Losing a pet is never easy. For many kids, including my own, the death of a pet is the first time in their life that they experience death.
My husband and I adopted our first dog, Kalley, together in 2014 when our daughter was a year old. She was the perfect dog for our family. Sure, she loved to bark and jump to say “hello”, but she was great in every other way. She moved from Minnesota to Ohio with us and was there to welcome home our next three children. Our kids only knew our house with Kalley in it. We were excited to have years and years of memories with her.
Unfortunately, her time was cut way too short. She was only 5 years old when she started having seizures. We soon learned she had a brain tumor. It progressed quickly and on Thanksgiving Day 2019, we knew the time had come to say goodbye. The next day we called and set up the appointment.
The kids were currently 6, 4, 2 and 2 weeks old. We knew we had to explain to the older two what was going on.
Here are the three biggest things I learned to help my children understand that their dog, who they had known their whole life, was no longer going to be with us.
1. Stick to the facts.
I always assumed that I would tell my kids she was put to sleep. But after some research I learned the importance of telling them that our dog was going to die. We made sure to explain that she had a brain tumor and wasn’t going to get better. I didn’t want them to be scared of getting sick or going to sleep because I used those terms to explain death.
2. Let them say goodbye.
Before we left for the vet, we made sure to have the kids say goodbye one last time. We took pictures, too. With older kids, you can even give them the option to come if you’re comfortable with that. For us, we decided it was best to leave the kids home and have just my husband and I there for her final moments. Remember that there’s no right or wrong choice to make. Whatever works best for your family and your kids is always the best decision.
3. Encourage them to talk about the pet.
My four year old will often bring up how much he misses her. We use this as an opportunity to talk about her. We bring up funny stories, our favorite memories and look at pictures. It’s healing for us to remember the good times before she got sick. My sister gifted us an amazing painting of our dog, which is a great visual reminder of their first pet and the memories.
Pet death is hard at any age, and I hope these tips can help guide you and your children through this heartbreaking loss.