to Say Good-bye
Dealing with the loss
of a pet is never easy. When dealing with euthanasia,
or sudden loss due to an emergency illness or injury, the decisions that
must be made and ultimate loss of the pet bring up a lot of conflicting
and difficult emotions. When children are involved, special considerations
must be made to help them understand what is going on and how to deal
with pet loss and grief. This article will address planning for euthanasia,
how to recognize signs of grief in children, and ways to start healing
Preparing for euthanasia
To put it bluntly, euthanasia is "death by injection" for a terminally ill, suffering animal. Many people euphemistically refer to this as "putting an animal to sleep." The finality of death is a difficult concept, especially for children under the age of 5 or so. Children can be confused and even frightened by the term "putting to sleep" if they see the lifeless pet after the euthanasia is performed.
When preparing for an appointment to have a terminally ill pet euthanized, it is best to speak in honest terms, at an appropriate level of detail for the child's age. Very small children need to know that this is final - the pet isn't going to wake up or come back. To say that the pet "went away" or is "in heaven" without offering any other details can also confuse children. Older children need to know the reasons why this decision is being made, and why it is humane for the suffering animal.
To be or not to be present at the actual euthanasia is a question many adults grapple with. This is a personal decision, and one that should be discussed with your veterinarian. When children are involved, some veterinarians, such as Dr. Evelyn Wilson, DVM ABVP, do not allow children under the age of 5 to be present for the actual euthanasia. Dr. Wilson feels that the very young children have a hard enough time understanding the concept of death and that witnessing the event does not make it easier to understand or cope. She notes that even kids up to the teenager years can have a difficult time understanding the reasons why and the emotions involved with the act of euthanasia.
It is important to realize that when the humans (adults and children) are upset, the pet is, too. While difficult, it is important that the humans try to lend support and comfort to their animal friend in this last time of need. Seeing their humans upset may upset the pet, too.
Sudden death or
finding a pet dead
Signs of grief
in children - warning signs
Talking about the death with the child is a good first step. For more assistance and guidance, know that there are many grief and loss support resources and hotlines, many of them free of charge, available online and in the phone book.
Moving forward - time to heal
Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby. All rights reserved.