Losing a Pet

How to Help the Members of Your Family Cope with the Loss of their Best Buddy

Our buddy got tired. He would have turned 14 on November 6th. He had the worst dog breath of any pet in the history of the world, but he was adorable, a best friend to each one of us, and we will miss him.

He had a stroke in the night a few weeks ago. I took him to the vet and they said, “It’s his time to go. He’s lived a good life.”

I’ve known for a while that he was at the end of his days, and I certainly didn’t want him to linger in pain from sore knees and other old age problems. But it was hard, very hard.

Winston was our first kid. Rob and I got him a year before we had Maddie, so he lived as our only child for a time, fully bonding with us, learning to trust and love us. He was just a little white fur ball when we got him and was very docile and compliant, until we had Maddie. He was afraid of her little baby cries at first, but a switch flipped once he realized this was a “puppy” that the three of us were supposed to protect with our ferocious barks. From that day on, when anyone would come to our door or walk into our yard, he would bark and bark, terrifying the guest with his less than one-foot tall ferocity.

He was such a good buddy to our girls. Seeing him go was one of the hardest things that has ever happened to our family. If you have loved and lost a pet, you know what I mean.

Since that very sad day, the girls are each handling their grief in their own way, and much differently than I had anticipated. The morning Winston got sick, the older two girls knew right away that something was very wrong and were able to say goodbye to him before school. I was truly grateful for the support their school offered through a counselor and good friends.

Belle went right to her room when she found out after school. She did not shed a tear, but wrote and illustrated an entire book dedicated to her best buddy. The book is full of pictures of her memories with him running, jumping, laughing and playing. I was grateful again for her wonderful first grade teacher for allowing Belle to show her book to her class the next day. Her teacher even took time out to discuss losing a pet with the class. According to Belle, there was a conflict about which was “more sadder”: losing a pet fish or a dog. Most of the class settled on “dog,” except for the one who lost the fish.

The older girls took the loss of their buddy very hard. He’s been their one connection to their early childhood days which bring them so many fun memories. They have each other, but Winston was their other best buddy. Their sadness has been sort of lingering since that day, and we talk about it as we can.

Some Advice

Each member of the family has dealt with the sadness of losing our dog in different ways. Here is what we have learned from this experience and some advice I have to offer if you or someone you know loses a pet:

Don’t think you know how they will respond.

This is a new loss with new circumstances. Let them grieve how they will. Every person in the family is different and will experience grief in their own way.

Talk about great memories right away.

The funny stories we share at dinner about our old buddy always make us laugh and cheer us up.

Treasure their memories.

However they express it, let them know their grieving process is special and important. We hung up the book Belle drew for everyone to look at. It makes her feel proud and included as an important member of the family.

Give space to kids who aren’t as verbal.

If they don’t want to talk about it, don’t make them. Let them have quiet time if they need it. For our oldest daughter, quiet is what heals her sadness.

Let them know this is a part of life.

Most importantly, and most obviously, let your kids know you love them and that this is the natural part of living and dying. No matter how they feel – angry, sad, frustrated or lonely – let them know you are there for them and will help them through it. A gentle hug and the comforting presence of a loved one will go a long, long way.

This article appears in the February 2012 issue of The Family Magazine of Michiana

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One thought on “Losing a Pet

  1. Valeri says:

    It made me think about losing not only a pet but a human loved one. You’re story & words of advice…..make me think about how we all grieve differently…in our own way and in our own time frame….thanks for the reminder and for sharing!!!!!

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