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children and loss of beloved pet- should they be present?

post #1 of 21
Thread Starter 
I'm cross posting this in Grief and Loss.

I'm not sure exactly what I'm looking for- just writing about this and wondering if others have been through similar experiences and have any advice or encouragement to offer. Although I know there are no right answers, and we will have to do what seems right for us when the time comes.

Our 11 yr old dog has cancer, and has come to the end of the time predicted she would live. She is still happy, eating, and playful, but it's obvious that her symptoms are increasing and it can't be much longer. We have had her since 6 weeks old, long before we had kids.

Our kids are extremely close to her, especially my 7 yr old. He plays with her and brushes her and talks to her all the time. The kids know she is sick, and getting older, and that animals, like people, don't live forever, and there will be a day we won't have her any more. But just imagining HOW we are going to deal with her loss, is just unimaginable to me. It is going to be so hard to deal with our own grief and loss, and be a support to them, explain things to them, and not have them be scared when all this is happening. She is a huge part of our lives and none of us can imagine a house without her here.

We have found a vet who makes house calls so when we make the decision to put her to sleep, it will be here in her own comfortable surroundings, and we won't have to rush her to the vet's office. I just dont' know whether it's appropriate for a young child to be present when we put her to sleep. He is very sensitive, and asks questions about death and has a good understanding for his age. He has been to funerals and seen the body in the casket and been fine with it as we explained things to him honestly. But is it too scary for a child to see the pet actually being put down? Or is it a good thing for him to see her going peacefully to give him closure and see that she is peacefully asleep, and not just be out of the house at the time, and come home and find out she's gone.

It's eating me up every day, not knowing whether we will walk in to find her having seizures or bleeding out or something equally scary, or whether we will come home and find her gone somewhere in the house, and I'm alone with 3 kids most days so will likely have to handle this on my own - at least the initial dealing with it as dh is 45 mins away at work most of the time. I'm just praying that we will be lucky enough to be able to see that she is doing downhill, and be able to make the decision to let her go in peace before something really scary happens in front of the kids and forces the decision.

And I"m so sad that we have to lose our beautiful, sweet puppy in this way, yet grateful for all she's brought to our lives, and grateful to know ahead of time that we are in our final months with her, so we make sure every day counts.

Any thoughts or words of wisdom would be much appreciated.
post #2 of 21
Every child and family is different. If you have never seen an euthanasia I just want to give u the info so you can make a decision. What the vet will do is: may or may not give anlight sedation (I would ask for one). Will likely place an iv catheter that gains easy access tithe vein. Euthanyl is an overdose barbituate anesthetic. Death comes within moments of injection (sometimes before the injection is finished). It is very peaceful and it is much like them falling asleep. Your children would need to know that unlike when asleep the eyes may remain open.
I hope the information can help you decide if your children should be there. We have had many children present during euthanasia and many parents who chose not to be a part of the final moments.
If you have other pets please allow the other the pets visit the body.
post #3 of 21
Thread Starter 
Thank you so much The vet did say she gives the light sedation ahead of time. That is all good to know. And nice to know that you have had children present and it's been ok.

And yes, that is another part of my concern and stress over this, we have another dog who has never known life without his companion. I keep thinking of how he will feel after this, and wonder if he realizes what's happening with her right now. I didn't think about him visiting the body. That definitely sounds so important, so he can process it and not just have her gone all of a sudden.
post #4 of 21
We had a wonderful Lab, who was 6 years older than our twin sons. The boys were 8 when the dog started going downhill. One day I talked about euthanasia in general - and one of the boys started to cry and said "Why do you want to kill Jack?"

But as Jack became more feeble, both boys understood that it was the right thing to do. We did it on a day that the boys didn't have school, and we all went to the vet together, so we were all petting him and talking to him when she gave him the injection. She cried with us (she'd been his vet for 12 years, and loved him almost as much as we did). Jack loved to go to the vet, so we didn't ask her to come to our house, though I'm sure she would have.

When his heart finally stopped beating, we brought our other dog (a year old) into the room. I'm not sure if he understood that Jack was gone or not, but we figured it couldn't hurt.
post #5 of 21
We had to go through this about 18 months ago.

When we decided it was time, we took her into the vet. The kids knew she was sick and not getting better. They knew she would die and soon. But we didn't take them. Our (then) 7 year old sounds alot like yours and I knew it would devastate him. He was so just destroyed when we told him and he still cries over it now.

He does know that sometimes vets can't fix pets. But knowing everything doesn't really make the reality easier and as upset as he was over the whole thing, I didn't think he needed to actually see her die. And I don't know how good dh and I would have been to comfort him, as upset as we were.

So, no I wouldn't take my child and let him witness it. It's hard enough to go through the loss of a pet without actually seeing it.
post #6 of 21
Interesting topic. I just dealt with this over the weekend. I had to put down my 13 year old German Shepherd. The vet came to the house.....he explained to the children what he was doing and what the dog would feel. I told them they could stay if they wanted or they could go do something else....they all chose to stay and be with the dog.....when he died he was surrounded by all these children that he had seen be born, the ones he had always protected because they were never out of his sight. He was very much loved and they wanted him to know that so they stayed and i was totally ok with that....honestly we never even talked about it..because it was just a given.
post #7 of 21
Originally Posted by momo7 View Post
Interesting topic. I just dealt with this over the weekend. I had to put down my 13 year old German Shepherd. The vet came to the house.....he explained to the children what he was doing and what the dog would feel. I told them they could stay if they wanted or they could go do something else....they all chose to stay and be with the dog.....when he died he was surrounded by all these children that he had seen be born, the ones he had always protected because they were never out of his sight. He was very much loved and they wanted him to know that so they stayed and i was totally ok with that....honestly we never even talked about it..because it was just a given.
pretty much how I feel.

the only difference is that I would shield younger children. I think when children get to the age where you can explain this to them and they understand it, that is one thing. But to a 3 year old? A 5 year old? Probably not. I mean every child is different and you know your children best.
post #8 of 21
Our two, four, six, and seven year olds were there along with my 13 yr old and 12 year old. Totally different emotion range all the way down the line. We live on a small farm so the children have dealt with animal death on and off. Even though we don't kill and eat our livestock, they still see them die for whatever reason. I don't want to shield them from it.....I don't because I feel like if I do then death becomes an event that is talked about in whispers and only as something bad and awful.

I am not sure how to put it into words, I guess I want them to see, to understand that even though death is sad, even overwhelming, it doesn't have to be a traumatic event. Everyone and everything dies..everyday.....it's sad because we love them and we will miss them..... but still....it is a fact. I don't think, in my own family at least, I can make it any less so by hiding it or shielding the children from it. I do know that seeing it makes it easier to bear...like there is nothing to hide, nothing to be afraid of.

When I had to do this thing with the dog.....the children laid around him, under the trees. The birds were singing, the frogs were croaking....it was warm outside..the sun was shining in all it's full brightness not a cloud in the sky. He went down in love and peace.......I would LOVE to have such a death. I would hate that my children feared this.

They cried, they watched me wrap him in a blanket and watched my friend's son as he dug a hole to put the dog in, they watched as we laid him in it, and then as we covered him up. The children had drawn pictures and put them in the blanket with Nip. In their own personalities, each of them dealt with it in different ways. It was......cathartic. My children needed that and deserved it.

There are no questions to deal with, no if, and, or whys. It is what it is. In this way it helps me too because I can deal with this loss without having to explain every detail and try to get them to understand the mechanics of it all. Like I said...it is what it is.
post #9 of 21
Thread Starter 
oh, wow, I just want to offer hugs to all of you, it sounds like many of you have been through this very recently. I thank you all for sharing about it with me, it's really helped to read about the decisions you've made, and why. Today has been hard; things are getting worse and I feel like we're going to have to make a decision soon. And I'm afraid to make any plans or leave the house for fear of what we'll come back to.

We've always been completely honest with the kids (on an age-appropriate level) and I feel it's the best thing...but not knowing if things will go peacefully or not, it's hard to know if it will be ok having them there or not, or if it will give them a scary memory. Mainly it's the 7 yo I feel needs to be there, not the 4 yo. I think the younger one will be fine with an honest explanation and chance to say goodbye.

And on top of all this, I have a newborn who is not napping or sleeping at night, and fussy, and I'm completely sleep deprived and feeling unable to deal with anything in life right now- it all just feels like *too much* right now
post #10 of 21
Mary, I'm so sorry you are facing this. Grief is twice as hard for us moms, isn't it, coping with our own and watching our children in pain as well.

I wish I had advice for you - I don't, but I couldn't read without offering my sympathy.

And hugs for all the pp's as well - pets hold our hearts in such a deep and special way, and it is so hard to lose them.
post #11 of 21
I had to put my boy to sleep on August 3, 1998. My cat had an auto-immune issue where his body was becoming toxic to itself, it happened relatively quickly, within about a week's time but we all went to our vet and he was put on oxygen to help him breathe while a full assessment of the situation was made and the outcome in any direction was that it would hurt him to keep him alive. My then 5 year old daughter was with us and was beside me while I was holding my boy while they shaved his front leg to give him a sedative, then the injection to end his pain. My now 17 year old today has an appreciation of the value of life in both humans and animals. I think it's nice when a pet can be held in their final moments, and it gives us, the family closure that we were there until the very end for a valued friend. My DH lost his Shih-Tzu to cancer at age 16 and he wasn't able to handle being there with her for the euthanasia. This was before we had met. He misses her a LOT still today but what hurts him so much more is that he said to me that he was a coward for not having been there for his dog. I try to console him but he doesn't talk about it much. He loved!!! his dog so much. I think it's wonderful if an entire family can be present to say goodbye to a family friend; since we have both scenario's here, I can honestly say that being there is better than not!

I'm so sorry you're dealing with this. Your story made me remember my boy. I hope everything goes well for you.
post #12 of 21
I am sorry you are dealing with this.

It will not be long before I may need to make this same decision with one of my dogs. My vets have already agreed to come to our house.

I have friends who stayed with their dog as a family (her children were 4 and 6) and she said it was the best way for them. She felt, like momo7, that the experience was cathartic and peaceful.

After saying their good-bye’s, I think I will have my children and other dog in another part of the house (my children are 5). Although my children love Harry and are very considerate of his needs – he’s blind, deaf, arthritic, etc – they’ve always considered him my dog. My son is very sensitive and w/b too upset if present. My daughter tends to melt down when stressed; I am not sure how she would deal with this. Being completely selfish, Harry’s death will be very difficult for me and I would rather not have the children in the room.
post #13 of 21
I've always explained what was going to happen and asked my kid if she wanted to be there. FWIW, she's always said no so far (she was 14 the last time we had to euthanize a pet). So, she says good-bye first and then comes back in afterwards...
post #14 of 21
How apt that I found this thread.

First off I'd like to offer my condolences, I feel your pain.

I put my beloved Rotty Sasha to sleep not even 2 days ago. She had a brief but brave fight with a very aggressive form of synovial sarcoma. She was only 6.

I had my 2 and a half year old with us in the vets office when we finally released her of her pain. Though I cried, my son was very calm, stroking her fur as she took her final breath in my arms.

Though he is too young to understand what exactly was going on, I think he sensed that Sasha was somehow not coming home with us.

Later that night my son turned to me and said "Sasha gone mommy?" I nodded and he replied "Sasha happy-face mommy".
And I know he's right.
post #15 of 21
We had to put our dog down in November, and my 16-month-old was not there. I don't think he would have really understood what was happening, but I was afraid that my reaction would scare him. Without him there, DH and I were able to cry and hold our dog without worrying about scaring ds. I'm ok with him seeing me sad, but I think this was too much. The passing itself was very peaceful. I think I would include older children, if they wanted, because - as hard as it was - it was a comfort to me to see how peacefully he went. DS knows that Jojo isn't coming back, but he likes to look at pictures of him and he carries a painting of him that we have around the house sometimes.
post #16 of 21
We've gone thru this twice. The first was our cat who had brain tumor. Dd was only 3 then, and doesnt remember much. We had to put him down at the vet.

the 2nd time was a year later for our 10yo Heeler/Border collie mix who had kidney disease. This time the vet came to our house. Dd understood, and had by this time lost one of her great grandmothers. It was a unique experience to have the vet come to us. We had the dog in my lap on a blanket. all the pets came in, our other 10yo border collie mix and our other cat. they gathered around to say goodbye. he gave her a sedative first, then we all said our goodbyes. We then had a funeral outside for her, put in pictures of us and her favorite ball, and wrapped her in the blanket she was on. it was amazing. ( I also made "grave stones" from those garden stones you can make....out of cement, and you decorate them as well. ) A few years later, dds' 2nd g-grandmother died, and i think it has been much more understood, having pets pass, to understand the concept of death.

Theres 2 great childrens books on the topic called "DOG HEAVEN" and "CAT HEAVEN".

so sorry for your loss. I know how painful it can be.
post #17 of 21
For my 9yo I would tell her what will happen at the vets and ask her if she would like to be there. I don't know what I would do about my 3 1/3 yo as he doesn't understand death, (he thinks you can just go to Heaven and visit people we love). I would keep my 21m old home as she definitely doesn't know what is going on and I would need to be emotionally available for my older DD. (With a toddler ransacking the vets office that wouldn't happen).

I dread the day we have to deal with this.
post #18 of 21
Thread Starter 
Everyone, thank you SO much for sharing your stories, and how you handled the loss of your dear companions. I has been comforting to read. yes, I totally agree about having toddlers around- well, mine is a preschooler but would probably be just as crazy at a serious time.

We are still hanging in there- the hard thing is that one day, she will be really bad and I am in tears and thinking we should call the vet and today is the day- and we decide to wait a couple days to see what happens, and then she is fine. A couple weeks ago we thought it was the end, and now today she is doing better again. Living with this emotional roller coaster has been so hard, I never know what the day will bring, what I will find when I come home after being away, or if she will come greet us in the morning or we'll find her somewhere.

Amazingly, a friend just went through the SAME exact thing, same age dog, same diagnosis and symptoms (it is a rare cancer)- they all went together to the vet to put him to sleep- their 6 yr old and teenager, and while it was rough for all of them, they feel it allowed the 6 yr old to process it and to send him off as a family.

Hugs to all
post #19 of 21
Thread Starter 
I just wanted to write an update for those of you who were so kind to share about your experiences and offer words of comfort and advice.

We did have to put our dog to sleep about 3 weeks ago. It became obvious that it had to be done asap, although we did have a day or so to make plans and prepare the kids. That was an extremely difficult day.

We asked our 7 yo if he'd like to be present, and surprisingly, he vehemently said "NO!" My dh took him for a long walk with her to say goodbye and he was so angry. We kept him busy all day, and as a wonderful coincidence he was already scheduled to have a playdate with his friend who's the same age, who just lost her dog to the same diagnosis, and it was the perfect place for him to be, with people who understood what he was going through and how to respond appropriately and compassionately.

I told my 4 yo earlier in the day and he didn't have much of a response, he just thought a minute, frowned, and said "you mean we won't see her again for a WHOLE WEEK?" (broke my heart) and never mentioned it again.

We had the kids with neighbors while we said goodbye, and it was the right thing to do. Dh and I could focus on what was happening and support each other. I feel good now about it just being us, it was very calm and peaceful and everything I would have wanted.

Our 7 yo was very angry at first, throwing things and screaming, and didn't sleep for the whole night, and then became manic and talked constantly for about 24 hrs. We all took a day off and just stayed home and rested and grieved. We printed out lots and lots of pictures of her with the kids as babies and as a puppy, and he carries a big picture of her around with him everywhere. the kids just talk about her all the time now and tell everyone they meet that our dog is a spirit now and in our hearts. The 4 yo still asks if she will come back when he's a grown up.

Overall I think things are as good as they possibly can be with such a loss, and I feel relieved that we made it through a tough time as a family and are continuing to help each other work through this.
post #20 of 21
we went thru this a few yrs ago with our german shepherd. It was one of the hardest things to do. In our case we went to the vets to have it done due to his size he was still quite a heavy boy. One of things that I would hightly suggest to you is to ask the vet specifically what can happen with the drugs they use to put your pet under. There are quite a few combinations and different ones have different *side effects*. Our vet advised us not to bring the kids due to the possiblity of seeing not so nice things. We wanted the kids to say good bye and love and hug on him and remember him in our home.

TMI/Graphic warning:

in our case our pet although he was not in pain per say did moan quite loudly which honestly was very disturbing and sad. He defecated on himself as well which we knew about ahead of time due to the relaxation of muscles. Quite honestly I think having seen that myself that it somewhat *tainted* how I viewed us putting him to sleep. Even though I know that he was in no pain it still was sad to see him go thru this even though in reality he was *gone* by that point.
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