How have you helped your kids through the death of a beloved pet?

On March 14, 2012 by Aimee

Our little Squirrel (really a guinea pig) died last night out of the blue. He’s always been a little runty, but he’d been to the vet a number of times. He breathed fast. Had high anxiety. He was scared of his own shadow, but everyone told us ‘no’, that’s just his personality. He was smaller than our other guinea pig (born at the same time) and when I say smaller, I mean seriously smaller. And bony. We can’t even find Oreo’s bones … but Squirrel’s? Well … you could feel them even after almost 4 months of age.

Still, we were told, that’s just him. Not all guinea pigs grow at the same rate. It’s like people. We aren’t all the same.

So we carried on. He was the sweetest, mot silent pig. While Oreo would carry on if he was in the cage by himself, Squirrel never made a peep. If we brought them outside the cage, he’d lay in your arms and snuggle for … hours if he could. Oreo? He sang the ‘let me free!’ song and ran all around like a crazy … well … guinea pig.

Last night though, Squirrel was snuggling even on his brother’s back … dropping his head and letting it rest. Hubby picked him up and snuggled. More head drooping and he wasn’t warm like normal.

In fact, his temperature was 95 was we got him into the vet at almost 5:30 at night. We’d called, they’d said ‘come right now’ and we packed both our piggies up, the girls and raced through 5pm traffic.

He died about 5 minutes after we stepped into the room.

Right there in front of us … in front of my girls, in front of my husband who’s worried about that piggie since the day we got him.

He was never ‘normal’ but in a family where ‘normal’ is not ‘normal’, we relished in his ‘not-normalness’. He was Squirrel.

We’d done our research. We’d read everything we could about piggies. We’d loved him and fed them more fresh greens that even we eat ourselves.

We had a massive cage. We give them fresh hay we buy from a place in Washington state!

I mean … come on! We did EVERYTHING for this spoiled little piggie.

But it wasn’t enough. Heart defect the vet suggested. Something undetectable until it was too late and even then, we probably wouldn’t have ever known.

One day here.

The next day …


It didn’t sink in at the vet. Even as our girls petted his lifeless form one more time and said goodbye, it didn’t sink in for them. There were very few tears (except my own). I wondered about that, even as I let them fall in the car, blinking them away as we drove toward home. How and why were my girls not crying?

Emily said, “Mom, do you think the vets will pet him like we do?”

And my heart broke in two. She didn’t understand. We’d left him and she thought we’d just left him to be taken care of.

Through a series of additional explanations and examples, we brought them through reality and the tears really began. The questions too.

Then the compassion.

“What will Oreo do? He needs a friend. He can’t be by himself! He loved Squirrel too, he’ll be lonesome! Mom! What are we going to do for Oreo?”

They understood.

And it sucked.

All through dinner. All through the evening. Tears. No tears. Tears. No tears. Repeat. Repeat. A moment of clarity, a bought of tears. A moment of clarity … another set of tears.

It sucks losing a pet … especially one Santa picked out just for you.

Yup, Squirrel came all the way from the North Pole’s PetSmart. 😉

He will never be forgotten because for my daughters … he was their first pet to die. Their first real experience where they had to cope and learn and deal with the situation in front of them.

As a mom, I hurt both for my little guy and for my girls.

How have you helped your kids through the death of a beloved pet?

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