Helping Children Say Goodbye to a Family Pet

We recently had to say goodbye to our dog, Rex. As those of you who have been through this before know, it is a rather emotional experience. After doing some research we decided to have a vet come to the home so Rex could take his final breaths in a familiar place surrounded in love by his family. For us this included having our young children present. While I understand not everyone would feel comfortable or want to involve their children, it felt like the right choice for us (just as allowing them to be present at their younger sibling’s birth felt like a natural choice to us). Here is how we helped our children say goodbye to a beloved family pet:

Photographs– Once we realized Rex’s days were numbered, we asked a dear friend if she would take some family photos of us with Rex. These photos have become important mementos to us. We are working on framing some in a shadow box along with Rex’s collar.

Special Dinner – We felt Rex’s final meal should be something special that he would really enjoy. Therefore we bought a steak for him and my oldest son hand fed it to him.

Letters – Each of us wrote a letter to Rex to read to him shortly before he passed away. I helped the kids write their letters and read them to Rex. This was a very special time of sharing for us.

Memories – The days leading up to Rex’s death, I told the kids many of my favorite Rex memories. Mostly I shared some of the funny, silly things that happened when Rex first became a part of our family. The kids really enjoyed these stories and will often ask me to tell them over and over again.

Honesty – Simply being honest was probably the most important way we helped our children cope with the loss of a pet. Prior to the vet arriving at our home, I gently explained to the kids what the process would entail  in terms they could understand (ie- a doctor would come to our home and give Rex a special medicine that would stop his heart). I said it was up to them if they wanted to watch or not. I told them they didn’t have to decide right away and could change their minds at any time if they wanted to look away or leave the room. I also told them that mommy and daddy would probably cry and it was okay if they needed to cry. When the kids asked questions about the euthanasia process we answered in a very direct and honest way. For example we did not say that Rex was going to sleep. We were cautioned against using the word “sleep” because this can be confusing to children. Sometimes children will then become fearful about going to sleep themselves or about a parent/loved one going to sleep. Instead we explained in developmentally appropriate terms what happened to Rex’s body when the vet gave him the medicine. We encouraged very open communication by welcoming questions and accepting emotions.

The hidden benefit of making an extra effort to involve the kids in the process, was that it also granted me some additional closure in saying goodbye. Being mindful of the children’s needs and emotions helped me be more in-tune with my own emotions during the process. While saying goodbye to a pet is never easy, I felt as though Rex’s life was well honored in the process. And I hope that because of this experience my children now have a deeper understanding and respect for the cycle of life.

-Sarah

*Photos courtesy of Jazmin.V Photography.

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3 Responses to “Helping Children Say Goodbye to a Family Pet”

  1. Lindsey says:

    I cried reading this! You handled the situation with such grace. I’m sorry for your loss.

  2. Sarah H says:

    Aww, I don’t remember losing a pet when I was younger. I was much older when our family dog died. Made me cry reading this, losing a furry family member is a hard thing to do. We currently have a 6-7yo and a 2.5 yo dog. Our DD is only 5 months. I hope I do as well as you did!

  3. Amber Todd says:

    I agree. My mother never let me in on the death thing for family or pets and it was awful, my mom however is also known for being a not so nice person in general, I love reading your posts. I love how respectful you are to your kids and how thoughtful you are to their needs. Our dog is only two but I’m already trying to prepare myself for her passing. I practiced my attachment parenting with her before I had kids and the bond she and I share is one I had never in my 31 yrs experienced before her and I didnt know how to prepare my kids when the time comes. Hopefully its yrs from now, but this sounds like the way to go.