I buried my dog on Memorial Day.
We adopted Rudi when she was just a puppy, and I was a youth minister who had dragged his elegant young wife to a trailer house in rural North Texas. The lady at the shelter said, "I have the sweetest little puppy for you," and she was right. When Carrie picked the little brown mutt up, the dog laid its head on her shoulder, and I knew it was love at first snuggle.
We had her for fourteen years. We weren't the type to buy her little outfits and get our family pictures taken with her (well...maybe once or twice). Still, she was every bit our first child. So much so, my wife (for whom "Cleanliness is next to godliness" is not a cliche) let her get up on the furniture whenever she wished. She was a smart little dog with one ear that pointed straight up, while the other flopped over. Our family has so many great Rudi stories.
At first, we thought she was having trouble adjusting to our new house. After weeks passed and she still wouldn't eat, we knew something more serious was wrong. We put her to sleep on a Wednesday. The vet was very sensitive, and told us about a cremation service...this would give us time to figure out what to do with Rudi's remains.
Carrie and I were both very interested in how Will would handle this. It was really his first experience with death. A child's world is full of cartoons and video games that don't show the reality of death. It may seem odd that we as parents wanted to expose our young son to something so morbid, but I believe one job of parents is to teach children how to grieve...and how to approach the end of our own lives. God seems to have the same concern. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says, Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. That verse implies there is a distinctly Christian way to grieve.
I knew a guy once who taught at a Christian school. When a teenager at the school died tragically, teachers and students passed around a petition asking people to pray that God would raise the child from the dead. My friend didn't know what to think of such an idea. It reminds me of something I've often wondered about: How did Lazarus feel about being raised? The Bible doesn't say, but I suspect he had very mixed feelings. He probably knew that Jesus needed to raise him to prove He was the Son of God, but he surely also wished he could've stayed in heaven.
I can't say I know everything about the Christian way to grieve, but I'm pretty sure acceptance is part of it. Weeping is, too...one of the few times Jesus weeps in Scripture is at Lazarus' tomb. God's not offended by our tears; in fact, there's a Psalm that says He keeps them in a bottle. Also, those who grieve should lean on the community of believers...let them help in practical ways. And pray...for healing, for the ability to find a "new normal," and for God to use this time of grief to deepen your own relationship with Him.
We buried Rudi at my parent's house. Ironically, their dog Schatzie had died last week, so we placed Rudi next to her, just a few feet away from Freckles, a special dog from my childhood. They haven't had much rain at Mom and Dad's this year, so the ground was rock hard. Dad helped me dig. Will asked what was in the box. When we told him it was Rudi, he said, "Let's get her out." We had to explain why we were burying her, and I told him this is what happens to everyone someday. We talked a little about heaven, too. When I finished burying the box, Will softly said, "I want Rudi." He didn't cry, but I feel like he understands just a little better.
I don't know where you come down on the whole "do dogs go to heaven" question. I'm not even sure what I believe. I want to think God has a place for dogs in the next world. If the lion will lie down with the lamb in the New Earth, maybe we'll see Rudi again. But I don't have any hard biblical evidence on my side, so that's just conjecture. On the other hand, I am absolutely sure I will see friends and loved ones who died in Christ...that's what hope is. And nothing can take that away.