How This Vet Talks to Kids About Pet Death

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A couple of weeks ago, I went on an odd house call in which I was quietly led through a side yard gate to a small, well-appointed pool house.

The purpose of my visit, as with so many of my house calls, was at-home euthanasia.

The point of all the surreptitiousness, however, was more to do with ensuring that the kids — a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old who were busy watching TV in the main house — weren’t exposed in any way to the death happening across the pool from them.

This struck me as rather strange. After all, death is a part of life, one that we all have to face at some point. And, frankly, it seemed odd that people who are enlightened enough to want their pet euthanized at home would hold out on their kids when it came to something so, well, life-altering.

For many days afterward, I kept kicking it around in my head: How were the kids informed — if at all — of how their pet died?

If they had remained oblivious, it seemed to me as if they’d been cheated somehow.

Of course, that's not to say that I’m challenging anyone’s parenting skills. As the single mom of a teenager, I’m sensitive to the intrusion of others’ best intentions.

Nonetheless, I do hold strong opinions on the subject of pet death and the underage set — and my clients will occasionally ask me to reveal them. Here’s what I tell owners:

Don't Keep Kids in the Dark

Just as I believe that every owner deserves to know the entire truth of a pet’s condition — no exceptions — every child has the right to know if their pet has died or has been euthanized.

Why some parents wait is a mystery to me. The fact that a vacation is coming up or a violin concert is looming aren't good excuses.

Case in point: I’ll never quite get past the fact that my mother waited until my final exams were over during my first semester at college before telling me that my childhood Lab had died. I totally get why she did it, but I don’t believe that it was the right approach.

Do Be Age-Appropriate

Although the words you use will doubtless vary with age, any child old enough to have a relationship with a pet is old enough to be informed that a pet has passed.

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