We are dog people, always have been, always will be. When my husband and I first got together, our dog family married and we had three big adopted dogs at once. The eldest of the bunch crossed the rainbow bridge when our second baby was just weeks old. At the time, our first born had just turned three and although he loved her, she’d been old for as long as he was alive and old age didn’t improve her already volatile disposition.
As a result, they weren’t bonded very deeply and we didn’t choose to have him present when she was euthanized in the comfort of our home. Following her death, he asked about her a few times but didn’t seem affected in any significant way by her passing.
Recently the time came to end the suffering of the second eldest member of our pack. Our beloved Pearl had worked her way deep into the hearts of both of our boys, who are now approaching 3 and 6. We knew we would have her put down at home but had to ask ourselves lots of questions about how to deal with her death as it pertained to the children.
Below are some of the considerations and observations we made through this always painful process. Of course, every family is different and every child is different so what worked for us will not work for all.
Age and experience matter most. We arranged for the vet to come during our toddler’s nap time. We felt that at his age, he wouldn’t truly be able to understand and more importantly, we didn’t want him detracting from our experience. We wanted to be fully present for ourselves, our eldest son, and our pet. On the flip side, we felt our older son really needed to be there. He is young but he has experience with death. My father died in late 2015 and our son was right there in my father’s home day in and out for the brutally short timeline of Dad’s illness. He knows that death is permanent and we felt it an important continuation of that life lesson to witness life itself expiring.
Preparation is key but timing is important. Our dog was elderly and on the decline for a long while so we planted seeds of the inevitable in our son’s consciousness whenever the natural opportunity presented itself. However, when she took a turn it was very rapid so we really only had one day to prepare him for the event. That turned out to be positive, we think. Anticipation is not always a good thing.
Expect a rapid progression through the stages of grief After we told him that Pearl’s life would be ending the next day he got very sad, asked if she was going to come back to life later (denial), and then stormed out of the room and slammed his door. All in a matter of a minute.
Let him see your feelings. I’m the type of person that has a hard time hiding my emotions so crying was a given. If you’re not like me and crying at the Kleenex commercial isn’t your thing, I encourage you to try to let it out. It’s sad. Let your child know that you think it is sad, too.
Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. We have talked about Pearl every day since she’s been gone. We’ve talked about how we feel now that she is gone. We’ve talked about why it was necessary and how she is better off now that she is gone. We talk. Openly and often.
When my son was dealing with the death of his grandfather a dear friend gave us a book called When Your Grandparent Dies: A Child’s Guide to Good Grief. We read it many, many times. I am in no way equating the death of our pet to that of any human, but there are clear parallels. My son dug that book off the shelf and brought it in the car to read the other day telling me, “Even though Pearl wasn’t our grandparent, we still have grief.”
Indeed we do son. Indeed we do.
If you find yourself facing this issue in your family, I encourage you to consider at home euthanasia. We used Dr. Pearson at Peaceful Pathways for Pets and she was wonderful!