How to Help Your Child Deal with a Pet’s Death
by Beth K. Vogt
My family just went through a rough time.
Our yellow Lab, Midas, was diagnosed with cancer. Less than a month later, we had to make the right-but-still-painful decision to let Midas go.
I grieved the loss of Midas because, well, I loved that dog. A dog trainer informed us years ago that he’d never met a Lab more stubborn than ours. Wow. Wonderful to learn that after the cute little guy – Midas, not the trainer – failed multiple attempts at obedience classes.
While managing my own sorrow, I also helped my 11-year-old daughter navigate her way through grief. We’d gotten Midas when I was pregnant with her, and so I understood all too well her tear-choked words, “I don’t know what life will be like without Midas!” Dog and daughter had grown up together – and now she had to learn how to say goodbye to him. Here are a few things that helped:
- Pick a vet who will help you care for your pet during life – and death. Our vet truly loves animals and helped us make informed decisions about what was best for our dog. He discussed available treatment options and then let us decide what to do. When the time came to let our dog go, we were treated with compassion. Seven of us sat with Midas in a “comfort” room at the clinic – plenty of privacy, no rush.
- Let the tears flow. Children need to know it’s OK to grieve. Tears flowed for days in our house. At one point, my daughter said to her dad, “You’re not sad. You haven’t cried about Midas.” He gently assured her that he was very sad about losing Midas and that he’d cried too – more than once.
- Answer questions the best you can. Besides asking about what was wrong with Midas, the inevitable “Do animals go to heaven?” question came up. Here’s what I told my daughter: God created animals – and when he created them he said they were good. So I believe God loves animals – and they may very well go to heaven. At a time when she was already hurting I was not going to outline that theological debate.
- Let your child process their feelings. My daughter designed a PowerPoint presentation about Midas, complete with a poem she wrote, treasured memories and photographs. After working on the slideshow for a week, she wanted the family to watch it. Since then, she hasn’t cried once about Midas – the process seemed to provide closure for her.
Beth K. Vogt is the author of Baby Changes Everything: Embracing and Preparing for Motherhood after 35. Contact her at email@example.com or twitter.com/bethvogt.