This is a hard one. Hard for me to think about and hard for me to write about, but as dog owners we likely will have to cope with this numerous times. It is the painful part of having a dog. If you have a short-lived breed then it probably entered into your decision to get that breed. I know it did mine and because of that I think about this issue often. But just because I have dwelt on it, it doesn’t mean I was prepared for the loss. When my beloved bulldog Daisy died unexpectedly nearly a year ago I was and still am devastated. So clearly I have no secret formula for dealing with this but I do have a few suggestions that may help.
How To Help Children Deal With The Death of Their Dog
Probably the most important thing you can convey to your child is that it is okay to be sad. It is OK to cry, feel lonely and lost. It may help to talk about precious moments, funny stories and special times they shared. He may want to write a story, draw a picture or write a poem. Let him know that these feelings will pass and share your own childhood experiences of loss.
If you belong to a church, synagogue or an organized religion you may want to touch base with a priest or minister who has had ample experience with grief and may give you some comforting words and concepts. Some children are comforted by the thought that “they are in a better place,” especially if your dog was uncomfortable at the end of his life.
Remember to let your child’s teacher know about the loss of your family’s friend. Your child’s behavior may change in school and he may be moody so it is important that you let the teacher know.
Really young children may not have a concept of death so you may have to explain several times. Be patient.
Story books about loss may help. This list contains some of my favorite.
Elementary age children are beginning to have a clearer concept of death and their questions may be more specific as to exactly how Fido died. Remember to try to answer their questions fully. The more information you provide the less likely it is that they will spin some explanation themselves.
Older children and teenagers may want to be involved in the transition. They may want to be included in the vet visits. Teenagers are often very deeply affected if they have grown up with the dog. They may have been very connected as often dogs serve as confidants to teenagers when they are having problems at school or with friends. Be sensitive to this.
It isn’t uncommon for your other dogs or pets to act differently. They may stop eating and drinking or may eat and drink much less. They may want to be with you all the time. They may be restless, destructive, or even forget that they were housebroken. Spend a little extra with them giving them special attention. This may help you as well. If unusual behavior continues, see a vet. Personally, it helped me to talk to my other dogs about Daisy and remember the good times they had together.
“It was just a dog” Doesn’t Work
Fortunately none of my friends have ever given me this line but I have heard many stories of others being told this. Not helpful! Some people just don’t get it that your dog was a family member. Steer clear of these people for awhile. Remember that it is normal for you to have feelings fluctuating from feeling bereft to feeling guilty. You may feel that you never ever want another dog or you may immediately want another dog. Both of these feelings are normal. Talk with your family about how you are feeling.
You may burst into tears unexpectedly, may have problems sleeping and may dream about your dog. You may want to talk about incessantly. Or you may not want to talk about it at all. A feeling of numbness is common or you may feel hyper. All of these feelings are normal.
The feelings of loss that you may be feeling may always be there, but eventually the intensity changes.