When an animal dies…

The death of an animal is often a child’s first exposure to death – perhaps the loss of a dear family pet or observing an animal by the roadside. Some children will be deeply moved, and others will be unaffected. Both of these responses – and everything in between – are normal.

Some children can be visibly upset and almost inconsolable. Others can seem heartless and cold towards the death of an animal. The distressed child and the distant child are both normal reactions to death. As parents or carers or adult alongsiders, we have an important role in creating space for our children’s reactions, acknowledging and validating their grief, however it is expressed.

The death of an animal is an important time to:

  • Affirm the connection between all living things – and respect for the life of animals as well as humans. Look for a chance to say something like: ‘The bodies of animals and people work the same way: our hearts beat, our lungs breathe, our brains think and feel things, we are alive and we die.’
  • Speak openly about the naturalness of death, which comes to all living things at some time. Help your child to understand that animal life cycles are sometimes much shorter – and sometimes much longer – than humans’. This exploration of life cycles – from the butterfly that lives only a few days, to the Galapagos giant turtle that lives over 100 years, or elephants who carry their young for two years, but the sugar glider for less than 20 days. Let your children see that the length of days of a life doesn't determine how much we value that life. A short life is a cherished and important life.
  • Help your child identify their feelings, and affirm them.
  • Support your child through a process of understanding what has happened, saying goodbye, burial and remembrance.

idea for a gravestone

 

 

Here’s a worked example:
Our young friend put some real time and effort and care into designing a gravestone for her guinea pig. The thoughtfulness and time taken is a lovely expression of her care and connection to Heidi the guinea pig.

 

 

 

 

Beth is currently undertaking doctoral studies in the area of New Testament examining the constructs of maturity in the letters of Paul. She has held pastoral roles in Baptist and Anglican churches and been a long-term volunteer in the missions of Scripture Union, for whom she is a freelance resource writer and trainer. She teaches units in Children and Families Ministry and Biblical Studies at Stirling College, as well as guest lectures in other Melbourne, Australia, colleges. Internationally, she is a writer and facilitator in the Child Theology Movement.