Helping kids grieve the loss of a beloved pet.

Beagle Bailey, Summer 2009

Dealing with the death of a beloved pet is hard enough on us, the adults. Helping children through the grieving process can be heart wrenching. Monday was the ultimate bad day. We had to make the decision to euthanize our Beagle, Bailey. She has been sick for some time. She had Cushing’s Disease. The disease, and the almost toxic medication she took everyday, had taken its toll on her body. She as 14 years old. She was very much-loved by everyone in the family. She was a Valentine’s Day gift from hubby to me.

Making the choice to euthanize a pet is one of the hardest decision you will ever make. Awhile back, after the death of our pet mouse, I posted information on helping your child through the death of a pet. Below is some key points from that post.

**Partial Repost, September 2010**

Helping your child cope with the loss of a pet can be difficult but handled with love and care can make all the difference as they grow up.

  • One of the most heartbreaking things about losing a pet is having to tell your child. Try to do this in a quiet and comfortable place. Also do this one-on-one with your child. Try to gauge how much information your child can handle or may need about the death of your pet.
  • We’ve all heard “honesty is the best policy” and that holds true here. Kids, especially the very young, may not completely understand the concept of death but they are still trying to deal with the loss of their beloved pet.
  • If you know that the pet is sick and you will need to euthanize, allow your child to say “goodbye” beforehand. Avoid using words like “he went to sleep”. This only confuses your child. It’s okay to use words like “death” and “died”. Let your child know that the vet did everything he could for your pet (which is true). Let your child ask questions and be as honest as you can. Depending on your child’s maturity level you may want to simplify the details.
  • Explain that death is a part of life. Lean on your faith for guidance. Saying the pet is in a better place or in heaven is okay. It is also okay to say you don’t know exactly what happens after death because it is the truth. Death is a mystery.
  • Don’t share graphic details of the death. The loss of a pet is traumatic enough for your child without adding gruesome details.
  • Don’t sugar coat it, or lie, by saying “Fido ran away”. This doesn’t lessen the pain of losing the pet. You don’t want to make and post “missing” posters of a dead dog or, worse, get caught in a lie later on down the road.
  • Allow your child to cry and grieve in his/her own way.  Grieving is part of the healing process. They may want to be alone or they may want to cuddle and cry. Reassure her that it is normal to feel sad. Don’t hide your own tears. It shows kids that it is okay to feel sad.
  • Be there for your child with lots of hugs and understanding. Talking about the pet and how much it meant to them is a way of remembering their pet. Always talk about your pet in a loving manner.
  • If you bury your pet in your backyard, help your child make a grave marker. We used a large rock for the mouse. You could get more crafty if your child feels up to it.
  • Don’t pretend it’s not a big deal. Don’t say things like “it was only a goldfish” or “you’ll get over it”. Your child is still hurting and missing her pet. It doesn’t matter how small the pet was, the pain is still real to them. It may have only been a goldfish to you, but to her it was a friend.
  • Don’t replace the pet right away. Nothing “replaces” a pet. But in time you can welcome another pet as part of your family.

As parents, we always want to protect our children from hurting, but how we handle this situation could help the grieving process now and in the  future. Support a healthy grieving process. Be honest and supportive. Trust your gut.

**********

…Back to the story…

Monday morning, when I first saw Bailey, I knew in my gut what needed to be done. But I couldn’t. Not yet. I made sure the girls (ages 9 and 4) went outside to give Bailey hugs before heading off to daycare. I drove back home and took Bailey to the Vet.

After a series of blood tests we decided to try a “booster” shot. Her “Cushing’s” levels were out of whack. Normally her body produces too much steroids, but in this case her levels had dropped in the opposite direction. It was possible she had a tumor or cancer. This is something we had talked about with the Vet 3 months ago when we had to switch her medication. I hoped this shot would level everything back out. By late afternoon she only got worse. She was in obvious pain. It wasn’t easy to admit but I knew what would be best for her.

It was a peaceful passing. The Vet administered a sedative to relax her, then a few minutes later she injected the overdose. I take comfort that I was there with her. I know she is at peace. I brought her home and we buried her in the backyard. Tonight we finished up the grave marking. We added some decorative rocks and planted pretty ground cover.

How we’re doing: Parker (4) is doing well. I think she still doesn’t understand fully. Alex (9) is having a tougher time. She feels very deeply. She once buried a caterpillar when it died. Glenn is taking it 1 day at a time. He chose not to be there with Bailey. I am doing okay…as well as I can. I believe that being there, stroking Bailey’s face, in her last moments on earth has helped me heal. Closure, as they say. As I was driving home from the Vet, Bailey in a box in the back of the van, I cried. I prayed. A great calm washed over me. It was like He put His hand on my shoulder. Bailey is at peace.

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Categories: Faith, Life | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “Helping kids grieve the loss of a beloved pet.

  1. Tina

    I just wanted to say, I’m sorry and that your Bailey looks like such a cutie! I have no doubt your family has many treasured memories with him. I’ll be praying for y’all! Thank you for writing this post about a topic many wonder just how to approach.

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