Unfortunately, there are two sides to owning and caring for a pet. One of them is loss, and loss can take a serious toll on us and our families, especially the youngest members of which. Whether it is a dog or cat, rabbit or hamster, parrot or horse or even a fish; suffering the loss of a pet is a process of grief and hardship for children of all ages, because those pets we lose so easily became part of our families in the first place.
My first ever pet, back when I was only a young man, was Bagpuss (named after the haggard looking pink and white cat from children’s TV). Bagpuss and I were inseparable for most of his life and it absolutely rocked my little world when he passed. In-fact, I didn’t think he would ever pass; I didn’t believe that he could. Luckily, I had a pair of great parents watching my back. They coached me through the entire process, albeit in rather realistic fashion, and agreed to all of my idiosyncratic burial requests (I wanted him buried with his bed, and his toys, etc…).
For any parent who has a child dealing with the loss of a beloved pet, it is vital that they aregiven time to process the ordeal and given plenty of opportunities to talk about their feelings; perhaps how this miss their best furry friend, or how they cannot stop thinking of them. It is completely normal and healthy for them to express their grief in a variety of ways and it is up to you, as parents, to listen to your child, reassure them, explain in full what has happened (leading up to the passing and after) and comfort them. Of course, your child will have many questions, and depending on their age, you may want to answer them differently. I firmly believe that honesty is the best policy. Children are inquisitive by nature and will seek out their own answers; either through their friends or through whatever limited internet access they are granted. A simple lie told now will have far reaching consequences!
Choosing the long sleep for any pet is a difficult task. It takes courage but also a lot of love for your pet, to be able to put them before yourself and your children and how much you want them to still be a part of their lives. However, a symbolic gesture such as burial or cremation can help a young child put a full-stop under this period of grief and gives closure to the whole affair. This symbolic gesture can be anything that your child wants it to be, but ideas should be suggested to them; perhaps they’d like them to be cremated and for their ashes to be scattered somewhere, or maybe for them to be buried with their favourite toy (like me). The important thing is to provide gentle guidance to your child, while using a balanced hand to be real about the situation with them.
I remember (so long ago, admittedly) that there were no objections from my parents as to Bagpuss’ funeral arrangements and even now, when I look down to the back wall in our garden, to a tiny patch of grass which is greener than the rest, I am reminded of him and how he had affected me as a person, and how he still makes me smile though he is no longer with us. I have one printed picture of Bagpuss as he existed before a time when smartphones were affordable, but it still has its prominent place in my room, among my family and my friends and those I hold most dear to me.
The loss of a pet is something that you and your children do not have to go through on your own. Family and friends will always be there for you, to support and help you process it. The loss of a beloved pet can be one of the most difficult times in our lives. If someone you know has suffered or is currently suffering the loss of a pet; be there for them, offer them your support or time to talk and make sure they have no regrets with their pet.
It can be just as devastating as losing a family member and there is a grieving process just like any other loss.