I had the bad habit of bringing stray cats home when I was a young girl. I always managed to convince my parents that the cats needed me and they had to stay. Then I grew up, moved out and left my parents with a ridiculous amount of cats.
One of those cats was named Riley. My mom named him. He was named after a character in a Catherine Cook novel, a boy with a rough childhood that turned out to be a remarkable man. It was a fitting name, Riley was an amazing cat. He had been abandoned by his mother and found in a tree stump with his brothers and sisters, he was the only one to survive and led a long and adventurous life. We always said if Riley was a human, he would be “the most interesting man alive.” He was just that cool.
We had to make the difficult decision to put Riley down last week. It was time to say goodbye. It’s a decision we had been putting off for quite some time. To say we were sad is an understatement, but we were mostly concerned about the effect it would have on the boys. They were very fond of Riley.
And as I so often do in tumultuous times in our lives, I turned to books. They have a way of explaining things to our children that we sometimes have a hard time with, and it’s a comfort that they can turn to over and over. These children’s books on losing a pet (or loss in general) have been helpful to us. When we made this difficult decision, I took some time and gathered up these titles.
4 Children’s Books On Losing A Pet
My littlest one was pretty mute on the subject when I tried to talk to them about it, not, I think, because he didn’t understand, but just didn’t want to talk about it. He was, however, open to reading these books and was clearly paying very close attention.
The older one was more able to express his emotions and what he was feeling, but the boys don’t always want to talk. And I find with my boys, they sometimes don’t want to share what they are feeling because they don’t want to upset me! I have seen him reach for this first book more than once since we had to say goodbye to our Riley, and I am grateful they have books to turn to when they just don’t wanna talk.
The goodbye book by Todd Parr addresses how difficult it can be to say goodbye, without specifically talking about the death of someone it deals with the feelings and emotions we might have when something like this happens, and helps our little ones understand the different stages of grief that they may be going through in a way that they can understand.
Best For Loss Of An Older Pet
This book by Hans Wilhelm is especially helpful for the loss of an older pet. Or perhaps a book you could add to your library in preparation for saying goodbye to an older pet. This book is about not quite being ready to move on, but knowing that one day things will get better, and you will maybe even love a new pet again.
Best If You Are NOT Getting A New Pet
If you have recently lost a pet and getting a new pet is not in your future. The forever dog is a great book. It deals with the loss, without the ultimate addition of a new pet. It helps our little ones deal with the inevitable anger and sadness that comes with the loss of a pet and shows them that with time and a little help from Mom or Dad, you will one day feel better and our loved one will always live on in our heart.
Most Reassuring & Heartwarming
Whether you are dealing with loss, separation anxiety or just want to reinforce the unbreakable bond that you have with family and those you love. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst is a remarkable book. A mother tells her two children of an invisible string made of love. When you think of the other person, there is a tug on the string which you both can feel. This book opens up deeper conversations about love and connections and the place in our hearts where our loved ones reside, even if they are not with us.
Should A Child Say Goodbye To Their Pet?
My husband and I did not agree on this. I thought they should be given the opportunity to say goodbye. He thought it would be too painful for them. When dealing with something like this, sometimes you choose what is easier for you, rather then what is best for your child. It’s hard to always see clearly when your heart is also broken.
In the end, we decided to explain to them that Riley was getting older, he was sick and would likely not be around forever. So perhaps, we should take some time to say goodbye to him and spend some quality time with him. We did not think that they would understand the concept or the reason for euthanasia and this would just add to there distress and cause them to panic.
So then, when the time came for Riley to be put down, we simply explained to them that Riley had passed away as we thought he might.
It really just depends on your child’s age, personality, and temperament whether you decide to share with them the decision to euthanize your pet. Griefhealing.com suggests, using age-appropriate language, and answering your child’s questions sensitively but honestly. Once your child understands your reasons for the decision, you can then encourage him to say goodbye to his pet. We decided we would take a photograph together with Riley and get it framed so we could always remember him. You could let your child choose however they would like to say goodbye.
The article had some really amazing suggestions. You can read it in its entirety here.
Helping a Child Grieve and Understand Loss
Children don’t deal with death and loss the same way that we do. Kids 3-5 can view death as a temporary thing that is reversible. Experts suggest not referring to the animal being “put to sleep”, as this can cause confusion and encourage the thought that death is indeed a temporary thing.
Awareness and understanding of your child’s responses toward the loss of his pet will enable you to create appropriate opportunities for him to express his feelings and learn how to say a final goodbye. You may need to explain several times to your child that their pet is gone. Using words like “it stops moving, doesn’t see or hear anymore, and won’t wake up again.” will help them to understand the permanence of the situation.
Selecting a place for your pet to rest together as a family and placing a stone or planting a tree nearby to remember them can also be very therapeutic for the whole family and help your little one say goodbye and better understand what is happening.
It’s Always Hard to Say Goodbye
Sometimes as parents we just have to do the best we can. I am not sure if we handled this difficult situation in the “right” way, but we handled it in a way that felt right to us. As usual, there is what the experts say, and then what works for you and your family. We are all still a little raw, a little sad, and a little worse for wear. But with the help of some good books, lots of hugs, and time spent together remembering our amazing friend, we will be ok.
What have you found helpful in dealing with life-changing events like this? We’d love to hear from you.