Posted by: secondchancehumanesociety | June 24, 2009

Children & Pet Loss II

IMG_0198Paisley Puckers Up

Dear Pet Column Readers,

I am following up on a recent Second Chance Humane Society Pet Column that discussed the topic of helping children cope with the loss of a pet.  In this Pet Column I will share what to say and what not to 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 course of action is to lie or use confusing euphemisms, such as the phrase “put to sleep.” She states, “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 take what you say literally. “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, including during discussions of the pet’s health and euthanasia. “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 “dying” means. Explain that the animal’s body stopped working. Depending on your religious or spiritual beliefs and what the child can understand, you might explain the concept of a soul. However, it is important for the child to know that the pet has died and will not be coming back.

When it’s time, and where applicable, allow all of the family members an opportunity to say good-bye to the pet. Some veterinarians will even come to your home to perform the euthanasia. This is an individual decision and may not be appropriate in all situations. 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.

Be available to let your child discuss 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 formally.  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 on the pages – 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. Tously says this is a mistake. “The last thing you want to do is convey the impression that the pet – a family member – is replaceable,” she says. Wait until the child expresses an interest in another pet.

My name is Paisley, I am a young and lovely Tonkinese mix female cat here at the Second Chance Shelter.  As you can see by my photo I am very affectionate and would make a wonderful addition to any family who enjoys cat kisses and snuggles.  Come visit me today!

Call the Second Chance Helpline at 626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about the SCHS Spay/Neuter Financial Assistance, Volunteer & Foster Care, or other Programs.  Visit our shelter pets online:  Direct Pet Column questions to:  kelly@secondchancehumanesociety.orgPhoto by Real Life Photographs.


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