When Your Child Loses a Pet

My eyes just swelled up when I started typing this. It’s been a little over 3 years that we lost our chirpy wagger, Tusky, a Pomeranian to an illness which rapidly overwhelmed her ever-so-energetic body.

The grief, the emptiness is still very fresh. We lost our pet when my now feisty 5-year-old was very little and understandably she has feeble memories of Tusky. Sometimes, she would see a picture and ask a few questions about her and why she is not around, questions, answers to which are not as simple as, ‘why does grandpa not have any hair’, jolts me out of my comfort zone.

I have been elusive to such questions as to what happened to Tusky or why is she not around. I have always shuddered when I thought how the young impressionable mind of a 5-year-old would react had we lost Tusky now. And as is said, whatever you try to shove beneath the carpet the most, might suddenly come and stand in front of you. Somebody said it so very bang on! My daughters’ friend from preschool very recently put their 10-year-old dog to rest and the news percolated to my girl. What started off as our effort to divert her attention from the grim realities of life to building the new LEGO bridge, took our family of 3 on a trip reliving the memories of Tusky, the slobbery kisses, the torn bed sheets {yes, unlike most dogs Tusky had her affinity towards chewing pretty bedsheets!}, the never used fancy food bowls {she had her ways of using our ‘katories’ instead} to illness and finally letting her go and embracing the happy memories.

The innocent questions like why did she have to die? Or did I do something wrong with her? Did you not take care of her? When is she coming back? All the questions resonate with everyone who has a pet or rather another four-legged child. I would be honest, initially, the questions were so in-my-face, that I had almost resorted to false comfortable statements like, ‘Dora went on a trip’ or ‘She ran away with her best friend’ or even worse, ‘she’s sleeping’. We actually started feeling bad about misleading a young mind and shielding her away from the truth fearing the subsequent grief and sadness.

A child however young has the right to grief, be sad, and miss their pet. The best support we could possibly give them is our patience rather than expecting them to quickly get over it. We told our little one, that Dora was not keeping well and that her body stopped working and she died. We were clear that we’ll not be shoving her questions into the cupboard and wanted the verbiage to be calm, composed, and direct. We had read up many child psychologists harping on avoiding vague terms and euphemisms like ‘sleeping’ or ‘gone away’. A friend of mine {who had recently lost her Great Dane, Cindy} suggested what she did when faced with a similar situation. She told her daughter that Cindy was not well and that God took her away so that she could get better and might someday return as a small cuddly pup to her. The idea was indeed ingenious and even had room for a future addition!

But I wasn’t sure if I could deal with all the separation agony again. Because all the pet parents out there, we all know with the joy of having a furry baby comes the latent fear of heartbreak, agony, and the feeling of void.

From the outset, we were clear about being truthful to the child and that we wouldn’t mask the adult emotions as well. We would show her that we were sad too and that being sad and missing her furry friend was absolutely normal and in fact completely appropriate emotion for the situation.

We as parents in the best interest of our child try to shield them and sometimes that means even in their grief we tend to hover around them.

Tusky – Copyright Ananya

Again, we do that because we do not want to leave them on their own. But sometimes, letting them be could be one of our approaches as well. I was sure my daughter would get over this sadness and all we could give her is time and our patience.

Ok, so can’t harp on this enough, we promised ourselves that we’ll encourage her to express emotions and honor her feelings. We would absolutely try not saying that it’s ok and quickly move over to a Dr.Seuss book. We would let her ask her side of questions and be respectful if she cries, howls, or just wants to be quiet for some time.

Grieving is a cathartic process; don’t press your child to overcome it because it’s been a long time. As I just mentioned our patience could be a great healer for their grief.

Stringing together the good memories and creating a poignant goodbye. We have this on our mind but we’re not there yet. Dora was not our pet but she was an important part of my daughter’s life. My girl, her friend, and Dora would often play together in the lazy afternoons after their 4K class. We have plans to put a picture of my daughter and Dora on our mantle but not just yet.

Ever since we came to know about Dora we had decided that bringing in another pet into the household would not be our way of compensating this loss.

We reminded ourselves that now might not be the right time to get another one, at least not right away. After all, we were not looking for a replacement. I’m sure many would agree with me!

After Tusky, we had always shuddered at the thought of bringing in another furry baby in our lives, the pain of separation is just too much to bear. Dora somehow had filled in that vacuum. And we were heartbroken to hear her news, it was a whole dejavu feeling just in a negative way.

Just a few hours later we broke the news of Dora’s death to my daughter, she was quiet. It was a bit unusual for a child who asks almost 10 questions in 10 minutes and tries to speak even in her sleep! We tried books. I read ‘The Rainbow Bridge …a Dog’s Story’ by Judith Kristen to her. At that point I am not too sure that she was processing much of what I read but she listened. We are reading the ‘Dog Heaven’ by Cynthia Rylant now and she has gradually started asking questions. Reading to her was my way of bringing solace and I’m sure there are tons of other ways.

Did you ever confront a similar situation? How did you cope with your child’s reaction? Tell us a bit about your experience and the way you chose to comfort your child. After all, we are all here to raise strong and resilient children.

Hey all, I am Ananya. After graduating from the University of Iowa with a Master’s in Strategic Communication in 2018 I took to freelancing. Currently, I freelance as a SEO Writer. Writing blogs on travel, lifestyle, wellness, and food is my jam though I would love to write a campaign critique on any given day! I write blogs, articles, and sales web copies for websites. And when I am not fretting over a delivery deadline or running errands, I am probably trying to keep up with my ‘always-so-energetic’ 5-year-old girl or indulging in a bit of self-love on the elliptical at Planet Fitness! I also hold a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a MBA in Marketing, from India.

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