Hi my name is Daisy. I am following up on last week’s Second Chance Pet Column on helping children cope with the loss of a pet. This week I guide you in what to say (or not say) when discussing a pet’s death with a child.
Marty Tously, a bereavement counselor and author of Children and Pet Loss: A Guide for Helping, explains that the worst approach is to lie or use confusing euphemisms, such as the phrase “put to sleep.” She shares that later in life, when the child learns the truth, they’ll wonder what else the parent lied about.
Likewise, euphemisms can cause anxiety or confusion because children are so literal. “If you say a pet is put to sleep, the child may suffer sleep anxiety,” says Tously. She encourages parents to just be open and honest. “If a pet is terminally ill and needs to be euthanized,” Tously says, “the child needs to be told as soon as possible by the parent.” Use the words death and dying to make your meaning clear.
Make sure the child understands what “death” means. Explain that the animal’s body stopped working. It is important for the child to know that the pet has died and will not be coming back. Depending on your religious or spiritual beliefs, and what the child can understand, you might explain the concept of a soul.
When it’s time, and where applicable, allow all of the family members an opportunity to say good-bye to the pet. The term “euthanasia” means “gentle death,” and when done by a caring professional, can be very releasing for a family whose pet experienced a painful illness (fyi, Second Chance’s Low Cost Medical Program offers this service for low income pet owners, call to learn more).
Be available to let your child share his/her feelings about what happened. Show your own feelings. This tells the child that the pet was special and that they are not grieving alone. You may want to hold your own service to memorialize the pet and to say goodbye. Some people plant trees in a special spot in the yard, others bury the pet in a cemetery and plant flowers so the family can visit.
A few more ways to creatively memorialize a pet are to encourage children to draw pictures of their pet, make a scrapbook with photos of the pet and family members, and write memories beneath. Humorous instances should be included which can help develop associations with happiness each time the book is opened.
Sometimes parents want to ease their child’s hurt by rushing out and buying another pet rather than allow the child to feel the loss. I would discourage this. The last thing you want to do is convey the impression that the pet, a family member, is replaceable. Allow time to grieve, heal and process.
I am a homeless 4 month young cattle dog/lab mix who is full of love and character. I love hiking, playing with dog friends and cuddling up for a warm nap. I am learning basic commands, which I will want to continue after adoption so I can succeed in the big world. Fortunately Second chance offers low cost basic training classes and I love the trainer!
Second Chance Humane Society’s Animal Resource Center and Thrift Shops have been servicing San Miguel, Ouray & Montrose Counties for 27 years. Call 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about our Emergency Response, Community Medical, Spay/Neuter, Volunteer, or other services. View our shelter pets and services online: www.adoptmountainpets.org.