Monday, June 30, 2008

What To Tell a Toddler When the Family Pet Dies…


We came home this afternoon and discovered that our Beagle, Mr. Monkey, had died.

We knew it was coming for some time, about 2 years since the vet initially predicted because of his age and ails; but now that it has the grief and the guilt are kicking in. What has me really distressed is that I had a weird feeling about him last Thursday when he began losing his appetite. Now I have remorse knowing that I should have jumped on my instincts and taken him to the vet.

God, just the thought of him suffering alone with nobody around is just eating me up inside. I never wanted it to happen like that…

Mr. Monkey’s Origins

We found him at a Beagle rescue over 7 years ago, the weekend after we moved into our house. When we saw him we knew he was “the one” because he was very low-key, gentle, and just wanted to sit near anybody who would be willing to pet him for awhile. He had the personality of a cat, but came in the package of a dog.
He did have some odd traits, such as he wouldn’t put anything in his mouth, except food; wouldn’t play catch or fetch. And he couldn’t bark as his previous owners had him “de-barked” (the first I had heard of such a thing – a very creepy practice.) In place of his barking he made whimpering noises, which resembled a monkey, thus his name was given. Except we added “Mr.” obviously influenced by Mr. T.
Eventually his vocal cords did grow back and he was able to bark, a little, sounding more like an old smoker than a dog.
When our daughter came along she just adored him. He of course, like most dogs when a new baby arrives, didn’t want anything to do with her until she became big enough to drop small pieces of food - on purpose.
In the last year or so she began helping me care for Mr. Monkey. Brushing him in the morning and evening, feeding him at night, and serving him his meds. She had lots of 'conversations' with him which was both fascinating and entertaining. At times she could be showing off some “pretty dress” of hers, telling him what she’s done most of the day, or asking him if he’s seen some random movie. According to her, he has and likes all kinds of movies and he 'really likes' her dresses.

Since this just happened tonight, I’m expecting her to ask for him in the morning. And now I’m searching for the right thing to tell her.
Just how do you explain death to a near 3-year old, especially when it’s a pet that they’ve seen everyday for their entire existence?

I really don’t know. The only thing I do know is that I’m really going to miss him…

57 comments:

Steph in AK said...

Oh, man, that sucks. I am so sorry. We've lost a couple of dogs through the years, and it is heartbreaking.

I hope you don't beat yourself up too much. It sounds like he had a fabulous life as a much loved pet for seven years with you.

Whirlwind said...

Oh man, I'm so sorry to hear about Mr. Monkey.

We've only had fish and hamsters pass and just explained truthfully what happened. They were old and died. We were open and honest and all three of them were able to grasp the concept. They asked questions for awhile and we just answered them honestly.

Then we got the lizards and now they are planning for the future "when the lizards die,m can we get a turtle/another hamster/chiwowa?"

Just DON'T tell her they went to live at the vet because they were sick. (Meenie's teacher did that this year when the class guinea pig died. As Husband says,. that's going to lead to alot of scarred kids when Grandma get's sick "and goes to live at the vet".

Anyway, honesty works pretty well.

Jackie said...

Oh Tony, I'm so sorry! It's ever easy losing such a close member of the family. I wish I had an answer to your question. Just be as honest as possible is the only advice I have.

Jackie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MetroDad said...

So sorry to hear the bad news, Tony.

crazedparent/charlene said...

so, so sorry, Tony.

i would keep it really simple when you tell her (...he was very old and his body didn't work anymore).

hugs.

Darren said...

That's tough. Our condolences. And I'm sure you'll find the right thing to say.

The Real Mother Hen said...

I'm so sorry. Rescued dogs have been hurt much in their lives, but you have given Mr Monkey some good 7 years of peaceful and happy life. You are a good person.

Amrita said...

Oh I am so sorry to hear that Tony. I love dog and i miss my Jimmy terribley ...he dies April 0th last year.

Mr Monkey seems like such an adorable pet.

The Jillybean said...

I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Pets becomes so much a part of our families that it makes loosing them as hurtful as loosing a human. Good luck explaining to your daughter.

for a different kind of girl said...

Sorry to hear about this loss in your family. It's very heartbreaking, and I hope he passed as peacefully as possible.

You've gotten some great suggestions about truthful answers and explanations. There's also some great kids books out there that deal with the death of a pet that might be helpful.

Condolences to all of you...

April said...

We just went through this 8 months ago with my parents dog. It was hard for the kids, but I am glad we were truthful with them. Death is unfortunately a part of life and being honest helps them understand it better and accept it. My daughter had just turned four at the time and is only just now beginning to understand that "died" means forever gone.

So sorry for your loss.

common mom said...

Losing a pet is so tough!!! We put our lab down about a year ago. Talking to the kids was the worst part :-( We told them the night before and they got to say goodbye - I don't know if that was tougher or just telling them after the fact would have been tougher. We explained that Maggie was really sick (which they knew) and that she was much happier now up in Heaven playing ball with Old Grandpa (their great grandfather had died about 6 months earlier). They were so sad, but actually did OK knowing that she was having fun running and playing again.

You'll figure out a way to tell her. It won't be easy, but you'll know what to do.

So sorry for your loss :-(

Karen said...

Tony, I'm sorry about Mr Monkey. Don't beat yourself up about not being there - it sounds like he had a great life at your place.

I think the only thing you can do with your daughter is be honest. She doesn't need to know everything - just tailor it to her level of understanding - work on the basis that he was old and poorly and sometimes when animals are too poorly to get better they fall asleep forever and don't wake up. Or something along those lines.

dennis said...

we buried so many pets (none that were killed, except by cars) while growing up, that I really am no use here.

It was something that happened (and with the number of pets it was more frequent than not)

Surfer Jay said...

That’s gotta be a tough one. When I was five or so, I remember my mom walking in the house saying, “I just ran over the cat.” I cried that night, and the next day my brothers and I were laughing about it. With that said, as an adult now I am thinking that I may believe it is harder to deal with for our kids than it really is. Death is surely not easy, but past memories are kept sacred and new animals eventually bring the same joy to the family. However you tell her, I am sure she will deal very well after the initial shock.

Sarah O. said...

I am so sorry. Mr. Monkey sounds like he was such a lovable doggie.

No advice, either. Except my usual, do a Google search.

Again, I'm so sorry for your loss.

Mac and Cheese said...

I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am. I'd keep it simple for your daughter, although I can't say what that actually entails.

womaninawindow said...

Ah shit! I hate it when a pet dies. Especially when there's a child involved. Our cat just died and I waited to tell the kids for a few days. I pretended he was still at the vets. I told them that he was pretty sick and the vet was trying her best. I organized my thoughts and then when they were all excited and distracted to go and play outside I told them. They said, "Oh, ok." It hit my son a little after that, he's like that but all in all it was a pretty smooth transition.

Beck said...

I'm sorry.
It probably will be much harder for you - but there are some good kids' books on pet loss, if you feel like she needs some extra help understanding.

Steve said...

We lost our beagle this past April. I'm so sorry. It's heart-breaking to lose a member of the family.

Gettysburg Mom said...

Our cat died when my daughter was about two and a half or so... and it was kind of tough to explain- but we went with the truth. Four months later when her grandfather died unexpectedly, I was actually thankful the cat had died and the topic had been broached. I'm sorry about your beagle... he looks like he was a cutie. Good luck!

sugeeandersyn said...

Oh, forgot to also say that feeling guilt is normal. I feel guilt b/c I was the one who had to put her down, it was solely my doing and my responsibility, but I override those feelings as soon as I can by telling myself that we both knew it was time and that she had a full life, and a good life. :) Take care!

Dad Stuff said...

Sorry for the bad news.
I was hoping you could send me some wisdom. Our dog is going on 13 years.
Our kids have been to a few funerals already. I suppose we will talk about our pet passing in much the same way when that time comes.

Chief Family Officer said...

I have no suggestions since we don't have any pets, but I just wanted to say that I'm so sorry for your loss.

Kerrie said...

I'm so sorry about your dog. That's so sad.

We had to put down our 13 year old Lab when our oldest son was 3. It wasn't easy to explain it to him, but we just told him that he went to live in Heaven. That explination seemed ok with him. He too was a house dog.

Here is a poem the Vet sent to us after the death of our dog:

Explain to St. Peter I'd rather stay here, outside the pearly gate.


I won't be a nuisance, I won't even bark, I'll be very patient and wait.


I'll be here, chewing on a celestial bone, no matter how long you may be.


I'd miss you so much, if I went in alone, it wouldn't be heaven for me.


I have no idea who wrote it. =(

I'm really sorry for your loss.

SciFi Dad said...

I'm really sorry for your loss.

I've got nothing to offer, other than the generic, "He's not here anymore. He's in Heaven," that we used when my grandmother passed away. (And we're not even really religious... it just seemed easier to have her be in a different place rather than just "gone".)

Jenster said...

My sympathies to you and your family. We've been where you are and it's never easy.

Midwest Mommy said...

I am so sorry. I can't imagine having to tell my kids that some day with our dogs.
Let us know how it goes.

Lisa said...

That really sucks, Tony. So sorry for your loss. Our "guy" is getting up in years and slowing down quite a bit, and I'm dreading the day he passes. The little man will be heartbroken.

My parents lost their cat shortly after the little man and I visited them. He was 4 at the time. We just explained it as simply as possible and left it at that. Good luck!

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

So very sorry to hear about Mr. Monkey. This is a pretty decent book - Jasper’s Day by Marjorie Blain Parker - but there are quite a few out there on the market that are also really good.

Good luck w/ explaining about Mr. Monkey. No parent wants that job.

The New Ma said...

Oh, that's so painful, losing a pet. Sorry about your loss. Yesterday I was visiting my parents and I started to tear up when I saw the fur on our beloved family dog was changing from its former sleekness to dry and patchy.
Best wishes explaining death to your daughter. It all depends on what you view death as. Don't underestimate her ability to understand though.

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

Oh, sweetie, I'm so sorry. My sweet cat Pounce was put to sleep five years ago in June. I miss him so much and he was downstairs, alone, all day with paralyzed back legs. It was horrible that I never checked on him. He wasn't old and I just figured he was off asleep somewhere. I get why you're feeling guilty.

Just explain it the best you can to your little one. She'll have fond memories and will be sad, but you'll make it through.

Artist Unplugged said...

I am so sorry to hear about Mr. Monkey, that's a difficult thing to go through. Hope you find comfort knowing you gave him a good home for 7 years and all the memories. Never easy. I have never heard of having their bark removed, only do that to dogs? Our cat meows all night long even though he has had something else removed, hmf, guess I would meow too. Will take a long time to get used to him gone.

the weirdgirl said...

I'm so so sorry. Take care.

Fairly Odd Mother said...

I'm so sorry to hear this news. It is a very sad day when a loved pet dies. Mr Monkey looks like he was an adorable friend.

My only advice would be that it is good for your daughter to see you cry or be visibly upset about the loss. See if there is anything she'd like to do to remember your dog (help with a funeral, plant a tree, release a balloon, bring a donation to an animal shelter).

My oldest was almost four when my dad, her Opa, died and it was very tough. But, we talked about how his body died and his spirit lives on (we aren't very religious, but I use the term 'heaven' in these cases). We talk about him a lot, even now, almost 4 years later. I couldn't bare for her to forget about him, and I suspect your daughter may want to 'remember' Mr. Monkey too. Best wishes to you all.

Tismee2 said...

So sorry, you know how I feel about dogs. You gave him a lot of love, more than he would have had without you. How many times did he look at you and you thought it was 'time' but then the next day he was like a spring chicken? He was ready to go yesterday and maybe he wanted to go quietly alone as he would if with his pack?

I think your daughter will be fine. She probably knew he was old and poorly. You'll be surprised how well young children take it. My teenager was much more upset when Loki was run over at Christmas, the little one was sad but just got on with things as normal.

Losing a dog really hurts.

RagingDad said...

Poor little guy! Sorry for you and your family.

Ruth Dynamite said...

So sad for your loss. Just be honest with your daughter.

Anonymous said...

I think Mr. Monkey is in Puppy Heaven, where all the good puppies go to have fun forever.

Mairzey Dotes said...

Sorry to hear about Mr. Monkey. You may want to check out the book called "The Fall of Freddy the Leaf." I know the title is a bit weird...but it's supposed to be a really good book to help explain this sort of things to little ones. Good luck.

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Amrita said...

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Ben & Bennie said...

Oh Tony, I'm so very sorry. We know that pain very well and it is not easy.

kittenpie said...

tony, I'm so sorry. We just lost one of our cats unexpectedly this week, too. If it helps any, it doesn't sound like a vet visit would have helped, if he was that old. Most likely, like our Ginger, he just lay down and went to sleep, never to wake.

As to what to tell the kiddo? Ours is aware of death as a concept already, so that helped. I told her that Ginger had died and that it was sad becuase we would miss her, but also happy that she got to be with us for a long time and wasn't sick or hurt, just old and tired.

What surprised me most is how much she wants to know the DETAILS. I mean, she has been asking why, but also where, what did she look like, and so on. which seems weird, but I guess it's all part of processing it. I would expect the questions to trickle out over a few days as she processes it.

And if it helps, I have a list of a few good books for discussing death with kids here.

Aimee Greeblemonkey said...

Oh man, we had the same at a very similar age. And then one year later, Bryan's father passed away. We talked alot about how their bodies were sick and did't work anymore but how they live on in our heart. That we can visit them when we think about them, in our memories.


Here is my post about our dog, Rio.

Celebration of a Really Great Dog

mrsmogul said...

Sorry I am late here but sympathies! I never had a pet (I was deprived) so have no idea what that could really feel like. But I am sure there are lots of doggie treats in heaven!

Jimmy said...

You just have to tell them! Sure, they will be sad, but kids are resilient. They will be ok! Allow them to ask questions and answer them as honestly as possible.

Vampdaddy said...

Sorry for the loss - I am staring right now at my two dogs, a 7 month-old PWD and a 14 year old Lab/Shepherd. The latter is still in great health, but we know it can't last forever.

Your post reminds me that I need to answer the same question for VB when that day comes....And I haven't the foggiest clue how. Best of luck.

phenom said...

We had to put down our dog of 14 years a few months ago and found it best to tell our four-year-old the truth, really. My son envisioned what we now call "The Rainbow Bridge" where our dog went, where he's happy and healthy and all that. It was hard for a couple of weeks, and my son even wanted to make a collage of pictures, but he got past it. The collage really helped quite a bit, actually.

Denguy said...

Oh, so sad. My brother's dog of 17 years died alone, too.

Leslie said...

That just breaks my heart. I have two little doggies and Sydney loves them to peices. They are her little buddies.

I'm not sure what I'd say, but I think I'd tell the truth. I'd just try to explain it best I could and make say they went to doggie heaven. But I believe in heaven, so if you don't then that doesn't work for ya. Good luck! I hope you all feel better about it soon. It is sad. I'd be devastated.

Danielle said...

I'm sorry. This is so sad.

I don't have any great thing or advice to contribute. I'm just sorry you lost a buddy. :(

creative-type dad said...

Thank you all for your thoughts and extremely helpful suggestions.

This is how we ultimately handled it:

When I took Mr.Monkey to the vet for cremation, my wife told my daughter that he was very old and sick. My daughter then drew him a picture to feel better.
Later we told her that he had died and went to heaven and wouldn't be coming back.

She took it better than the wife and I. She even picked some flowers for him and put then in the yard so he could see them from heaven.
But during the week she began asking for him again. We kept reminding her.
After a few days she stopped asking.

I overheard her (over the 4th of July weekend) telling her little friend that her dog is in heaven and she didn't know when he was coming back.

That was the last she talked about it.

Tismee2 said...

Every now and again my youngest will say something about one of our dogs or pets that makes us realise that he has accepted it but still thinks about them. Just the other day he said "Doesn't Keesha's eyes look just like Loki's?". It's now 6 months since he was put to sleep.

mama speak said...

Being sick I've been out of the loop, so I'm late in my condolences.
Still, I'm so very sorry for your loss. I totally suck at losing pets. I'm a complete basket case over it. I handle people much better for some reason; I'm weird obviously.

Recently, our neighbor's dog died in a house fire. In addition to having to explain to our kids that they can't live in their house and all thier stuff is gone (they are very good friends and have kids the exact age; we were all together when the house caught on fire,) we've all been struggling w/explaining the loss of the dog. My Grandmother died year before last so my girls had some experience w/the idea of heaven and death, but even now they don't really get it. You think they've forgotten about it and then months later they'll randomly bring it up. My oldest wanted to know how her G'ma got to heaven, "did she drive there?" "No the angels came & got her." Well then she freaked out cause she thought the angels could come pick her up too. Somehow waiting at the heaven bus stop was more comforting to her. As always these things affect us way more than them. Hang in there.

Whirlwind said...

Just the other day, we were out in the yard trimming some bushes back where our hamster is buried (He died last year(. Moe suddenly looks up and asks "when is Rainbow coming back?". We had to remind her that he died and isn't coming back. You'll just have t oremind her when/if she asks again.

Sue said...

Oh, I'm so sorry - try not to beat yourself up about not being there - I've had 2 dogs die at home and they both went and hid somewhere strange before it happened - it's their instinct to be alone.