Helping Children Cope with the Loss of a Pet

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To lose a pet is to lose a family member. How many of us remember losing our beloved pet when we were a child? The grief was confusing, hard, and scary. Children experience grief, like adults, although the processing might be slightly different. Depending on the child’s age, they may be unable to understand the abstract concept of death. Parents can help with this process in a variety of ways. This blog contains some tips along with resources to help guide your child as they navigate their grief. I’ve ranked six books with a brief description and information on why I believe they help guide your child in grieving for their beloved animal.

1:
The ASPCA Henry Bergh Children’s Award-winning book, Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas, is a lovely and moving testament to the childhood loss of the family pet. Lulu is an elderly dog that is in the care of a young girl. As she recognizes that Lulu will one day soon pass away, she remembers what Lulu was like before she started to get old. One day as she comes home from school, the mom greets her to tell her that Lulu died. The tale expresses how painful the loss of a pet can be, especially for a child. After some time, the young girl experiences joy as she is gifted a new puppy. 

I love this book because it highlights the importance of kids recounting their wonderful memories of their beloved pets as a part of the grief process. Processing through grief also requires space for kids to say goodbye to their pets on their terms.  Examples of processing spaces are when the young girl touches the fur of her pet, verbally says goodbye, participates in a goodbye ceremony, and verbally expresses that another pet could not replace her Lulu. The note from the author at the end is poignant in reminding adults that children are processing through their grief and need their outlet to do so. 

For more information on caring through the loss of a pet: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/end-life-care

2:
I’ll Always Love You by Hans Wilhelm includes a charming story of the life and loss of Elfie, “the best dog in the whole world.” This book is a narration of the life of Elfie alongside the life of the title character. One night, as a result of getting old, Elfie passes away. One way the main character copes with this loss is by cherishing that he always told Elfie every night, “I’ll always love you.” The belief that Elfie knew he was loved became a comfort to this little boy. In the end, the boy isn’t ready to get a new pet but knows that when he is, he will love that new pet too. 

I love that the inside cover includes a craft idea and instructions for making a picture frame for your pet, and there is a word puzzle on the back cover of the book. Memorializing a pet is vital in the grief process as it provides some sense of closure.

3:
God Needed a Puppy by John Gray takes the reader through a journey of nature with beautiful pictures of different animals and scenery as we learn that a fox, Freddy, is recounting to an owl, Edgar, that the little boy down the street lost his dog. Freddy deeply empathizes with this loss as he recounts the love the boy felt for the dog. Edgar wisely advises the fox that “maybe God needed a puppy,” and continues to explain the reasons why God may need the puppy because children in heaven need animals to play with too. This book contains a spiritual/theological component that kids may find comforting. Sometimes we all search for the answer to the question, “Why?” This book may offer some kids the answers to, “Why did my pet die?”

4:
Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant is a beautifully illustrated artistic journey into the faraway place called, “Dog Heaven”. I love this book because it engages the child’s wonderful imagination in picturing the place their dog ventures to after they pass from this world. This book highlights a child’s conception of God, who creates a delightful world for dogs to run around, be fed treats, have fun, and play with the angels.

5:
The Rainbow Bridge: A Visit to Pet Paradise by Adrian Raeside is a longer book targeting older children. It has many words per page, and this may be harder for younger children’s attention spans. However, this book contains colorful illustrations and features the story of a young boy, Rick, and his dog, Koko, who passes away while Rick is at school one day. The tale chronicles Rick’s journey to the rainbow bridge after he is visited by a stinky dog, Buster. The rainbow bridge is where pets and their companions meet to go to their happy place together after they pass away.

6:
Paw Prints in the Stars: A Farewell and Journal for a Beloved Pet by Warren Hanson contains a lovely poem from a dog to its owner in the first half of the book. This poem is replete with comfort from the beloved pet. The latter half contains space for journaling. I like this book because it is a beautiful reminder of the love shared between a person and their pet. It provides a space for you to write down your thoughts, whether in the form of a poem, a narrative, or a place to write down feelings or memories.

A few takeaways from these resources:

  • Be honest with your child about the death of their pet.
    Dr. Steven Dowshen explains:
    “If your pet is very old or has a long illness, consider talking to kids before the death happens. If you have to euthanize your pet, you may want to explain that:
  1. the veterinarians have done everything that they can
  2. your pet would never get better
  3. this is the kindest way to take the pet’s pain away
  4. the pet will die peacefully, without feeling hurt or scared”
  • Provide a space for them to remember their time with their pet and say goodbye. 
  • Provide a space for them to express their emotions surrounding the loss, whether telling stories, coloring, reading books, journaling, crafting, and etc. Reassure them that it’s ok and natural to feel sad, angry, and scared. 
  • Don’t rush to get a replacement pet, but know that eventually, when they’re ready, another pet might help.

A few other resources to comb through:

Keep in mind: 

  • Children 3-7 are unrestrained by their imaginations and fantasy. Explaining that the pet is in “dog heaven” or another similar place, as well as including God (if you are religious) may be helpful in processing their grief. Stories and images are extremely helpful. Reading the books suggested above (OR others you find) will help in this process.
  • Children 7-13 are more literal yet use narratives, stories, drama, and myth to sort through their emotions and sort out meaning to their experiences. Journaling or writing their own stories about their pet might prove to be extremely helpful in sorting through their loss. (Taken from Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and The Quest For Meaning by James W. Fowler)

I hope these books/resources prove to be helpful during your time of loss.

Disclosure: Some of the links above are Amazon affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, Beloved Waters will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

Leigh Ann Moore

Leigh Ann Moore

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Beloved Waters started after we watched a long distance friend go through the loss of their family pet. The family dog, Texas, passed while the children were at school.
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