Navigating Pet Loss with Young Kids

Navigating Pet Loss with Young KidsAt the end of October, we lost our family dog, Molly.

We adopted her as a puppy shortly after we were married. We navigated puppyhood and raised a good, well-trained, perfect family dog. We did everything together. She came with us on vacations and we took her anywhere she was allowed. Even though our kids would come five years later, we knew she was going to be the greatest fur sister. We were right.

Through late-night diaper changes and nursing sessions, she would follow me to take care of our baby. Later she enjoyed the crumbs that never made it into toddler mouths and the crusts that were cut-off sandwiches. She dealt gracefully with the not-so-gentle hands of toddling 2-year-olds. In every photo, she was there, if not the main focus she was always in the background of all of our family memories. Where we went, she went.

Navigating Pet Loss with Young Kids

When we realized her time was coming to an end, with the rapid development of an aggressive liver cancer, we tried to plan as best as we could for such a devastating time. There is a great deal of mental load when it comes to decision-making, the after-care of pet loss, and the involvement of younger children. Here are a few things that helped us navigate the loss of our beloved family dog.

Should the Children be Present? –

This was such a hard part of the decision-making process but ultimately we let them choose. My children are 4 and 7 so we explained the process the night before and asked if they would like to be with Molly when she crossed rainbow bridge. They both wanted to be there and we honored their request. It was not easy but I honestly wouldn’t have had it any other way. Molly left this earth with immense love from every single one of her humans. My girls did great and I believe it really helped them process her passing.

Place and Timing –

If time is on your side and the pet was originally you and your partners prior to kids, try to have that one-on-one time with your pet before the end. We were extremely blessed with the time we had. This wasn’t an emergency situation quite yet so we were able to plan a peaceful, loving at-home euthanasia. Our children were at school the morning of the appointment giving my husband and me quality time with our Molly in her yard giving her all the love we could, and sharing memories, and tears together. We scheduled for a late afternoon time when she would peacefully leave this earth in the comfort of her backyard surrounded by all four of her family members.

Have a Dinner Plan –

I did not have a dinner plan that evening and I felt incredibly empty. The kids bounced back pretty quickly but my husband and I were drained from the stress and devastation of it all. One of my best friends sent me a food delivery gift card and that was a lifesaver for all of us that evening. Lean on your village if you can and no matter if it’s delivery or fast food, take care of yourselves and your hearts. Let the responsibility of dinner go for a night or two. Throw rules out the window. Allow screen time if you need some time to cry with your spouse.

Processing Death with Children –

Let them talk about the experience. Allow them time to process when the time comes. I noticed that it took a few days for it to sink in for my girls and just like most grief, it came in waves. My daughters drew pictures to process. We said goodbye to our dog on our porch next to a large hydrangea so when they miss her I tell them that she can hear them there. Having a spot to talk to her has helped us all. We put up pictures and created a memorial for her in our home with her collar. When we miss her I tell them to touch her collar. Having a change in routine for everyone was really difficult but finding ways to remember her when we had these moments really helped all of us get through.

Books and Stuffed Animals –

Sometimes processing death can be a hard topic for kids that are a bit smaller than mine. There are a few children’s books on the market that guide you through the complexity of pet loss. My personal favorite is The Invisible Leash. Stuffed animals that look like your pet can also come as a sweet comfort item for your small kids.

Have you experienced pet loss with kids? How have you helped navigate this difficult time?

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Kelly VanBeek
Kelly is an aspiring free spirit, a metro-Atlanta native, and stay-at-home-mom to a mischievous 3-year-old and spirited 6-year-old. When she is not chasing her kiddos through Walt Disney World, you can find her running on a trail, scoping out local markets, cheering on the Atlanta Braves and Georgia Tech football, reading, writing, and sipping iced coffee. She lives with her husband of 11 years, her two daughters, and their fur-kids: two dogs named Molly and Jack and a cat named Caesar.