Justin Ricklefs


Run Free, Aslan

“We have to put him down today.” 

I’m not a huge fan of dogs. 

I don’t dislike them. 

But I’m not the ‘pet some random person’s dog on the street’ kind of guy. 

Or even the neighbor’s really cool dogs. 

I mean, I think dogs are neat. 

They’re cute. 


And the idea of them is awesome. 

But, in practice, they fall really low on my list of priorities and attention. 

“The doctor can be here at 8pm tonight.” 

Monday, October 2nd. 

When we woke up that morning, we’d never have known it would be a day that would be etched in our family tree for quite some time. 

Legitimately, since Covid, we have been preparing for the departure of the first dog we brought into our adult lives. 

And, at the time, our babies’ lives. 

In early January, 2009, we had a combined birthday party for our two oldest daughters. 

One turned five.

The other, three. 

With a one-year old daughter in tow for good measure. 

At this party, we had one of those live surprises.

At the time, my Aunt MaryAnn and Uncle Chet (among the most loving and tremendous people on the planet), raised and bred puppies. 

High end, super fancy, expensive types of puppies. 

With a boutique, beautiful experience for the humans involved.

For whatever reason that year, we decided having three children under five wasn’t chaotic enough, so we reached out to my Aunt and Uncle to see if there was any friends and family discount on one specific breed. 

The King Charles Cavalier.

I never knew that was an actual thing except when we traveled to Frankfort, KS to see extended family, we always found ourselves in the puppy kennels.

Playing with the King Charles Cavalier puppies.

All puppies are pretty cute, but something weird happens when your own kids play with super damn cute puppies, and then look at you with their own puppy eyes…

“Please, can we please bring one home?” 

And other endless versions of the same question. 

‘Not a big fan of dog guy’ was all of a sudden calling in some discount code favors. 

The birthday party went exactly as you’d expect. 

We saved the one moving present for last. 

And when they opened it, you’d have thought heaven opened up right there in that beige-walled living room. 

A baby King Charles Cavalier. 

A projected 20ish pounds at his largest ever weight.

A breed who prefers a lap over a leash. 

So, naturally, the girls named him after a lion. 


The Chronicles of Narnia books and movies were top of the list for our girls at that period of life, and who doesn’t love the character and protection of the lovable lion. 

Aslan, the King. 


If you google versions of “life expectancy for king charles cavalier”, you’ll get:

  • 9-14
  • 10-12
  • 12-15

And a handful of other answers that speak to their heart issues and likelihood of shutting it down before anyone wants them to, especially little girls (and the boy and another girl who came along after) who aren’t so little anymore. 

On October 2nd, I got home from work and headed straight to our bedroom. 

Aslan was in the same spot he was in when I left that morning. 

On a beautiful bed on our hardwood floor. 

His hips had given out.

His eyesight was gone. 

His back half of his body was swollen. 

His bodily functions were not his to control any longer. 

Brooke had barely left his side, and once school got out, neither did our five kids (four laying on that same floor, one on FaceTime from Phoenix). 

I joined them on the floor. 

It was clearly time. 

As much as we all, Aslan included, didn’t want it to be so. 

The damn dog had become virtually invincible the past three years that we thought he was going to go on his own.

He lost a ton of weight, then gained it back.

He could barely catch his breath and would fight and wheeze and cough, then he slept like a baby.

Hell, he even fell off our deck to a concrete pad below (a terrifying and horrible experience for everyone), and we took him to the animal ER to usher him into the next life, and the vet came out and said, “He’s back there walking around, there’s no sign of broken bones or internal bleeding. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think he’s fine.” 

We wanted to wait until our oldest was home from college. 

To usher him out together. 

After all, she was the five-year old who ushered him into our home in the first place. 

But, it was clearly time. 

For the few hours leading up to when the doctor arrived, we’d taken turns going out to the kitchen, getting a little something to eat, doing some meaningless chores or whatever. 

I remember standing in the kitchen, cleaning up a few things, and thinking about what my role was going to be in the coming tricky transition. 

I loved Aslan, to be sure.

And he loved me. 

Way more than I deserved. 

And more than I offered him. 

But I knew, logically, that it was time for him to go. 

The poor pup was at the end, it was obvious. 

I wasn’t heartless in that reality, but pragmatic. 

And I was getting myself grounded, and geared up, for the sadness I knew would flood over the other six members of the family. 

I’m not a dog guy, after all. 

It’s always an active group chat, but that night the family text string was blowing up. 

“The best! I forgot about that picture.” 


“Kamden has the best pictures.” 

“Send more.”


“So sorry you aren’t here Kam but you’re with us in spirit and these pictures are the sweetest ever.”

The best! We will FaceTime you probably around 7:15/7:30.” 

“Kam, how do you have all these?”

“Dad’s shutterfly.” 

“Kamden, what tf are u wearing”

“Dude idk hahahaha”

“Oh wow”

“Here henny!!” 

“We should look on mom’s instagram too”

“I’m on moms insta rn” 

“There’s one of Aslan running at David and Susie’s that captured his spirit beautifully”

“Omg this one is perfect 🥺”

“With your selfie stick 😂😂”

“The lady will be here in 45 minutes.” 


It was time. 

I went back in the bedroom. 

Brooke never left his side. 

A couple of the kids had moved to the bed, and one to the chair. 

King Aslan, laying where he’d been all day.

Eyes open. 

But with no energy to even lift his head. 

He wasn’t struggling though, he was peaceful. 

We were 25-30 minutes or so from the doctor’s arrival. 

Brooke told me it was time to call Kamden. 

To give her some time with us before it all started. 

I sat in the chair, a few feet from Aslan, a comfortable but good view for Kamden. 

I hit the FaceTime button. 

A ring in, Kamden answered, her beautiful, sad face lighting up the screen. 

Her college apartment in perfect order, her eyes already swollen. 

I tried to talk, but couldn’t. 

My groundedness vanished in a moment. 

When we heard her voice. 

I broke down. 

We all did. 

Maybe because it signaled that it was close. 

Maybe because we were all sad she couldn’t be in the room with us. 

Maybe because nearly 15 years ago, she was the five-year-old who wrote the first chapter of These Chronicles of Aslan. 

Maybe because death, even an animal’s, dislodges, unearths, and brings up stuff in us that usually lies dormant. 

The doctor finally came. 

A saint of a woman, who willingly walks into rooms like that one for a living.

A room of sadness, uncertainty, memories, and 15 years worth of stories. 

She explained her process. 

And described what he’d experience. 

Two shots.

One to numb him.

One to transition him. 

And in between, the opportunity to say our final goodbyes. 

One of our kids was in sunglasses because the tears were flowing so freely. 

One kid cried so hard it sounded like laughter. 

And then it became exactly that. 

They all supported and held each other. 

And Kamden, from FaceTime in Phoenix, asked to tell him goodbye. 

Brooke is way damn tougher than I am, so she took the phone. 


The worst. 

Then, I took my turn. 

And around the room we went. 

Taking our turns, trying to say something coherent, while he transitioned. 

“Are you all ready?” the saint said. 

I mean, no, no one was ready.

They don’t really tell you about this part. 

When they’re in princess dresses and eating puppy cupcakes at a birthday party. 

When he gets a hook in his lip because the flopping fish looked fun. 

When he rides shotgun during a move to Florida (and then back 13 months later). 

When he swipes the Lamar’s long john donut from the kids on a Saturday morning. 

When he wouldn’t leave your side.

When he slept at your feet. 

Or on your lap. 

Or in their rooms when they were scared. 

When he ran away, and the whole family went on a wild goose chase to find him. 

When he slowed down in his body, but never in his soul. 

Or his love. 

And loyalty. 

But this part, the grueling one, wouldn’t have been possible without the other ones. 

Death is funny like that. 

Even with a dog. 

It’s final and fatal and fucking brutal. 

And yet, it’s expansive and hopeful and beautiful. 

Even if you’re not a dog guy, it has lots to teach you.

She came back in, we were as ready as we could be. 

And slowly, peacefully, graciously, he transitioned over to whatever is next for him. 

There were a few more tears, but honestly, most of them had already been cried. 

We embraced with our bodies that it was time. 

To release him. 

To celebrate him.

To go get dinner and ice cream to cope and tell more Aslan stories. 

The text flurry slowed for a bit, and then the notifications popped back in before bed.

“Goodnight love you guys. Love aslan too he’s in a better place 🕊❤️”

“Love you addi. And I agree, he’s so happy and running free like he was on the beach!! He probably has doggie friends all around him”

Aslan, the King. 


Resting in peace. 

And running free.

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