K9 Corner, Dec. 6
BY HELEN PALMER
There comes a time in everyone’s life when we must give up the companionship of a friend, a family member or even a beloved pet. Knowing this does not make the ordeal any easier, but adults are able to rationalize, weigh the outcome in terms of suffering and accept the event as part of living on this earth.
It is hard for a child to understand the loss of a family member whether it be an elderly grandparent, a terminally ill child, or the death of a healthy friend in a car accident.
If the child has bonded to a pet, there comes a time when the parents should discuss the aging process with the child while the animal is still relatively healthy. Since pets age faster than humans, introducing a child to death before the event helps to prepare the way in case of the rapid onset of terminal symptoms.
Dogs (and cats) are susceptible to cancer, heart disease, strokes, kidney failure, liver failure and gastrointestinal disease just like humans. The difference in treatment is that extraordinary means is rarely taken in the case of the animal. That is why it is so important to tell the child about death in a non-emotional time, before the event takes place.
Over the years I have tried to console a number of youngsters who called to ask me, “Why?” Some of these young people were not aware that the dog has lived a full life span and it was “just its time.” Knowing ahead of time that the event will take place may cause anxiety for a few weeks, but the fear fades as the dog continues living in much the same way as it always did. Then when the time arrives, the event causes sadness, but eliminates the awful “Why?” question.
I have been fortunate over the years in that my dogs and cats have lived relatively healthy lives up to just days before they died. That doesn’t mean that none of them needed special diets or medication in their later years, it means that they could get up, go outside on their own, explore the enclosed yard, eat, drink and sleep through the night.
Whenever a child’s pet starts to need regular medical attention, yet remains basically healthy, that is the time to counsel the child on the possibility of losing the pet some day.
I have found that a new pet introduced at this time sometimes helps the older dog to rejuvenate as it plays with the pup and the pup has bonded to the family members by the time the old dog expires. It is then that the responsibility of caring for the pup soothes the grief of losing the old dog.
Adults should listen to young people when they want to talk about the loss of a pet. Never, never should anyone say, “Oh, it was just a dog, go get another one!” Human emotions don’t work that way.