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I made the painful decision last week to send our beloved 11 1/2-year-old German shepherd, Buddy, over the “Rainbow Bridge,” or in layman’s terms, put him down. It was a decision I struggled with for some time, but realize that it was for the best. Buddy was going deaf, struggling to get up daily and refusing to walk outside for the past few months. As a result, I was changing not only my infant son’s diapers, but the dog’s as well.

To some people, a pet is “just a dog” or “just a cat,” etc. To others, he is a part of the family. That’s how Buddy was. I’ve always said he was my baby before my babies were my babies. He was 5 1/2 when Amber was born, and after a brief time grew to accept her and, in his own way, love and protect her as some pets do their humans in their households.

Buddy left us late Thursday morning, so when Amber arrived home from school she knew something was amiss. The foyer where he mostly stayed and slept was cleaned up.

“Where’s Buddy” she asked me. “Is he outside?”

I only wished he was outside.

“No sweetie,” I said. “Come here, sit down. Mommy has to talk to you.”

A look of sadness came across her face.

“Did Buddy cross the Rainbow Bridge?”

“Yes honey. He did.”

Amber started to cry. I hugged her and let the tears flow.

“I miss him!” she said.

“I do, too,” I said. I reassured her that it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to miss Buddy and to remember the happy times that we had with him. I also told her that we could look through the many photos that we have of Buddy to remember him as well.

Those photos will come in handy soon. A friend got Amber a doggie-themed scrapbook for Christmas especially for her Buddy photos, and I know that we’ll be putting it together soon.

As for the Rainbow Bridge, there is a poem that is featured on pet loss-related Web sites that describes a place “just this side of heaven” where some believe that their beloved pets go when they leave this earth. In our family, we refer to the bridge for animals who are no longer with us. Its author is unknown, but the poem can bring comfort to those mourning the loss of a pet. Its text can be found on such Web sites as www.petloss.com, www.rainbowsbridge.com and www.rainbowbridge.org.

In a nutshell, the Rainbow Bridge is a place where animal friends go filled “meadows and hills” and “plenty of food, water and sunshine.” Those who are sick are made well and “those who were hurt or maimed are made whole … again.”

“The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing: They each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.”

The poem goes on to tell of the day that the animal’s special person joins them, “never to be parted again … then you cross Rainbow Bridge together …”

 Amber was fine within a half-hour after she learned about Buddy. Since that day, she has carried her German shepherd Webkinz doll, whom she named Buddy when she got him for her birthday last August. She tells me that is her way to help her remember Buddy.

On Saturday, we received a sympathy card in the mail from our veterinarian, complete with an ink print of Buddy’s paw and a small baggie containing a patch of his fur. I showed it to Amber, and she told me that she wanted to touch the fur. I let her do it. I figure it’s one of the ways she is working through her grief.

Overall, I think she is doing well. We’re adjusting to the house being a bit quieter, but we know that we have plenty of memories to keep Buddy’s “woof” that has been a part of our family alive in our hearts and home for years to come.