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The Unexpected Sadness When Our Dog Died: 3 Things to Help your Kids with the Loss

Our dog died and I had no idea I’d feel so sad. I knew my kids would be sad to lose our pet, but I really didn’t expect to be. I probably should have—I mean, after all, he was my first “baby.”

On January 1, 2007, my husband and I brought home the cutest little 10-week-old ball of fluff, and we named him Cooper. He lived a long life of 14 years, and on Feb 1, 2021, we said goodbye to our old, tired friend.

A little about Cooper…

Cooper, Dog, pet

He was a very quirky, funny dog who drove me nuts a lot of the time. He was afraid of wheels, well anything round really, and he chewed himself out of every crate we ever put him in. Once, we spent a lot of money on a large dog run for him and he quickly chewed himself out of it, destroying the metal structure and his teeth at the same time. We were so amazed at his strength, and frustrated that he was so good at destroying things!

Cooper loved walks and licking people’s feet to greet them. But he also made a lot of messes and as his health declined it got difficult to take care of him. It’s hard for me to admit, there were even times toward the end that I found myself wishing he’d pass.

Feelings

I thought I was ready to say goodbye. I thought I was going to be totally fine and move on quickly when our dog died. But, no, not so much. It was way harder than I thought it would be.

I was really, really sad. 

I was prepared to comfort my three children. After all, they had never lived without Cooper, and I expected the loss would be hard for them. I knew my husband would be sad, too. But I had no idea I’d feel so sad.

The night our dog died all I wanted was to cuddle him and squish my face into his soft neck but he was gone. That feeling of wanting something so much and not being able to have it, ever again, is profoundly tragic.

That night I felt silly. I also felt guilty. I was surprised and unfamiliar with my feelings. Guilt washed over me for not being kinder to him at the end, for wishing his life could be over already. So many confusing and surprising thoughts… I kept thinking, “he’s just a dog…,” but, what’s amazing is how our pets are such an important part of our families.

dog, Cooper, kids

A Massive, Gaping Hole

For several weeks, the hole Cooper left in our family felt gaping and massive. As my husband said, the hole felt way bigger than his actual physical size. I think we were all feeling the loss of the space he filled energetically. We didn’t realize how much space he actually took up.

Even still, many times a day something will happen that reminds me of him. Sometimes I think I see him out of the corner of my eye. I’ll think I hear his collar jangling or I’ll expect to feel him with my feet under the table. For a split second, I’m convinced he’s here, and then I remember that he’s gone.

You might be wondering how to handle the loss of a pet with kids. I’m not an expert. This is my first experience with this, but I’d like to share 3 things we’ve done.

Three things to do with kids when you lose a pet:

1. Remember that everyone grieves in their own way.

I have three kids and they all dealt with Cooper’s death differently.

My oldest child (a 12-year-old boy) cried a lot and didn’t want to talk much about Cooper. In the end he also didn’t want to spend much time with Cooper because it felt too sad for him.

My middle child (a 9-year-old girl) was sad, She cried too, but wanted to hug and snuggle Cooper a lot in his last days. Since he passed she’s been more okay talking about him than my son has been.

My youngest daughter (6 years old) wanted to comfort her older siblings by giving them hugs (which weren’t always welcome). She’s also been the most resilient so far.

All three kids are asking for a puppy, which shows me they are all ready to move forward in their own way.

My husband and I have honored and respected what each of our children have needed during this time. Respecting all of our needs has been an important part of this process for all of us.

2. Talk to your kids and answer their questions honestly.

Just as they’ve each needed different things, each of our kids has had different questions and wanted to talk about different things.

On Cooper’s last day we had an appointment with the vet in the afternoon. My husband told our kids that the vet was going to put Cooper “to sleep.” He assumed that our kids understood that phrase. Sometime later, our 6-year-old asked us how long Cooper would be sleeping for and we realized we needed to be more explicit with her.

We are always open and honest with our kids about difficult topics and this was no different. We answered their questions and, although hard, we prepared our kids as well as we could for the reality of the situation. 

3. Talk about your pet and remember the good, the bad, and everything in between.

Since our dog died we’ve talked about him a lot. It’s hard not to, because so many things remind us of him. Sometimes we laugh about him and sometimes we are sad when we remember him.

One humorous thing we’ve noticed is how dirty our kitchen floor has been lately. I used to think that when he was gone I wouldn’t have to vacuum as much because his hair wouldn’t be everywhere. But, in fact, I had no idea how much he was helping me. I had no idea how much food he licked up off the floor because there’s so much of it there now. I really miss my little vacuum dog!

Cooper, dog, pet

Moving Forward…

We are planning to get a puppy sometime soon-ish and we don’t know exactly when. We all feel happy about that idea because, as my oldest says, it feels pretty weird to live without a dog.

In the past couple of weeks since our dog died, we’ve started a family text thread and we use it to throw around different dog name ideas with each other. Who knows if any of them will stick but it’s been keeping us entertained and dreaming about the future.

I put a plant where Cooper’s food and water bowls used to be and two of my kids didn’t like that one bit. But, my youngest thought it looked pretty. I know we will all be ready for different things at different times. That is expected and I get it.

We will never forget our Cooper, we will love him and miss him forever. And, at the same time, we will all be okay.

Juliette Sakasegawa

Juliette Sakasegawa is an Empowerment Coach for Life, Business, and Relationships. She is also a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, and a Reiki Practitioner. Juliette is passionate about helping her clients in a variety of areas. She can help you create a life of joy and fulfillment, reduce stress and overwhelm, enhance your relationships, discover more peace and calm, make peace with food and your body, move into the next chapter of your life smoothly and easily, or discover a new life or business of your dreams.

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