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Dr. Robert Pressman
Board Certified Family Therapist & Pediatric Psychologist

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March 9, 2012

QUESTION

First, A brief history: My husband is a K9 officer and his first canine partners health has been declining and declining fast. Arty has really bad arthritis and is in pain can’t walk very good anymore and is constantly crying moaning.

My husband and I are having a difficult time making the decision of putting Arty down but he is in so much pain and discomfort that it is our only option.

We have had Arty in our lives for ten years he was our first “child”. Arty isn’t your typical canine he is our family pet he is an amazing canine, which is why this is so hard.  We have two children six and two. We have been struggling with the fact that we have to put our family pet and my husbands first partner down.

Our oldest has experienced death his great grandfather past 2 years ago and he was very much a part of his life in many ways he is his hero. There isn’t a holiday birthday that doesn’t go by that he doesn’t speak about Gran PA-PA. My son is very smart and new gran PA-PA was sick and that he is in heaven he even says hello to him every time we pass the cemetery.

So my question is: How should we speak with him about our feeling with the loss of Arty our family pet and daddy’s partner as well as his feelings?

Thank you, Arty’s and Aiden’s Mom

ANSWER

The passing of a pet is a part of nearly every body’s life and a permanent memory of all who have had pets as children.  More often than not, the pet is like a family member, and its loss is keenly felt.  Euthanasia of a beloved pet who is irrevocably suffering is an added painful experience.

It is helpful to understand that the loss and mourning you—and especially your child–feels is both normal and important.  This is not something that ought to be discouraged or reasoned away.  The greatest intensity of mourning is felt during the first week, and steadily passes.

Avoid the temptation to run out get a “replacement” during the first few weeks.

In your home, you have the advantage of a belief in heaven.  When your children ask where Arty will be, you can tell them that he will be with Gran-pa-pa in heaven, who will enjoy his presence. This is not a method of avoiding mourning, but providing a familiar perspective to help them understand what is happening.

Remember, that although mourning may be soothed by the belief in heaven, death still results in separation, which is the foundation of mourning.

A photo of Arty is a nice remembrance, as are favorite stories or memories. If possible a “grave side service” will provide an opportunity to frame the separation, say goodbye and provide a measure of closure. The decision to euthanize a pet must be done by the adults and not children.  The conflict that this decision presents is far too complex for developing minds.

Don’t have your child present during the act of euthanizing your pet. There is nothing positive for a child in observing this clinical event.

Don’t tell your child that you are putting Arty “to sleep.”  I cannot tell you how many children I have seen over the years who are afraid to go to sleep or be in their bedroom at night after hearing this explanation.

You might say that you will be helping Arty to complete his long and wonderful life, be free of pain and pass on to heaven.

 

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Rebecca Pressman

Rebecca Jackson is the CEO of GoodParentGoodChild®. She is the mother of both a toddler and a teenager, and is the co-author of Good Nights Now, Glue His Butt to the Chair! and Matilda & Maxwell™ Freaky Homework Fiasco!

Robert Pressman

Dr. Robert Pressman is an internationally known Board Certified Family Therapist & Pediatric Psychologistwho has been in practice for over 37 years. As Director of Research for the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, he is known for his landmark work in children’s ADHD and behavior problems.

Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman

Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, author, and lecturer. Her work with the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology earned international press.

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