How to Best Cope With Losing the Family Pet
Losing a beloved family pet can be quite painful. Personally, I always forget just how hard it is. . . . until the next time. It’s been three weeks since we suddenly lost our beloved Indy, the younger of our two poodles, and it still brings a tear to my eye when I think about it. It was tragic; it was expensive; it was heartbreaking, but we knew that sending him to the Rainbow Bridge was definitely the right decision. He spent his last couple of hours surrounded by those he loved and knowing he was loved. That honestly was the only thing we could do. Love him until the end and be there with him, even if it was excruciatingly hard.
We did a lot of reflecting in the days surrounding his passing, and I’ve continued to think about the lessons that we can learn and life-principles that we can apply from this event. One thing I noticed is that the littles seemed to rebound much quicker that any of us adults did. Perhaps it’s just because they haven’t experienced the same level of loss in their lives as adults? Maybe it’s just because it’s just easier for kids to go with the flow when all else in their lives is stable? Benjamin came to me and asked how Indy was because his parents had told him that Indy was dying. When I told him that Indy was already dead, he got quite sad for a moment and walked off into another room. I followed and gave him a hug. He looked at me and asked, “Do you have his collar?” I assured him that I did, and he just said, “Oh; OK,” and went about his business. The tangible reminder of a collar seemed to satisfy something in him. (The collar still sits in my car in the bag from the vet. I haven’t been able to bring it in the house yet.)
So what life-lessons have I been mulling over that go beyond simply loving and losing a pet?
1. Live life to its fullest; you just never know which day will be your last. I’m thankful that he was chasing squirrels up until a couple of days before his death. Living life passionately will benefit you, your kids, and all you come in contact with.
2. Love others completely and unconditionally. Don’t place yourself in a situation where you could have life-long regrets. No one is perfect: I’m not; you’re not; they’re not. Dogs (and kids) poop and pee on the carpet sometimes; let it go! People (and pets) are of more value than things.
3. Wag more; bark less! There’s no reason to not be polite and pleasant to others. Be careful of the words that come out of your mouth. I used to always tell my littles to let their words be like little presents (this comes from Ephesians 4:29. My Family Faith Toolkit gives parents a simple way to teach important principles like this to their kids.)
4. Forgive generously. You ever notice how, even if you’ve yelled at the dog for something, he will still wag and come up to you to love on you and make nice. Dogs don’t hold grudges; perhaps we shouldn’t either.
5. Live in the present. Don’t worry about either the past or the future. Dogs seem to do these really well. One thing I’ve noticed is it doesn’t matter if I’m away for two hours or two weeks; when the dogs see me again they’re thrilled!
6. Don’t hesitate to protect those you love. This is one time that it’s OK to bark and stick up for your tribe. Dogs have superior protective instincts and they have an uncanny way of knowing who is trustworthy and who is not.
7. Train your children gently. And include lots of praise and positive reinforcement. Dog training that’s based on positive reinforcement works quite well. One of my favorite pieces of dog equipment is called a “gentle leader.” Rather than a choke-chain that jerks the animal back when it pushes the limits, a gentle-leader guides them the way that they should go. We can also train our children gently to navigate their way in the world. We can make sure that the hard boundaries we set for them are broad enough to allow them choice yet still stay in the safe zone. I teach more about this in my Happy Mom Toolkit.
8. Teach children the value of loyalty as well. Dogs in particular illustrate the principle of loyalty well. They love their people, want to be with their people, protect their people, and love their people. When we show our kids both love and loyalty, they grow up wanting to maintain a strong relationship with us because they know that even when we disagree with them or discipline them that we have their best interests at heart.
Family pets to only offer kids a way to learn responsibility, they frequently are your child’s best friend. One of my sons truly feels like he has lost his best friend, and in many ways, he has. Pets, dogs in particular teach us to be better people, better secret-keepers, better shoulders to cry on, and show us how to share joy with others and love and accept them as they are. Those are invaluable gifts.
Rest easy, sweet Indy. Say hi to Rosie, Blossom, and Manny. See you in heaven one day! Thanks for being a part of our lives and teaching us how to be better people!
Hi, I'm Beth. I help busy moms ditch the overwhelm and gain confidence, so they can enjoy parenting more, yell less, and have peaceful kids and a happy family.