Dealing with the Loss of a Family Pet
Never be afraid to ask for advice or assistance when you are dealing with the loss of a pet. There are many people ready and willing to help and support you and your family.
Special Challenges of a Pet Death
There are many aspects of a pet death which have no real correlation to the death of a human friend or family member, at least not as far as children are concerned.
Pets are People Too
One of the first things to remember is that to many people, and especially to children, the death of a pet can be as traumatic as the death of a human friend or family member. This is especially true for a child losing a pet who is part of his daily life. No one would ever say, “Uncle Fred was a bum anyway,” in an attempt to aid you in your grief. Unfortunately, people may make comments along the lines of, “It was only a dog,” when talking about your pet loss. A comment like this is hurtful and will not help. To a child, that dog was a daily companion, a constant in their life. It would not be at all uncommon for a child to take the death of their pet dog harder than they take the death of Great Aunt Marge, no matter how wonderful a person she was, simply because that pet was there all the time. It is not that you should equate the two, but only that the most helpful approach for a child is not to diminish the significance of the pet’s loss.
Human funerals generally have a great deal of ceremony to them. Much of that ceremony is intended largely for the family left behind and presents opportunities to show love for the lost one, to remind everyone how much they meant to those left behind, to provide a gathering and comforting of the family and friends, and to provide a sense of formal good-byes. If you think about funerals in that way, it becomes obvious that funerals for lost pets make sense. Does this mean spending a ton of money on a fancy casket, pet cemetery, and services? No. It means an appropriate good-bye. Perhaps it means the actual burial and saying a few words. Perhaps it means simply placing a stepping stone in a special place in honor of the lost pet. One thing to avoid is the “burial at sea” method. Flushing a dead pet or placing them in the trash can sends a message to your child that the animal was not important and that it is trash to be discarded. If you have a larger pet, ask your vet for advice.
Making the decision to euthanize your pet is extremely difficult. Even adults, facing terrible circumstances, find it difficult to make this decision. When their elderly cat suffered a series of debilitating strokes and was clearly living in awful pain, Dan Edwards of Cary, North Carolina, hesitated, “You want to find some way to make it all better, and you don’t want to go home and face your little girl and tell her that her cat died, knowing that you actually gave the OK for that death to happen.”
How much do you tell your child about your decision? Do you let your child be in the room when the lethal dose is administered? There are arguments both ways, but the consensus leans heavily towards not involving a child in the decision or the actual process. The argument is that this makes a traumatic event more so; it is enough for children to deal with the death without witnessing it. Get your vet’s advice on the subject and know your child’s limitations.
At some point someone is going to ask, “Should you get a new pet?” The answer is the same as the answer to this question, “Do you want a new pet?”
Younger children are likely to accept a new pet immediately. There is no sense of guilt or confusion about “replacing” the lost animal. Younger children won’t stop to consider those aspects. A new pet is simply a new pet, and, if chosen properly, is liable to make younger children happy. In many cases, getting a new pet may mean a return to certain routines in the household–an aspect that will especially comfort younger children.
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