Helping your kids deal with the death of a small pet can be one of the more challenging and dreaded aspects of pet ownership. When you get a new pet there is excitement, bonding, learning and working together, but seldom do we take the time to think about what we will do when that darling little pet dies.
Do you know what you will tell your kids? How are you going to take care of the animal properly when it is time? How much participation will you want your kids to have with saying goodbye?
We have had to work through that situation ourselves on several occasions. We’ve had to say goodbye to fish, dogs, and rabbits. The size of the animal and the age of your kids makes a difference in how things are handled. Hopefully our experiences can give you some ideas about what will work best with your kids.
We recently had to bury a baby rabbit that we lost.
That one was really emotional for all of us. It was abandoned with its two litter mates and we were trying desperately to save it, but could not. I felt like it was my fault for not knowing more or doing more, even though I did as much as I possibly could. But, two did survive and are thriving and giving us laughs and joy every day!
We all dread seeing our kids hurt and upset, but the death of a pet is a great way to introduce coping skills and teach your children about the purpose of life. Old or young, we all find it difficult sometimes as we work through the grief process. We have a Bible-based approach to death, and we feel that it offers the greatest comfort to those who are working to understand all of the “how and why” questions that death is tends to bring.
What happens when my pet dies?
Most kids want to know what happens to their pet when they die and if they will ever see them again. We are Christians, so we take a Biblical approach to explaining death. The passing of a loved one forces us to examine our beliefs and really communicate that with our kids.
While the Bible is not specific on the exact destiny of animals, we do have some good clues that we can use to deduct what is likely to become of animals after they die.
For starters, in Genesis, it tells the story how mankind was created perfect and that sin entered the world through disobedience. Because of man’s disobedience to God, the earth became cursed and death was brought about as punishment. The punishment of death was overcome and paid for by the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus, the Lamb of God, who took our place. He died, was buried and rose again for his creation.
God also shows us in the Bible that animals do not sin, but because of man’s sin, both man and animals die. Animals are innocent victims of the fall.
We also can see that God is just. In Isaiah 61:8 it is written, “For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery for burnt offering; I will direct their work in truth, And will make with them an everlasting covenant.” So, we know that God would be fair in his treatment of his creation, since he loves justice.
God also shows us his love for his creation – both mankind and animals. In Matthew 6:26-27, Jesus says, “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” In Matthew 10:29-30 Jesus states, “Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father’s will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
Finally in Revelation 21:4, after all is said and done, it is written, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
So, we know that animals are innocent victims of the fall of mankind into sin, that God is just, and that He cares for and takes account of every single animal on the planet, whether or not it was someone’s beloved pet.
By the way, He also saved at least two of every kind of land-breathing animal on the ark that Noah built. Did Noah really need all those different kinds of animals for survival, like giraffes and kangaroos? Probably not, but the are pretty awesome! And in the end, he promises to wipe away every tear and there will be no more sorrow.
I have faith that God will make it right with all of His creation. I don’t know what that will look like or how exactly it will work out, but by knowing Him I have hope and no longer fear death and separation.
Should I let my child see the pet after it passes away?
Whether or not you let your kids see the pet after it dies depends on a lot of factors like the age of the child, how sensitive they are to things like this, how the pet died and the condition of it’s remains, etc.
Obviously if the kids find the pet that way, then the next step is to help your kids cope and treat the animal with respect. For pets who get hit by a car or something similar, it might be wise to keep your kids from seeing that. Again, it depends on the kid, but I highly recommend weighing all factors before deciding. Some who farm feel like the kids need to be exposed to this as a normal part of life.
The bottom line is YOU know your kids better than anyone, so do what you feel is best for them. My daughter once came unglued on a kid that was tormenting a moth. So for her, some things are better left unseen.
How do I help kids process grief in a healthy way?
I am no grief counselor, but as a parent who has had to deal with this on more than one occasion, here are some things that worked for us:
- Acknowledge their feelings by letting them tell you how they feel and expressing your feelings of loss. Don’t downplay the feelings, but do remind them of the positives of the pet’s life.
- Talk about happy memories with the pet and look at pictures of the pet.
- Remind them that they are not in any pain and their life had meaning.
- Let your kids help with the burial process. For small fish we would bury them near a nice perennial plant so they could fertilize the plant.
- Let your kids help decorate a small box to put the pet in before burial and write a goodbye note. With our box we made two small handmade “blankies” that matched. One was for the pet to be buried with and the other was a kiddo keepsake.
- Pick out a small garden decoration like a windmill or stone to place over the burial site.
- Take the opportunity to help your kids understand that death is a normal process and what they can expect after death. I teach a Biblical approach to death, because it is what I truly believe.
Where to bury the pet?
OK, so there can be city ordinances that govern pet burials on your own property, so make sure you check on that before you decide on a spot. Generally for small pets, it should be OK to bury them under a rose bush or small tree. Let the kids help decide and make sure to call the utilities company before you dig to make sure you aren’t going to chop up any underground wires.
You can also choose to bury at a pet cemetery or have your pet cremated if that is in your budget. I have never done that, but it might work well for you depending on the circumstances.
It can be emotionally hard to say goodbye to a pet for both kids and adults, but by taking the opportunity to grieve and celebrate the pet’s life, you are getting the chance to bond with your children and give them good tools to cope with what we all have to go through when a loved one dies.
Pets are totally worth some of the pain you have to go through and will bring years of happy memories even after they leave this earth.
Do you have a best pet memory you would like to share? I would love to hear about it!
Pet Burial Box
Disclaimer: Jaimie is not the great and powerful Wizard of Oz, a lawyer, a doctor, a veterinarian, or a CPA. Nothing your read in my blog is a substitute for professional advice and doing your own good research. Remember that just because someone has credentials doesn’t guarantee their advice is golden or perfect. Put your smart hat on and do your due diligence. Good luck!