasonable to think that God in His goodness would include in heaven all those means by which His love was expressed on earth. Man and animals lived side by side in that first garden paradise, so it may be that they share our heavenly home as well. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, four broken hearts at our house sorely needed comfort. Sarah dissolved in tears when she saw her brother crying, but moments later asked if we could have another dog and toddled off to see Cinderella. Christopher was inconsolable. Over and over he asked to see his dog, and wanted us to retell the details of the story. Finally he wailed and flung himself into my lap. “This hurts worse than when I lost my birthparents!”

It was December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. As we read the first reading together – about the downfall of our first parents, and the promise of the Redeemer – I explained that God’s heart hurt, too, when death entered the world along with all the other consequences of sin: pain and ignorance and the tendency to make bad choices. “That bad truck driver made a bad choice, and I hate him!” Christopher declared.

“We all make bad choices, honey.” (I was thinking about the bad choice I had made that morning to let Missy out on our three-acre lawn for her morning constitutional while I got the kids ready for school.) “But I’m sure the person in the truck didn’t want to hurt Missy. Right now he’s probably feeling sad that he accidentally killed such a beautiful animal. We need to pray for him, too.”

Clearly, for Christopher Missy was more than a pet. She represented a kind of permanence and unconditional love he had never experienced in his short life – not even from us (unlike me, Missy never got cross with him or sent him to his room, even when he threw gravel in her eyes). Missy was always ready to play with him when he came home from school, and when we returned from vacation. She accompanied him on every adventure, and kept him company late at night when the rest of the house was asleep. It was no wonder that, to Christopher, losing Missy was an unthinkable loss.

We found a picture of Missy and Christopher, and put it in a little frame by his bedside table. That night sleep came slowly as I held him close and murmured what I hoped were comforting words in his ear; only when his sobs had thoroughly exhausted him did his eyes finally close. The next day we made a headstone out of glitter glue and marked her grave, which he and Sarah have visited several times during the course of the past few days.

Since this is an adoption column, perhaps this particular article will seem out of place, and if so I apologize. However, I am reminded that one of the most common reasons prospective foster parents give for not opening their homes to children in need of a family is that “it would hurt too much when the children went away.” And they are right; the pain of losing a beloved family member can be unbearable. (Of course, owning a dog and helping a child are two different things – clearly one is infinitely higher in dignity and value than the other. How ironic, then, how many families who think nothing of “adopting” a pet, hesitate to rescue a child!)

This week, I can say with conviction that the benefits of unguarded love far outweigh the risks. I have lost family members before, including three of my four grandparents; however, this is different. The wound of this particular loss runs deep and visceral; Missy was my daily companion, and privy to thoughts and feelings and moods that were difficult to share with another human being. These past few days I’ve wandered in a fog – and yet, I will always be grateful to have had the time with her that I did, because she taught me things about myself I couldn’t have learned any other way.

The truth is, Missy gave me courage to love with abandon – the huge, Missy-shaped hole in the middle of my heart is proof positive of that fact. Someday another creature may come along to fill up that hole, or maybe the ache of that void will simply make me more attuned to someone else’s loss. Either way, it was time well spent.


Heidi Hess Saxton and her husband Craig are adoptive parents of two children Christopher (6) and Sarah (4). is the editor of Canticle magazine, the “voice” of  "Women of Grace". A convert to the faith since 1994, Heidi is also a graduate student of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, and a frequent contributor to  Read more of Heidi’s writing through her website or visit Heidi's blog at

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Little Flowers Foundation

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Priests for Life Alternatives to Abortion Resource Page

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