Deciding to Remove the Pet
The first step towards lessening the blow of removing a pet from the family is communication. "It's important to talk to the child," says Dr. Emily Soiderer, a veterinarian in West Lafayette, Indiana. "Tell her exactly what is going on, and what is going to happen to the pet." Toddlers may not understand completely what is going on, but it's best to explain the best you can instead of having the animal just disappear one day.
According to Dr. Soiderer, the ideal situation for both the children and the animal would be for a relative or family friend to take the pet. "That way they can maintain contact, and they know the animal is in a good home."
Another child-friendly option would be a "no-kill" organization. Dr. Soiderer uses Animal Aid, a group in Brighton, Michigan, as an example of a "no-kill" organization that will foster an animal until an appropriate home is found. She points out that these organizations are volunteer run, and their resources are limited. Because of this, non-profit organizations like Animal-Aid should be a last resort.
Grieving and Loss
Sometimes, despite logical measures, a child is not able to emotionally cope with the separation on his own. "Even though the pet doesn't die it's still a major loss," says Dr. Soiderer. She points to telephone hotlines and family counseling as ways to deal with separation grief.
A list of grief and loss support hotlines is available at the American Veterinary Medical Association's website. These hotlines are staffed by veterinary medical students who are specifically trained to deal with this type of emotional grief.