Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager, Julie Sonenberg, a mom of one daughter and (now) one dog in New York City.
When our 14-year-old dog, Dexter, became ill a few weeks ago, we started researching how to talk to a toddler about a dog’s death. We learned that it’s important to be clear, honest and simple. We read that it’s best not to talk about it like “going to sleep and not waking up” because that may make your child fearful of sleeping.
So when he died and our daughter asked, “Where’s Dexter?” we responded with something like, “Today Mommy and Daddy are feeling very sad because last night Dexter died. He was very old and he was sick and his body couldn’t support him anymore. So he died. And that means he’s not coming back and we’re not going to see him anymore which makes us very sad. You may see Mommy and Daddy crying because we’re sad that Dexter’s not here anymore. But we can think and talk about Dexter, look at his pictures and remember him. And that will make us feel better.”
She didn’t have too much of a response to that but then later asked “Where’s Dexter?” and we repeated some of what we had told her earlier. Then later she would ask “Dexter’s on a walk?” or “Dexter’s at Gaga and Papa’s house?” And each time we told her again. Two weeks later she still says she wants to give Dexter a hug before bed. Death is a difficult concept for all of us and in many ways I’m sure it’s easier that she doesn’t understand and isn’t grieving Dexter’s loss along with us. But it’s hard that she keeps asking. It’s like picking a scab. But it’s still so fresh for me that thinking about it and crying about it still feels good and therapeutic.
We made a video slideshow of our memories with Dexter that we watch with our daughter to help her remember him. And we talk about how soft he was, how she loved to hug him, how he loved to lick her, and how gentle he was. It hurts to talk about him in past tense, but at least we get to talk about him. I think the real pain for me will be when she stops asking about him. So, we’ll just have to keep reminding our daughter what a great furry brother Dexter was to her.
Today marks one of the most adorable, fur-filled holidays of the year: National Puppy Day! This is a great opportunity to not only celebrate our love for puppies, but to talk about important issues facing puppies nationwide. Here are a few ways to commemorate this special day:
Decide if your family is ready to bring home a puppy. If you’ve considered adding a puppy to your family, it’s important to consider the time commitment and responsibilities. Puppies require a lot of attention to ensure they grow up to be happy, confident dogs. Learn more about preparing for a puppy.
Talk to your kids about pet store puppies. While that puppy in the store window may adorable, purchasing a puppy from a pet shop supports the cruel puppy mill industry. These large-scale dog breeding facilities prioritize profit over the well-being of the dogs, cramming them into overcrowded, stacked cages. Even though the puppies may get to leave the mill, their parents are stuck there for years breeding more puppies in these terrible conditions. Use our handy guide for talking points as you chat with your kids about pet store puppies.
Mary Dell Harrington, mother to two kids and two dogs, is co-author of Grown and Flown, where she writes about parenting kids between the ages of 15 and 25. She is also a certified pet therapist in the New York City-metro area with her dog, Moose. Find her on Twitter, Facebookor Pinterest.
My husband and I welcomed Choco, our first dog, 18 months before we had our son. Next in line was our little girl, who was the baby in the family for only a year before we added a new puppy, Argus. Our family expanded from two to six in as many years, and we were thrilled!
Both of our kids grew up with canine companions who enriched their young lives every day. To observe them romp around the backyard, with their two big brown dogs following close behind, was to watch happy childhood memories in the making. But, in addition to being our children’s playmates, Choco and Argus added other dimensions to their lives by simply doing what dogs do.
During the years that Choco and Argus were part of our family, they offered gifts to each of us with every tail wag and snuggle. As the dogs aged and became somewhat frail, they gave both kids additional lessons on how to be a caregiver.
At 14, Choco’s legs were weak and it was difficult for him to stand and eat. Our daughter sat patiently by his side feeding him kibble mixed with cottage cheese. He took small bites off the spoon she held out to him, chewing slowly, his eyes looking up into hers.
Years later, our son came home from freshman year in college for spring break and learned that Argus, at 13, had developed a serious breathing condition. He stayed behind from our family vacation to watch over his pup, sleeping on the couch near Argus’ bed, ready to attend to his needs.
The dogs were gentle and affectionate companions to our kids up to the very end. Along with sweet memories, what endures for our children are our family values including compassionate behavior to animals and to other people. As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children what we believe by our actions and through our words. But having these two dogs during the formative years of our children’s lives gave them daily practice in a virtue that we hold dear.
Caroline Golon is a busy mom of two young girls and two rascally Persian rescue cats living in Columbus, Ohio. She’s passionate about animal welfare and creating happy households with both kids and pets. She’s a regular contributor toVetstreet.comand other pet-centric sites. You can read more about Caroline’s adventures with kids and pets at her site,Crayons and Collars.
Pets that have never been around children have good reason to be wary. Kids can be loud, unpredictable and grabby. So, I was little apprehensive when we decided to add human children to our family. How would my two cats react?
After some research and a bit of instinct, we used a few simple methods to create good kid-cat relations:
Give Your Cats Plenty of Love. Pets may receive less attention when a new baby arrives on the scene. Making an effort to spend time with the cats, petting and playing with them, seemed to go a long way in keeping the cats happy. Treats didn’t hurt, either!
Also, consistently adoring your cats around your children is a great way to model how cats are beloved members of the family and treated with respect.
Teach “Gentle” at an Early Age. You can never start too early to teach your child what a “gentle” touch is and where they can and cannot touch your pets. Even when our girls were babies, we’d hold their hands and stroke the cats where they most liked it. As they grew, the girls learned how to touch the cats and the cats learned these little human creatures seemed to be okay.
Encourage Age-Appropriate Play Time. Once my daughters learned how to properly play with the cats, their relationship blossomed. When she was three, I gave my oldest daughter the cats’ favorite wand toy and showed her how to wiggle it through the house. The cats loved it! Of course, I supervised this activity. But I noticed after introducing fun to the mix, the cats sought out my daughters more.
Not long after they started playing together, the cats began sleeping in my older daughter’s room. Now, they cuddle close to both of my daughters on the couch and don’t seem too concerned when they’re in the middle of kid-led chaos.
Supervise! I still carefully watch what’s going on. Kids may not always recognize situations that cats might not like. While the cat may not be in danger per se, he may be in a situation that could create fear.
For example, my girls like to create “forts” out of boxes and blankets, and want to bring the cats in with them. I remind the girls that cats need to be able to leave the game when they want to. Sometimes when I’ve intervened on their behalf, the cats have gratefully scurried away, but more often they stay put, content to be where the action is.
Every cat and household dynamic is different, of course. But from my experience, the above tactics worked extremely well in creating a household of kid-cat harmony. What are your strategies? Please share in the comments.
This St. Patrick’s Day, my daughter found a way to include our dog, Mr. Happy, in the celebrations. This idea sprouted from a recent morning when my daughter noticed that we were giving Mr. Happy medication to help with his separation anxiety. She asked if he was sick, so I explained how upset Mr. Happy gets when we leave, and that his doctor gave him medicine to feel better.
My household doesn’t miss a holiday, and St. Patrick’s Day is no exception. This year, in addition to making healthy green smoothies and green pancakes, crafting a homemade “leprechaun trap” out of a tissue box and dressing for the occasion, we decided to celebrate Mr. Happy.
After having our chat about Mr. Happy’s story last week, I noticed that my daughter had provided him with extra love and attention. On Saturday, after a day full of errands, she requested to go to the store to see the “birds, snakes, fish, and cats” to get “something special” for Mr. Happy and for our bird, Diva. I knew exactly where she wanted to go: the pet store. My daughter also wanted to know the name and story of each dog and cat up for adoption at the store that day.
Following our tour to see the adoptable animals, she asked if she could choose special treats for our pets. I was hoping for a quick and easy adventure, but she carefully sorted through toys to find the perfect green stuffed item for our dog and examined each shelf for the perfect food treats for Mr. Happy and Diva. I expected the stuffed toy to quickly enter my daughter’s overflowing collection of stuffed toys, but to my surprise, she proceeded to give Mr. Happy the green toy. She wanted him to feel special and loved, and in her own way, show him that we are lucky to have him in our home. This is a new St. Patrick’s Day tradition that no pin on Pinterest can capture, but is one that we will repeat next year.