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Parents Talk: How Do You Explain the Death of a Pet?

In this week's Parents Talk, we ask how you handle and discuss the death of a pet.

Last week, my brother and his family had to euthanize their beloved Dachshund, Annie. She was 18 years-old.

That dog was as much a part of their family as their two sons. In the days before they had children, Annie went everywhere with them. I have photos of her at family gatherings, barbecues and birthday parties. She was spoiled.

That's what made it a little harder to take when I got the news that they had to put her to sleep. She'd been in poor health for some time. She'd lost her eyesight, couldn't move her back legs and was just generally shutting down. The decision, according to my sister-in-law, was one of the hardest they've ever had to make.

How do you explain the death of a pet? Have you had to put a pet to sleep or explain the sudden death of an animal to your son or daughter? How did you do it? What did you say? Tell us in the comments.

After hearing the news, I wondered about my nephew. Not yet a teenager, he's always been a tough cookie, but I just knew this would come as a big blow to him. That dog was as much his as it was my brother and sister-in-law's. They were siblings. They were buddies.

All of this got me thinking, how do you explain the loss of a pet to a child? We have a cat who's 17 and it's inevitable that sometime soon, we may have to make a similar decision. I can't even begin to know where to start.

How do you explain the death of a pet? Have you had to put a pet to sleep or explain the sudden death of an animal to your son or daughter? How did you do it? What did you say? Tell us in the comments.

David Leonard March 27, 2012 at 01:44 PM
I'm afraid we told a white lie, if there is such a thing, to our granddaughter when she was very young. One of our house cats wandered into the forest behind our house and never returned. On her next visit, when our granddaughter asked where the cat was, we told her it had gone to live with someone else. We didn't tell her the someone was a coyote.
Jody Gifford March 27, 2012 at 02:17 PM
David, I think in this case, your little white lie was justified.
Beth Dalbey March 27, 2012 at 02:41 PM
Decades after my father explained to a tearful me that Powder Puff had died honorably in a fight, he let it slip that in fact, that my big fluffy yellow tomcat had been shot by a poacher who was using a spotlight to hunt raccoons. I mourned all over again.
Julie VanDyke March 27, 2012 at 04:56 PM
When I was 3, my golden retriever, Mary, was "stolen" by our West Branch neighbor and sold to animal experiments at UI...it was "discovered" at a point that was too late to save her. I didn't care how they explained it to me, the only thing that mattered was that my dog was taken away and I didn't know why or what had happened to her. Yes though, always avoid any allusion to sleeping when explaining death to children. Last week, when we suddenly had to euthanize our black lab mix, it was very hard to explain to my 8 year old. We said that she had been in pain and had died at the veterinarian's office without explaining in detail that he wouldn't really understand yet anyway. Then we talked about how she had been in pain and wasn't in pain now, and that we were relieved that she wasn't hurting. We talked about good memories of being with her, about how much she had loved him his for his whole life, we talked about the wonderful life she had with us after we rescued her (she had been dumped in Hills by her previous owner near the Vet's office there). We miss her SO much. The other animals in my house are confused and distressed about her sudden absence. But my son and I can both really, honestly agree that it is better for her to no longer be in pain rather than have continued on in terrible pain to spend more time with us. We wanted the best for her - that part is not as sad or hard to choose.
Jules Walker April 09, 2012 at 08:16 PM
I just explained to my son that animals are just like people, they have accidents, they grow old, or they get sick and die. Knowing your child's personality should help you in the direction of how you should explain death.

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