When my granddaughter Anna’s dog Inky was killed, she was heartbroken. I immediately reached out to Anna to provide support. I also wanted to surround her with supportive words from fellow dog-loving family members, so I sent a text to my sister Loretta. What transpired is conversation that unfolded between the two of them that beautifully shows how to comfort a child whose pet died.
Here is the conversation between (Great) Aunt Loretta and Anna (reprinted with permission, and edited slightly for clarity.)
Aunt Loretta: Oh Anna, I am so sorry to hear your beloved Inky was killed last night. I know you are so sad. It is ok to cry. I did when I heard about Inky. I know the two of you were best friends. Inky was lucky to have you!! You took good care of him. I am an animal lover, honey. I remember how awful it felt when I lost a pet. I can tell you the names of all my pets. I wish I had met Inky, but I know he was special and was lucky to have you. Remember all the good times the two of you had. Love you, honey, and hope to see you soon. Love and hugs to you. Aunt Loretta
Anna: Thank you Aunt Loretta. I know you care. What are the names of your pets?
Aunt Loretta: There have been a lot. There was Spot, Lady, Pepper, Calico, Midnight, Lucky, Pepper #2, Skeeter (our Doberman) and Tinker Bell (our bird). Tell me about Inky, Anna.
Anna: Inky is an English Border Collie. He is black and white. He likes to lick you on the face mostly on the mouth. He likes being in the car. He likes to herd geese and run. He runs extremely fast. It took him less than 25 seconds to run around the whole pond. By the way, what is a Doberman?
Aunt Loretta: Inky sounds wonderful. I bet he liked being with you and your family. I thought that he might be black like my Midnight.
Anna: What was your favorite pet? Here is a picture of Inky and me.
Aunt Loretta: Oh boy, that’s a hard question. Each one was special. I guess I really didn’t have a favorite. Each time I got a new pet I didn’t forget the others, but grew to love the new one.
Anna: I’ll probably have to do that too someday.
Isn’t that beautiful? This conversation includes many points of how to care for a child whose pet has died:
- Recognize that the loss of a beloved pet is a real loss. Aunt Loretta tells Anna it is ok to cry, and that she also cried when she heard the news. If the adult expresses his or her own grief, it will give the child permission to be sad too.
- When you ask about and talk about the pet, use the pet’s name. Aunt Loretta said, “Tell me about Inky.”
- Let the person talk—listen with your heart.
- Invite the person to show you pictures of the pet.
- Give a book: I like the book, The Tenth Good Thing About Barney by Judith Viorst. Here is an excerpt from the book: “My cat Barney died last Friday. I cried and I didn’t watch television. I cried and I didn’t eat my chicken or even the chocolate pudding. I went to bed and I cried. My mother sat down on my bed and she gave me a hug. She said that tomorrow we could have a funeral for Barney. She said that I should think of 10 good things about Barney so I could tell them at the funeral.”
- Write about your feelings, either in a journal or a poem. In Marge Heergaard’s book When Something Terrible Happens: Children Can Learn to Cope With Grief, children are invited to express themselves in words and by drawing.
- Call your local humane society to see whether it offers a pet loss support group or can refer you to one.
- Prepare a memorial for your pet. Here is what we told Anna: “Anna, if you would like it, Grandpa and I would like to take you to pick out a stepping stone to place some place special on your farm. It would have Inky’s name on it. Then times when you miss Inky a lot, you can go to the stepping stone and remember the fun nice times you two had together. Would you like to pick out a stone?” Anna said, yes. We picked her up and went to WeekEnding (a store in Holland, Michigan), and she picked out a small memorial stone that read, “Inky 2012 – a Faithful and Loyal Friend.”
I am so grateful to my sister Loretta, who was able to lovingly comfort my granddaughter in her time of grief. Perhaps you can use some of these ideas if you are ever in the position of needing to comfort a child whose pet has died.
If you would like to honor the loss of a pet, consider laurelbox’s pet loss support gifts, which offer beautiful and thoughtful gifts that you can send to someone grieving the loss of their beloved companion.