Helping Children Cope with Pet Loss

I knew that eventually the time would come. I knew that someday I would have to help our daughter through the torrential and gut wrenching experience of losing our beloved dog. Even though I knew it was coming, nothing quite prepared me for the reality of it.


Our dog Lucy was really, really old (120 in dog years), so it’s not like this was a shock. I actually started the “conversation” with our daughter a couple of years ago, hoping that would help to ease the loss that would eventually come. Lucy’s rapid decline happened over the course of only a few days, which was a blessing when I look back at it now. The immense void is still ever present in our home. It’s so strange to walk through the door and not see her. Even with a busy family and young child in our home, there is an emptiness that was never there before. It’s just so….quiet. If anyone has ever felt a loss, they will understand how deafening silence can be. This is true with the loss of a pet as well. Here are six things that I have learned since losing our Lucy:


Kids are way smarter than we give them credit for.

My daughter knew how sick Lucy was in her final days. I didn’t have to say a lot. She knew that it was Lucy’s time to go to heaven and “live with the angels”, as she said. This made me choke on my tears, more than a few times. I was shocked that she just knew. She was so brave the day that Lucy died and she was the one who actually brought me a ton of strength. Her insight and wisdom through the grieving process has been extraordinary.


Honesty is the best policy.

Kids need to trust us. How can they trust us if we lie to them about something so important as the loss of their beloved pet/companion? I have found that being straight-forward about Lucy being sick and dying was a way for my daughter to sort out what happened. I didn’t want to tell her that she went away to a farm or some other story. She deserved to know that animals get sick and die, just like humans do. Depending on your child’s age, you can disclose as little or as much details as you feel appropriate. I wasn’t super detailed with my daughter but she understood that Lucy had died, and she had the opportunity to say goodbye before it happened.


Kids go through the stages of grief just like we do.

Denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and eventually acceptance. Augh, these are hard. So hard, mommas. I’ve heard my daughter moving through these various stages and it’s not easy. You want to cure it all in one swift move, but you just can’t. You have to let them work through each stage and hopefully move forward towards acceptance. We often pray before meals and one time I recall my daughter asking God to please bring Lucy back! This was weeks after her passing. It caught me off guard and made me cry, but this was her bargaining stage. I’ve also heard her say that she was really mad at God for letting people and pets die. That was her anger stage. I have tried to validate every single moment where she shows her grief, because it is real and it is important. I want her to know that it is safe for her to feel all of these things. These are BIG emotions for such a little person.


Keep the conversation going.

As much as we tend to “not want to talk about it” because it hurts too much, we really need to keep talking about Lucy, in a positive way. We need to laugh and remember all of the good times we shared with her. This will only help our daughter dig her heals a little deeper into the acceptance phase of her grieving process. Lucy’s life mattered to us, she was a huge part of our family unit. Just because she died, doesn’t mean that she isn’t still part of our lives. We will always have the memories that we shared together. Those will never go away. We have reminders all around our home that Lucy is and always will be loved by us. This has helped the process.


Turn the grief into helping others.

My daughter had a project due at school where she had to pick an activity to give back to the community. Without hesitation she chose to help animals in need. So, she raised money to purchase fabric (to make blankets), treats and toys for the local shelter dogs and cats. This activity has helped her heal in so many ways.


Decide as a family when it’s okay to start thinking about getting another pet.

Explain that you are not replacing your beloved pet, but that you are gaining another member of your family. I thought that we were all ready to adopt another dog shortly after Lucy’s passing. That was naïve of me. I thought that we were ready because I was ready. Once I started moving our family towards that direction, I heard some hesitation from my husband. I realized that he wasn’t quite ready and I honored that. We decided to adopt again when we were all in.

If you are reading this, it probably means that you too have been blessed with a family pet that you love very much. I hope that these lessons I learned may help you find strength in their passing when that day does come.

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