When Your Pet Dies
All pets—big or small; young or old; furry, feathered, or scaly—are part of the family. When they die, you might feel sad or angry or confused or guilty. You might feel all these things, or you might not feel much of anything at all. However you feel, it’s totally okay. It’s all a part of grieving and of getting used to life without them.
How did you feel?
“I felt empty. I felt like I wanted to be alone.”
—Henry G., eleven, owner of Lief the cat
“I felt really sad, and I didn’t want to go to school, because I was afraid that I would start crying in the middle of class.”
—Willa, eight, owner of Fez the cat
“I was like, what am I going to do? I was super scared that my two gerbils were going to die, too. It was really hard for me to go to sleep. I actually had nightmares.”
—Finley, eight, owner of Murray the cat
“I talked to people about Thai, and I told them what I felt. Sharing my emotions helped take the weight off of my shoulders.”
—Edie, eleven, owner of Thai the cat
“I did schoolwork, and it took my mind off of it.”
—Jorja, ten, owner of Chester the dog
“We had a funeral service in the park. That helped a little bit; it made me feel like he was a part of my family and that he really mattered.”
—Claire, nine, owner of Arnie the rat
How do you feel now?
“Now when it comes up, I kind of feel sad but for only a second or two, and then I just go back to what I was doing.”
—Henry H., eleven, owner of Arnie the rat
“I really loved Mr. Black and Mr. White, but I had to say good-bye. Their spirit will always be in my heart, forever.”
—Stella, eight, owner of Mr. Black and Mr. White, two fish
What to Do When Your Pet Dies
No one likes feeling upset. We all wish sometimes that we could hit fast-forward on the sad feelings and get straight to the part where we’re laughing again. We can’t, of course. Feeling bad when a pet dies is as natural as feeling great when you first bring the pet home.
Even though there’s no magic cure for your sadness, there are plenty of things you can do that’ll make you feel a whole lot better.
1. When you’re ready, talk about how you feel.
You may not want to talk about your pet’s death right away, and that’s totally fine. When you’re ready, though, you should share your feelings with someone you trust. Sadness works kind of like a certain annoying little cousin—if you completely ignore it, it’ll just keep popping up and giving you trouble. But if you face the feeling by talking about it, it won’t bother you so much. You’ll actually feel a lot better.
2. Keep doing the stuff you love.
You may not be in the mood for soccer practice or school or a friend’s birthday party, and you may be nervous about suddenly getting sad in the middle of it all. But the best way to feel like yourself again is to keep doing all the stuff you normally do. If you get sad, no big deal. Just take a little break until you’re ready to jump back in.
3. Know that it’s not your fault.
Sometimes people can feel guilty or responsible when a pet dies, like maybe if they’d done something differently, the pet might still be alive. But your pet didn’t die because of anything you did or didn’t do; it’s just something that happens.
4. Don’t be scared of sadness.
Feeling sad isn’t fun, but it’s not dangerous and it’s nothing to be scared of. You’ll be okay. Know why? Feelings don’t last forever. In fact, they change pretty darn fast. Most people feel delighted, disappointed, angry, thankful, jealous—all before lunchtime. It’s part of what keeps life interesting.
5. Say good-bye.
Find a way to celebrate your pet’s life, either by yourself or with others. Maybe you want to hold a funeral or a memorial service; maybe you want to place a plaque in the backyard or hang up a photo in your living room. The important thing is to do something special that gives you the chance to remember the good times with your pet, and to say good-bye.