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So…Youre Going to Kill the Family Pet. What Do You Tell the Kids?

Our Dog Boise

I was six hundred miles away from home when we decided we would kill our dog. Our beloved 12-year-old Beagle named Boise was dying.  She had been unwell for weeks, if not months, but not in a “she’s gonna die soon” sort of way but what we thought was rather a mere, “she’s just getting old.”

Her decline came fast and swift.  I had no reason to believe that the walk I took her on before I left town would be the last trek I would take her on. But there I was in a swank hotel in Los Angeles attending a press junket, texting about our now very sick Beagle all night long with a distraught husband and six-year-old. A six year old who should have been in bed but instead was by her dad’s side at the emergency veterinary clinic in the middle of the night. During that time, our daughter didn’t anticipate that our dog was dying, just that she was sick and in her experience thus far, the sick get better.

But the end for our dog, it was near. There are far more diplomatic and less cruel ways to speak of ending your pets’ life. You can say the simple, “put to sleep,” the charitable, “put them out of their misery,” or the more clinical “euthanize.” But as owners of your pet, if you go with this option you are voluntarily ending your animals life early. The dictionary defines the practice as a “mercy killing.” Yes, using the word “killing” may be a bit extreme, but it was a thought and a word I could not get out my head during our decision to end out dog’s life.

Now the hard part, explaining it to our kindergartner…

I was able to fly back a bit early so I could say goodbye to our dog and so that both my husband and I could be there for our daughter when we gave her the news. But as it turned out, we wouldn’t have much time. Our dog who was diagnosed with liver failure was having seizures in the front seat of the car. Instead of waiting, I just told her, right there on the busy 101 highway in the back of our Volvo station wagon. It was not unlike tearing off a band-aid.  No, dilly-dallying. No, chit-chat. No, avoiding the inevitable. We are pretty straight-forward with our daughter. We do encourage her to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, but in more important matters, we find that honesty is the best policy.

Some families (and it depends on the age of the children of course) opt to tell the kids that the dog is leaving to go live on a farm for old canines. Others might say the dog “ran away.”  But we told her the truth, albeit without using that problematic “kill” word. I told her that our dog was very, very sick and that she was sadly, not going to get better. We were going to let her sleep for a long, long time. Forever actually. And then our poor dog won’t be in pain anymore. I think, through my tears, I actually even stuttered out the clichéd, “she’ll be in a better place.” And my mature little six-year-old. She got it. She cried a bit. She asked some questions. And because kids are just that resilient she bluntly blurted out mid tear, “so when can we get another dog.”

Have you ever had to put a family pet asleep? If so, how did you tell your kids?

Image: Chanel Family

 

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