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?

Share in the comments.

10 Responses to “How have you helped your kids through the death of a beloved pet?”

  • Oh, heavens, I can’t tell you how many pet funerals we’ve had…the goldfish, Goldie, Giggles the mouse (there were a few more mice, too), and let’s not forget Cheyenne and Tequila the 4 and 6 foot iguanas. We went through the process of finding just the right box that was always lined with cotton balls. We had to pick the right spot in the back yard where the sun would shine all the time to keep our pets warm and happy. Then we would all stand around the grave and say our prayers and our goodbyes, even leave flowers. They grew to accept death was a part of life and we hugged each other threw the pain. None of it prepared the kids for when the larger animals-the cats and dogs-began to pass away. The hardest to take was our Dalmatian, Baby. It was a fast death. She got sick, and the next thing we knew, she was dead in my husband’s arms at the emergency clinic. Vet said it was probably a ruptured spleen. She died on Feb. 12, 2003, my youngest son’s birthday. We had a cake and dinner planned. It never happened. Our family mourned for days, weeks even. Sudden death leaves you stunned, unprepared. I think all we can do is hug each other. Allow open communication, tears, memories and thank God for allowing us the time with our little animal friends.

    Hugs to you and your family. I am so sorry for your loss. Now pardon me while I get a tissue and wipe my eyes and blow my nose.

  • I’m so sorry. I should never read these types of posts at work cause I’m a mess now. My cat is nearly 20 but he’s fading fast. Death of pet is always so hard.

    • Whoops. 😉 Yeah, I should put a tissue warning on something like this. 😉 I imagine losing a 20-year pet will be very hard. Lots of hugs to you, too. 🙂

  • Losing a pet sucks. *hug*
    I had Delaney, my cat that predated both hubby and the kids, euthanized Christmas Eve 2010, and Marie will still, over a year later, shed tears over Delaney. The goal at our house is to teach the munchkies that it’s okay to be sad still, and it’s okay to miss her and it’s even okay to be really really sad sometimes. But it’s not okay to only be sad and it’s not okay to be so sad we can’t function. Because life is going to throw them sad events- loss through death or just changed circumstances- and I want them to have a healthy attitude towards these events.

    • I’m totally with you, Mary. Luckily in the midst of sadness, they also exclaimed, “Can we get another one?” and we went guinea pig shopping last night and now have a ‘duplicate’ to our existing guy which is still in desperate need of a name. 😉 While that helped, it didn’t stem the tide of tears every once in a while. 🙂

  • Aw, man. Sorry, that is so hard.

    When my girls were little, we each drew pictures of our cat as sort of a testimonial. After the funeral, we kept the drawings on the fridge for a long long time. It sort of made us feel like our kitty was still with us.

    So sorry.

  • My granddaughter was 6 and her brother was 8 when our big old border collie, Angus, got sick. My son helped me take him to the vet and we had to make the decision to let him go. My husband just can’t handle this sort of thing, I’m the one who handles sick kids, puking animals, and death. He’s the softy and since he was at work, I just dealt with it.

    When we went home, I sat the kids down and told them about how Angus had been very old for a dog (he was 14) and that he got sicker than we though and the doctor told us he was going to die so we let him go. He went to doggie heaven where he could chase squirrels, birds, and cats and dig up the garden whenever he wished. Haven went to pieces, of course, crying like there was no tomorrow. Her brother, Driian, did the “man up” thing and patted her on the back and told her it was ok, Angus was better now, even with his own tears in his eyes. He’s such a tough kid.

    But there was no way I was going to let Haven mourn like that, it was breaking me into pieces and I couldn’t handle that. So I sat down at the computer and went looking for another doggie to come home with us. Luckily there was a little 4 month old Sheltie female at the pound that needed a home. My husband used to raise Shelties and I called the pound, raced across Houston (60 miles) and got Isis from them. Then we got her a “sister” at a breeder, a runt of the littler with a back leg/tail problem that made her ineligible to be shown or bred, fine with us because we wanted a baby. So Rhiannon (Baby Rhi Rhi) came home two weeks after Isis.

    Haven is 10 now, she still talks about missing Angus, who was the first dog she was ever around, but she’s so happy with having the girls to play with and help train.

    If you haven’t read it, take a look at this; the Rainbow Bridge poem page. It tells a good story that we get to see our pets again and there’s a place to tell the story of your pet that has gone on ahead of you.

    Hug your kids for me. Grandma Charlie says that Angus loves guinea pigs and won’t hurt Squirrel, he’ll play with him and show him where the food is.