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By Verzijlenberg Veterinary Professional Corporation

The Rainbow Bridge

Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge.

When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable.

All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind.

They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body begins to quiver. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster.

You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart.

Then you cross the Rainbow Bridge together...

Ten Ways to Help Children With Pet Loss.

Laurel Lagoni. M.S>

​The death of your family pet may also be your childrens' first experience with loss and grief.  It’s an important time, then, for you to teach your children how to express their grief in ways that are emotionally healthy and free of shame or embarrassment.  The following guidelines may help you provide support for your children when your family pet dies or when you know the death is coming soon:
 

  • Be as honest and direct as possible
    Avoid euphemisms like, “put to sleep” when discussing death because these words can be frightening and confusing to children.  Young children (under age four) have difficulty understanding the difference between sleep and death.  Therefore, always answer questions as directly as possible and in an age appropriate manner.  Use words like, “Fluffy has died,” or “Because Fluffy is sick and can’t get better, we’re going to help her to die, because we love her and don’t want her to suffer.”

     

  • Don’t lie to children about the circumstances surrounding pet loss. 
    Please refrain from making up stories to “soften the blow” for your children.  Telling them that their pet “ran away” or “went to live with friends” only substitutes one kind of pain for another.  For example, your children may believe their pet doesn’t love them anymore and may feel abandoned.  Feelings of rejection can be more damaging than grief!

  • Involve children in decisions surrounding your pet’s illness and death.
    Children are often involved in the daily caretaking routines of their pets.  It’s only fair, then, that they be included when their animals are ill or dying.  However, you should be alert to what child development experts call “magical thinking.”  For instance, young children (ages 5-7) may believe that they cause everything that happens in their lives, including their pet’s illness or death.  This may be especially true if they have ever said something like, “I wish Fluffy would die so I wouldn’t have to walk her anymore!”)  Include your children and reassure them that the animal’s illness or death is/was not their fault.

     

  • Allow children to be involved with euthanasia.
    Children who wish to be present during a pet’s euthanasia should be well prepared for what will take place before, during, and after the procedure, but should never be forced to be present.  When given the choice to be present, children who are well prepared usually can handle the intense emotions and medical procedures that accompany the euthanasia.  Be aware that very young children don’t have long attentions spans and don’t sustain their feelings of grief for long periods of time. If your young children are going to be present, it’s a good idea to ask a friend to attend the euthanasia with your family, so your friend can take care of your young children.  This allows you and your older children undistracted time to say good-bye.

     

  • Talk openly with children about how they perceive death.
    Understanding death from your children’s point of view is critical.  For instance, children generally don’t understand the permanence of death until age seven or eight and may believe that a pet who has died will one day return.  It’s also not uncommon for very young children to ask the same questions over and over again or to ask seemingly morbid questions about body care, injuries, etc.  Children simply don’t have the same taboos about death that adults do.  It’s critical to answer all of your children’s questions as honestly as possible, without going into too much graphic detail.

     

  • Involve children in good-bye ceremonies and in memorializing activities.
    Each of your family members has a different relationship with your pet.  Thus, it’s critical that everyone in the family be encouraged to find a personal and meaningful way to say good-bye.

     

  • Children grieve just as intensely as adults do; they just do it in different ways.
    Children don’t usually possess the same verbal abilities as adults for expressing grief.  Providing non-verbal ways for your children to express grief can be very helpful.  For example, you might encourage your children to make drawings or to write poems; or you might encourage them to express their emotions through pretend play or to create a memorial for your pet that is unique and special to them.

     

  • Be a positive role model.
    Like many parents, you may feel that you must shield your children from witnessing your own intense emotions during grief.  However, failing to respond appropriately to a pet’s death can create more confusion for children. Allowing children to see your emotions helps them understand that all family members are important and irreplaceable.  It also gives children permission to openly and confidently express their own feelings.

     

  • Use resources.
    When your family pet dies, any adult who is significant to your children should be informed of your family’s loss. Significant adults can provide additional support for your children.  These adults might include relatives, neighbours, teachers, coaches, school counselors, social workers, family therapists, day care providers, members of the clergy, or counselors or support group facilitators who specialize in pet loss.  Be cautious about the mental health professionals you choose to assist your children.  Even though social workers and family therapists may be highly qualified and skilled at what they do, they may not be trained to deal with grief, children, or issues of pet loss.  If your children are in need of additional support, find a human service professional who is skilled in supporting pet loss.

     

  • Discourage “replacement” of pets.
    There are no correct time limits for bringing a new pet into your family.  As a parent, you can sensitively explain to your children that it might not be helpful to rush into getting a new pet.  Explain that it’s important to take time to remember your pet who has died and to have time to think about what kind of new pet you may all want to add to your family. T his is an excellent time to help children learn to take time to grieve instead of attempting to “replace” their feelings of loss with another pet.  When most family members feel ready to adopt a new pet, you and your children can be actively involved in the selection process together.

*Adapted from Morehead D., Lagoni L., et al. Guidelines for Bond-Centered Practice, 2001. (Out of print.)​​​​​​

Helping a Pet Grieve for a Buddy

Laurel Lagoni, MS

It's a well-known fact that animals can become attached to other animals (including humans!)  When two or more family pets share daily routines and leisure time activities, the bonds between them often grow exceptionally strong.

Strongly "bonded" animals might play and sleep together, eat at the same time, and follow one another around.  And, when highly attached animals are separated, either by circumstances or by death, the survivor may exhibit what animal behaviorists call a distress reaction.

Signs of an animal's distress can look very much like human grief, often characterized by anxiety, depression, changes in sleeping and eating habits, disinterest in usual activities, and a reluctance to be alone or away from human family members.  Yet, other animals won't show any signs of grief at all.

Very little research has focused on a pet's reaction to another animal's death.  What we do know is your pet's reactions will be influenced by the relationship between him or her and the pet who died, as well as by your reaction to the loss. For example, if the pet who died was the "leader" -- the one who started the barking and the playtimes -- your surviving pets may engage in these activities less because they were in the habit of "following the leader."  In addition, if you are feeling more anxious or restless in reaction to your loss, your surviving pets may also react to changes in your routines.  This is especially true for cats.

Some grieving animals seem to "search" for an animal buddy who has died, wandering around the house or yard aimlessly and persistently.  In an attempt to prevent this behavior, some pet parents and veterinarians allow surviving pets to be present during euthanasia or to see and sniff their "buddy's" body after death.  While some who've followed this plan believe it helps, others report no reactions at all from their surviving pets.

What can you do if your pet seems to be grieving?  Although there is no definitive data to tell us what works best, many veterinarians and animal behaviorists make the following recommendations

  • Keep routines as consistent as possible.

 

  • Keep your pet's diet and mealtimes the same.

  • If your pet hasn't been interested in eating for several days following the death of his or her "buddy", it's tempting to offer table scraps, treats, and even tastier pet food as temptations. Yet, if pets learn that not eating results in a treasure trove of delectable tidbits, they may become less likely to eat their regular meals!
     

  • Although it's human nature to want to comfort your pets, try to spend time with them when they are behaving in desirable ways.
    If pets receive more attention from you when they are depressed and inactive, these behaviors may become a way for them to get more attention from you.  You can create opportunities to provide positive reinforcement by keeping your surviving pets active.  Exercising together may help you feel a bit better while you're grieving, too!
     

  • Allow your surviving pets to work out their own relationships.
    When several animals live together, they often form hierarchies, with clear understandings of who is dominant and who is not!  When a member of the group dies, the group can become temporarily unstable, with survivors competing for the vacant spot.  This might result in conflicts involving growling, hissing, barking, and even mild attacks.  If this happens in your household, don't punish the animals as this only brings your attention to their undesirable behavior.  Instead, try to distract them with food or toys or, even better, leave the room and let them work it out themselves.
     

In our society, where grief is not very well understood or tolerated, immediately "replacing" a pet who has died has become a common solution.  Yet, this solution often backfires.  There is no guarantee that your surviving animal will bond with a new "buddy."  In fact, just like you, a grieving animal may not have the energy, patience, or desire required to make a new friend during this time.  Remember, if you don't feel ready to bring a new pet into your home, chances are it's not right for your surviving pet either.  Take a deep breath, hug your pet, and allow some time to pass before you and your pet introduce yourselves to a new "buddy".