I would like to give a special welcome to Trina from Pick Up Your Craft. Thank you so much for sharing your advice and story with us today. Dealing with the loss of a family pet is never easy. It is important to remember the heartache and confusion that it can cause for our children.
Dealing With The Loss Of A Family Pet
Nearly 8 years ago my boyfriend, now husband, and I decided we wanted to get a dog. We had been together for just about 2 years and decided we were ready for the responsibility of a pet. Having owned dogs while growing up, I immediately knew what kind of pet I wanted. Life is more complete with a dog after all! We met with a man that had two boxer mix puppies left in his litter, a male and female. We took both.
From the onset, we knew there was something different about our male, Noah. While he loved to play, he seemed to struggle with keeping up with his sister that we named Alayla.
It wasn’t until he was about 2-3 years old that his vet suggested that he was already showing signs of hip dysplasia. If you’re not familiar with hip dysplasia the best way to describe it is arthritis of the hips. It’s very common in boxers and other large breed dogs.
Noah ran with a “bunny hop”. Rather than running normally, with one hindleg hitting the ground at a time, his back legs hopped together when he ran. He looked like a bunny. If his hip dysplasia bothered him, he didn’t show it. With such a love of life, he chased his sister and often tracked the squirrels in the yard. Always first to respond to an unfamiliar sound, he could often be found watching the front door. And when we had our daughter just over 3 years ago, he took an immediate liking to her. They would snuggle and play. He loved to give her kisses and “help” her eat her food, but after a while, we knew he was struggling.
Pets don’t show their pain in the same way humans do. Noah was often silent with his suffering. He stopped playing as much and would sleep a lot more, but the biggest sign was his aversion to going up or downstairs. Our home is a split level and Noah would struggle with climbing the stairs. While he used to charge the front door anytime someone rang the bell, he would now stand at the top of the landing and bark.
We knew it was time to try to help him and went back to the vet. Long story short, over the next 3 years we tried everything suggested by our vet, but nothing seemed to help. Most recently, after trying glucosamine for over a year, we went back to our vet. He suggested we try giving Noah a non-steroid anti-inflammatory medicine. He seemed hopeful, saying that most dogs show signs of renewed life. This also gave me hope since I knew we were running out of options.
Noah did well on the pills and now that our daughter was 3, we decided to let her help in some of the care. She was already responsible for helping to feed the dogs, so we were letting her give Noah his pill too. She seemed to love this new responsibility, Noah seemed to look at her with even more love and she was making him feel better.
After a few days on the medicine and him showing marked improvement, Noah woke up on the 4th day and showed a sharp decline. His legs were giving out and he began having incontinence. My fears were becoming reality. I took Noah back to the vet for our prescheduled follow up appointment and I let the vet know the medicine wasn’t working. My heart shattered when he informed me that he didn’t have any other options. Noah was too old for a surgery that may not help him and too weak to take any steroids. I called my husband. Noah wasn’t coming home with me.
While I knew it was inevitable that I would have to say goodbye to him, I didn’t imagine it would be that day. I stayed with him for a while, talking to him and snuggling him. He was always scared of the vet and I knew he needed to be comforted. To be honest, I needed it too. We had dogs growing up, but I was never there when they passed. I was with Noah when he went to sleep and stayed there long after he was gone. I didn’t know how I was going to explain to our daughter that Noah wasn’t here anymore.
My husband was home with our kids when I took Noah to the vet and he had already tried to explain to our daughter that Noah wasn’t coming home with me. The moment I walked in the front door though, she still looked for him. She asked me where he was and cried when she realized daddy was right and Noah wasn’t with me. I cried too. It was a raw open wound for me. My daughter shared my tears and gave me a hug. She sat with me for some time on my bed, giving me hugs and letting me cry. Then she asked me in her little innocent voice, “Mommy, where’s Noah?”
Immediately I was struck. How do you answer that? How do you explain death to a 3-year-old? I had no idea how I was going to tell her that one of her pets was gone. I was not prepared for this conversation that day, but I needed to face it. However, I knew I had no choice. So, I took a deep breath and pulled her onto my lap. We talked about Noah and how he walked differently than Alayla. I explained to her that he walked that way because he was sick, and it hurt him sometimes to move. I told her that sometimes when pets get sick and they hurt a lot that they need to go to sleep in order to stop hurting, but I didn’t think this explanation would cut it.
Dealing With The Loss Of A Family Pet: How I Explained The Loss To My Daughter
I am the type of parent that believes that honesty is best with children. They’re smarter and understand more than we give them credit for. My daughter knows what “going to sleep” means, and she knows that people and pets wake up after they sleep. Telling her that Noah was just sleeping wasn’t going to work and I knew it.
After explaining to her that Noah was sleeping in order to not hurt, I told to her that Noah hurt so much that mommy and the doctor decided that Noah shouldn’t wake up. I explained to her that Noah was so sick that it wasn’t nice to make him live and hurt all the time. She seemed to understand that it was mean to make Noah hurt. So, I explained to her that Noah felt so good while he was sleeping that he died so he didn’t have to wake up to hurt because he knew it was good for him too. This explanation seemed to satisfy her, at least for that time being.
How My Daughter Is Doing
She has seen death in movies, like The Lion King, and has a little understanding that when something dies it doesn’t come back. It has been about 2 weeks since I said goodbye to Noah, and my daughter still asks me almost daily where he is. Each time I go back over the conversation that we had, making sure to include in the explanation that Noah has died and won’t be coming home.
Admittedly, I don’t know If I handled this the right way. Initially, I tried to explain to her that she would see Noah again one day, but this made her think that he was coming home since she began to ask me if he would be home the next day. Now when we talk about Noah, I leave this part of the conversation out so as not to confuse her. At three years old I’m not sure she is ready for a conversation about life after death. We have another dog, Noah’s sister Alayla, and I know that another conversation about death with my daughter will be inevitable. To prepare for this I have been researching books aimed towards talking to children about death.
Even if I fumbled this conversation with my daughter, she still seems to be okay. Children are resilient. She looks for him still and talks about him. We kept Noah’s collar and she looks at it once in a while. I make sure to remind her how much fun she had with Noah and to remember those times. Pets are part of our family after all, and it’s best to honor the family with positive memories. These are the positive memories that will keep their spirit alive.
Tips On Dealing With The Loss Of A Family Pet
- Mementos can help with the loss, especially in the beginning.
- Looking at photos.
- Sharing memories.
- Allow them to ask questions.
- Be as honest as you can be.
- Allow them time to grieve.
About The Author:
Trina from Pick Up Your Craft is a mom from Spokane, Washington. Trina is the creator/writer of Pick Up Your Craft and she loves crafting, sewing, making or trying new recipes, and experimenting with things she finds on Pinterest.
Find Trina on Social Media:
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” Isaiah 40:31