Many of us view our pets as a beloved family members, and not just an animal. We love our pets, and bond with them after having spent hours of time with them. Even though we know our pets, like ourselves, will expire one day we always hope the end of life will go smoothly without any bumps along the way. Unfortunately, just as sometimes happens to people, pets also die through car accident and disease.
These sudden deaths are traumatic, but are more so for children because children don’t filter life happenings the same way that an adult might. Most pets only live about 10 to 15 years, so being prepared for it in advance will be more beneficial to and less painful than if you just never think about it at all.
One of the most beneficial things we can do for our children when a pet dies unexpectantly is not to panic. Take time and take care. Don’t be afraid to the touch your pet, and show respect by covering him with a blanket. Take time to say goodbye. It is often emotionally beneficial for the children to hold a little funeral, which is what my grandchildren did when Hammy died.
Hammy was a hamster. Everybody loved Hammy, we liked to watch him run around on the floor playing, and enjoyed watching him play on his apparatus that he would use to run around in circles. When the whole family went swimming, we came back and for some reason Hammy was dead. The children started to cry, and they became angry, but when their mother talked to them about Hammys life in Heaven they became calm, and started right away to plan the funeral.
The children picked a spot in the woods behind the house and dug a hole. They wrapped Hammy in a little cloth, and placed him in a matchbox. Then after the preparations were made, the whole family trekked up to the gravesite and said a few words about Hammy, and then said a prayer. The children were sad for a few days, but they knew that Hammys life meant something. They know that our family has respect for life.
If we could love Hammy, how much more they must know that they are loved!
Talking to your children about death while they are young is good for them. Death is part of life, and discussing it is good. Start early discussing situations where it might be more humane to euthanize a pet, rather than allowing them to suffer in pain. Would we euthanize for a broken leg, or take the pet to the vet? Would we euthanize for a painful disease, like cancer? Where do we stand on these issues?
When you feel that your pet might be suffering, take the children to the vet with you and ask him questions like “How do we know when our pet is suffering?” “What are the signs to watch for?” It is not always easy to determine the right time to euthanize a pet, but most veternarians will tell you that euthanizing a pet is usually the easiest way for the animal to die.
When you are discussing your beloved pet with your children in the future, you want to be able to look back and comfort each other that you did the best you could for that pet under the circumstances. It takes courage to make the decision to euthanize a pet, but it shows love to end the pain before it becomes unbearable.
My dog Buddy is loyal, always by my side and I often refer to him as my best friend. Because Buddy is now nine years old, I have started talking to the family to prepare him for his death in a few years. People have reported that they did not know the pain would be so intense, after-all he is just an animal. Or maybe embarrassment about grieving for an animal will force you to hold emotions in. Let the children know, by your own actions that feeling love and loss for a pet is okay. Let your own emotions flow.
I have talked to my children about possibly getting another dog after Buddy dies. We talk about why it is good to only have one dog, because it is easier and more affordable to treat them right, and simply let them meld into the family as if he one of us, because he is. But we have decided that after Buddy is gone that we want to wait awhile, to let the mourning pass before we make such a huge decision again.
When we seek a new pet right after a pet dies, it is as if we are looking at the new pet and comparing him to the one that is gone. We want the new pet to be an individual in his own right without having to compete and be compared all the time to the old pet. So, giving yourself time to grieve and remember the old pet will help you let go to be able to bond to the new one.
Sometimes it is helpful for children to take pictures of themselves with the pet while he is alive, so that after wards the pictures can be compiled in an album to have as a remembrance. Children can take turns writing little quips in the album, so that each child can record their memories while they are so fresh in their minds.
Don’t leave your children out of the loop, keep them involved in every aspect of the death process. Give them a hug and tell them “I’m sorry, I know how much you miss____ right now.” This is the time where you can show your children that when sad things happen, the family sticks together.
Talk to your children about your particular faith, and what you feel happens after death. Sometimes, it can open the door to discussions about what happened to Grandma and Grandpa, and where they are right now. If you believe in life after death , now is the time to discuss it in more depth.
Remember, life is a process that begins with birth and ends with death. It happens to each of us, including our pets. The fact that life ends, gives us reason to celebrate it all the more. Life is a gift, and when we appreciate the gift of life given to us through out pets, it is a reason to rejoice and be grateful.