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A psychologist answers your questions about pet loss.
Our nine-year-old Labrador, Ebony, had not been herself for the past few months. She was vomiting, isolating, and snapping at our sons and our other Lab, whom she adored. We had several tests to rule out medical issues. She seemed to be declining mentally.
This past week she bit our five-year-old son on his face, requiring many stitches. We decided, after much agonizing and consulting our vet, to have her euthanized.
This was the most painful decision I have ever made. Our children are very sad I feel that my heart is broken. Ebony had been my constant companion. I have cried for days and don't know how to get through this. I feel so much guilt not knowing if I made the right decision.
The task of euthanizing a beloved dog is hard enough even when there is obvious pain and suffering due to a medical condition. When we must euthanize because of a behavioral issue, most of us feel helpless and very guilty. In Ebony's case, you can be comforted with the thought that you saved her from further indignities and loss of control.
One of your challenges is to reassure your son that Ebony’s death was not his fault. Children his age usually cannot understand "natural causes," but we have no choice but to patiently explain the facts. For example, you can tell him that because of her age, her brain was not working very well. The dog she used to be—the one he trusted—would never have bitten him.
It sounds like you had Ebony before your son was born, and he would likely enjoy hearing about that time. You can even create a little book with him that tells the story of Ebony and the family that loved her.
He may ask about getting another dog soon. This does not mean he isn’t grieving for Ebony. I hope you can reassure him that "Someday we will have another dog, but not right away."
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