When Your Pet Dies

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Unexpected Death

If your pet dies at home or gets hit by a car, your first move should be to take a deep breath and calm down. Unless the animal died of rabies, its body isn't going to be toxic or harmful to you in any way. Honor your relationship by covering the body with a favorite blanket and take time to say good-bye.

Have an advance plan for what to do with your pet's remains in this sort of situation so you don't have to do your research when you're in shock. Many people either arrange for cremation through their vet's office or contact a pet crematorium or cemetery directly. Alternatively, you can call 311, the bureau of sanitation or animal control for details on pickup. If you want to bury your pet in your backyard, check to see that it's legal (in some places it isn't) and be sure to dig a grave that's at least four feet deep, says Nelson. "I've seen some kids traumatized because another dog came and dug up their pet."

Dealing with Death As a Family

Keep your children in the loop. "Some parents, to spare their kids the pain, take the pet to the veterinarian to be euthanized without telling them," says Nelson. "Big mistake. The children feel betrayed, as though they never had the chance to say good-bye." And whatever you do, don't lie. Realize that if you invent a story about the pet running away or going to some mythical "farm," you aren't really protecting the child -- you're protecting yourself from your child's grief. The loss of a pet is a good opportunity to show your kids that when bad or sad things happen, the family sticks together. With young children it's important to choose your words wisely, especially when it comes to euthanasia, says Colleen Pelar, a certified dog trainer and author of Living with Kids and Dogs...Without Losing Your Mind. Euphemisms can backfire. "Children are very literal and can find it scary to hear that Fritz was ?put to sleep,'" she explains. "It opens up unsettling images of naps that don't end." Instead, explain that the pet was dying and the vet gave him something to make him more comfortable.

Continued on page 3:  It's Good to Grieve


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