Talking to Kids about the Death of a Pet

Archived Q&A and Reviews


How to explain to 4-year-old that dog is dying

Jan 2007

We just found out today that our 6 year old dog has cancer and the vet only gives him a few months to live. How do we explain this to our (almost) 4 year old son who is very attached to him. Even if we wait until we lose our dog, what do you say then??? Please let me know how you handle this situation. Sad and In Tears

There is a wonderful book by Judith Viorst that you must buy: The Tenth Good Thing About Barney. Another great one is: When a Pet Dies, by Fred Rogers (that's Mr. Rogers). This should help a lot! efrankel

I am sorry to hear about the illness of your dog and can imagine you are very much saddened. However, death is part of life, and this may become a teaching for all of you. I suggest you tell your son what you know, that the vet has found that the dog is very ill and may not live for very long. Tell him you are very sad about this, and that you can imagine he is too. Give him space to show you how he is taking the information and what he needs from you. You will not be able to protect your son from losses in his life, and hopefully by going about this as a family in a caring way, showing that sadness follows loss, yet there are ways to deal with it, he will learn some important lessons. My advice is to please not wait until the dog dies to tell your son, better for him to be prepared for this event. Anon.

So sorry to hear about your dog. We lost our cat when our daughter was 3 1/2. Our cat died at the vet's while we were at work and our daughter at daycare. Every child is different, so I don't know if what we did will work for you and your child.

First, we told her that our cat died and that means his body stopped working because he got very, very, very sick. We explained that he was like a toy without batteries, only there were no new batteries to put in him. Second, we brought our cat home. The vet wrapped him in a towel and put him in a little box. We all said good bye to him together. Our daughter saw that he looked peaceful but didn't move when we touched him. We told her that we were going to bury him in the backyard the next day and that when she got home from school, we would all visit his special spot in the yard. We decided that it might be too traumatic for her to see him get put into the ground. We were careful not to say that dying is like sleeping, because we didn't want her to be afraid of going to sleep. We also bought a kid's book about a child who loses a cat (10 Good Things About Barney), but we never read it to her, because we couldn't read it without crying heavily. (Crying is okay; just don't freak out, because that could scare your child.) Our daughter seemed to understand what had happened and seemed to handle it well. It's been a year since our cat died. Occasionally she will tell us that she misses her cat, but recently she started inquiring about getting a new cat. Good luck... and hang in there. cindy

I am so sorry to hear about your pet's disease. Recently, we lost our 12-yr old dog and it was totally heart-breaking. Our two children (age 5 and 2) handled it extremely well. This is what we did: Like you, we knew that our dog had only months to live (due to a heart condition). We told our 5-yr old that she was very sick and that her heart would eventually stop beating.

We explained the basic function of the heart, so she understood that when it stopped beating, she would die. Occasionally, we talked about the fact that our dog would die. Our daughter would express her emotions and we listened and acknowledged her. We don't believe in heaven, so ''doggie heaven'' wasn't going to fly for us. We told her that there was a difference between the real ''you'' and your body. At death, your body dies, but you move on. We explained that our dog could finally drop her sick, old body and move on to something else - whatever it was that she wanted to do. Maybe she wanted to be another puppy or a kitty cat, so she could pick up such a body. The fact that there was no definite end to her life, made it much more acceptable to our daughter. We ended up having to put our dog down, because she became just too sick. Our children were already in bed when we went to the Emergency Vet with our dog.

The next morning, I pulled both kids onto the bed and told them that I had to tell them something sad and something really happy. I told them that our dog had died that night, but that she now was no longer in pain and that she could do whatever she wanted. My son looked for our dog's bed and when that wasn't there, he walked away to play with his cars. Our daughter started to cry a little and I cried with her. I held her and told her that I was also sad, but that I was really glad that our dog was no longer in pain. She cried for a minute and then asked if she could watch TV. A little later she wanted to know how our dog had died and I explained that we had taken her to the vet and that he tried to help her, but that she was just too sick. Then the vet gave her a little shot that made her sleep. A little bit later her heart stopped. My daughter knew that that meant death.

I wasn't sure what to do that day; should we stay home or not? I decided to continue with our regular life. I informed my daughter's teacher of what had happened and they were wonderful with her that day. She did cry twice and the teachers allowed her to express her emotions and once she did, she just kept on playing.

I hope that I was able to help you a little. I wish you much success with this. JOJ

Book for kids about death of family pet

Oct 2006

Our beloved dog was just diagnosed with a very aggressive form of leukemia. While I am being positive, I know that the end is near. As difficult as this is for me to face, I am very concerned about my two young children - almost 5 and almost 2 - especially my 2 year old. I am hoping that some of you have some suggestions for books that I can read with my children to help answer all of the questions that I am certain they will have in the weeks to come. Thanks. Just getting prepared

Look at Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant. God and heaven figure prominently, which may or may not be right for your family. My agnostic kids (6 and 10) are not thrown by it. I cry every time I read this, so if you tend to get weepy you may want to prepare your kids for that possibility before you read it to them. I'm so sorry your dog -- and you -- are going through this. Been there and going there again

We lost two beloved dogs in the span of five months, and my kids were about the same age as your kids at the time. I bought four books for my kids (and me, it turns out) to try to help them. My son loved all of them. I hated two and won't even name them, because they said idiotic things about God wanting ''forever dogs'' to be with kids in heaven, so he sent kids up there. (I translated that to mean that God was killing kids for the sake of dogs, something I don't think the author meant.) I can't remember the third, and I don't have it at my fingertips. I found them by searching Amazon's children's books for death and pets.

But one book I loved was ''Dog Heaven'' by Emmma Chichester Clark (the author and illustrator of ''I Love You, Blue Kangaroo''). It's not currently available at Amazon. But it's a sweet story about a boy whose dog died of old age and didn't get too maudlin.

But reading all of them--even the ones I didn't like--was really good therapy for my older child. I think they made him feel better about it. He asked to read them all over and over for quite a while the first year after the dogs died.

The best advice I can offer outside of that is to be as honest as possible about what's going on. My now 3-year-old still asks why the dogs had to die. She's much more verbal now and seems to have stored her questions over the past year and a half. I tell her they were old and it was their time. We also have both kids say good-night to the dogs before they go to bed, and I think that helps.

We also told lots and lots of stories about the dogs and their silly antics. And I cried in front of my kids--probably too much--but I think it helped them to know I was hurting, too. Gwynne

Try any of these high quality books on dying pets: I'll Always Love ou Dog Heaven Goodbye Mousie The Tenth Good Thing About Barney (excellent) Toby Murphy's Kate Jaspers Dog The Dead Bird ellypub

Try ''The Tenth Good Thing About Barney'' by Judith Viorst and ''I'll Always Love You'' by Wilhelm (don't remember first name). ''Dog Heaven'' with wonderful illustrations by Cynthia Rylant, as the title implies, has a more spiritual tone if you are looking for that. The death of a beloved pet is such a difficult time. My thoughts are with you and your children Been There

''Dog Heaven'' ''Badger's Parting Gifts'' Dog lover

I'm soooo sorry to hear about your dog. We just lost our own beloved dog less than two months ago (she was only seven and it was a slow, downhill illness, allowing us months to ''prepare'' for her passing). I was worried about my 4.5 yr old and my 2.5 year old and how they would react once they heard their dog was gone. The two year old was completely unfazed... just too young to understand (although he would mimic what he heard and say things like ''I'm sad, I miss our dog'' but then would move on and not even really know what he had said). Our 4.5 year old was more aware and we spoke about how our dog's body wore out and that she had died. She cried a little, remembered what our dog looked like and declared her the best dog ever. Just a few minutes later, she was asking for another dog! Yes, it's true.

I was in shock that she could move on so quickly. In reality, she cried a little and say she was sad on and off for the last month or so, but she is NOT burdened by the loss the way that I was (it was devastating to me and I miss our dog so much). Just know that most young kids will not grieve like we adult grieve and at the end of the day, that's also a good thing. It's hard enough for me to deal with my own feelings, let alone see my children in pain.

In terms of a book, I don't know of one. But we created our own book online on (a service I love). I choose a hard back book and made it a story of my dog's life - from adoption to her memorial six years later (including two moves, the arrival of two kids and all the fun places we visited with our dog and the interesting things that we used to do together). At the end of the book, I did talk about her illness and how her body was wearing out. I included pictures of her last day and then of her memorial. It's a nice book that we can all read together, so we can remember ''the best dog ever''! :-) Dog lover with two kids

Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers) has a great book about pets dying that we read when we lost our cat. I can't remember exactly what the title was, but it was great for my kids. Been There

I'm sorry to hear about your dog's illness. What has always helped our family overcome the grieving is to have wakes for our dogs and friends' dogs, to celebrate the joy they brought us during their short lives. The wakes are happy dinners where we share photos of and stories about the dog.

Since you asked about books to prepare your children for the dog's death, check out ''Dog Heaven'' by Cynthia Rylant. It is not a religious book, but it does make references to God and angels in a pretty benign way and you have to be comfortable with that. My daughter always enjoys this story, even 2 years after our dogs have died. (Excerpt: ''When dogs go to Heaven they don't need wings because God knows that dogs love running best. He gives them fields. Fields and fields and fields. When a dog first arrives in Heaven, he just runs...Dog Heaven has clear, wide lakes filled with geese who honk and flap and tease. The dogs love this.'') The major bookstores usually have copies on their shelves.

My daughter also watches ''Goldie,'' a story about a goldfish that died, one of many good stories on HBO's ''Harold and the Purple Crayon'' DVD. We have an elderly dog whom she adores, so I figure the book and other stories will prepare her for our dog's death when that time comes (as well as the death of elderly family members).

The death of a beloved dog is a painful experience for the whole family, but I believe it's also a way for children to learn the cycle of life. That said, I recommend you start thinking about the way in which your dog will die: put it to sleep or expire on its own at home. We've experienced each. Our daughter was too young (1- year) to say goodbye to the one we had put to sleep. When the time comes for our current dog, I would like her to be able to do that. She also was too young to realize what was happening to the one who died at home, but I wouldn't want a 2- or 5-year- old to see it. It was not quick or pretty, but it was the right way for this particular dog. I was at his side the entire day. I learned much from it and am glad I had the experience. -- A dog lover

There is a wonderful picture book called Dog Heaven by Cynthia Rylant which may be helpful to you. The book has beautiful, simple pictures and reassuring words that provide comfort to anyone, young or old, who has lost a dog -EGW

My sympathy to you and your family for your impending loss. One little picture book that was helpful to my then 5-year old daughter when we lost our golden retriever is ''I'll Always Love You'' by Hans Wilhelm (in soft cover). Because our dog didn't act sick I had a session with a therapist specializing in bereavement therapy to get some guidance on how to prepare my daughter. I'm sorry that I don't remember her name. But her main advice was to talk to my child about the very concrete--when our dog dies she won't need to eat or drink anymore; her heart won't need to beat and she won't need to breathe. At the end, I arranged with our vet to allow us to bring my daughter to view her beloved dog after she died. When my daughter arrived at the vet--we had told her only that we had very sad news, that her dog had died and would she like to see her--she asked if she could lie down next to the dog and then looked up in wonder and said ''her heart's not beating.'' I think it really helped her to understand that death is permanent, at least as much as any 5-year old can comprehend. We then had the dog cremated. It took about a year for my daughter to be ready to scatter the dog's ashes at her favorite place. As difficult as this was for everyone, I feel that my daughter was as prepared as possible for her young age. anon

So sorry about you dog's illness. It is so painful when our beloved pets go through terminal illnesses. I had to put my cat down last year and wondered about how best to assist my daughter through this process. At the time, my daughter was 3 years old. We read the Tenth Good Thing About Barney - by Judith Viorst and Erik Blegvad. Cat Heaven by Cynthia Rylant is also very touching. I think that there's a Dog version. For us, we had to do a lot of reassurance, demonstrate our sad feelings and answer the repetitive questions she had truthfully. (She still occasionally asks where Woody is). Our vet recommended that she be present for his procedure. We opted not to include her because she was starting a new day care on that very day. I now wish that we did include her. She has since been present for the passing of our pet fish and wanted to touch them before we discarded them. I think that this physical connection really helped her as well as having an impromptu saying thanks and goodbye to our fish friends. Please take care and my thoughts are with you and your family Amy

To the person who has a dying dog I recommend that you buy a book called Dog Heaven - I can' remember the author. I always send it to anyone who has recently lost a dog and they all appreciate it. I also had my cat put down at home and my kids petted him while he went to sleep (they were out of the room when he got the shot) - we surrounded him with flowers and all his favorite things and while upsetting it was better than having to drag him off to the vets and gave a good sense of closure. briony

My children are older now but we experienced several pets who were sick and died when my kids were little. I am sure people will recommend many newer books but the one we loved was Ten Good Things About Barney. We had funerals and burials-we always put a plant on top and when we moved we took the plant with us.We kept it simple, involved the kids as much as they wanted and what seemed appropriate for their ages and we were there to answer questions that came up-often at the oddest moments-it was heart breaking and joyful- how you explain death is based on your own beliefs-we got clear on this before we talked to the kids so we could be comfortable and available- parent

Have you read them Judith Viorst's ''The Tenth Good Thing about Barney''? I've always loved this book - how a family helps the little boy deal with the death of his much-loved cat. Good luck. They'll get through it, of course, but it's great you're thinking of reading that will help. kateb

I'm so sorry to hear about your dog! It's a very hard time, especially because of your young children. (My dog is 15.5 and my ''first'' baby.) A book that might be good for your kids is ''The Next Place'' by Warren Hanson. It's a very comforting book, non-religious, helping to understand loss. My thoughts are with you Beth

First, I'd like to say I'm very sorry for such a diagnosis. We just went through something similar with our cat. He went into major kidney failure, and we had to put him down within a few days of diagnosis, so there was very little prep time. We don't have a 5 year old, only an almost 2 year old. But, we kept (and still are keeping) conversations simple. The day my husband took the cat in, our son noticed the cat missing from the shelf he'd been in the night before, and said kitty gone. I said yes, the kitty's gone. Just yesterday he was at the shelf again, and said the same thing, and I again said, yes the kitty was gone. Overall, he does not seem to be struggling with this too much, though he does acknowledge that that particular cat is missing from his favorite haunts (we do have 3 other cats though). And while both my husband and I have had a hard time, and he's seen both of us grieving over the loss of the cat, he doesn't seem to be terribly impacted by it. I understand a dog is a little different, but this cat let our son do anything to him, and was his best playmate of the other 3 cats, so there's a loss to him. Honestly, I would be more concerned about the 5 year old (it brings up mortality of mommy and daddy and other people in their lives too). A great starter book is ''When a Pet Dies,'' by Fred Rogers (AKA: Mr. Rogers). Also, ''My Pet Died (Let's make a book about it)'' by Rachel Biale ''For Every Dog an Angel'' by Christine Davis and ''I'll Always Love You'' by Hans Wilhelm is just a nice sweet book. There are also more referency type books if you need that kind of approach. Keep it simple, and try to answer their questions age-appropriate. Again, sorry for the diagnosis of your beloved dog. grieving

What to tell 2-year-old about euthanizing family pet

April 2006

After a long life, our dog's health is declining and we have decided to put him to sleep. Any advice on what to tell our two year old son? We don't want to tell him the dog went ''good bye'' or ''away''. We don't want him to think those words mean ''not coming back''. He is somewhat fond of the dog. He says bye bye and blows kisses to the dog when we leave the house. He pats the dog and talks about the dog but that's about it. Since the dog is so old, they have never really had the opportunity to play together. We want to tell our son something but not sure what. We could tell him the dog went to heaven and give a simple explanation for what we think heaven is. It would be nice to hear what other people have done in similar circumstances. (In case anyone is wondering, we will have a vet come out to the house after our son is asleep. I don't want him to see the dog dying or us sobbing which I know is going to happen) Stephanie

I am so sorry to hear about the impending loss of your dog. I just had to euthanize my beloved cat and wondered how to explain it to my 3 y.o. son. The vet came to the house in the morning while he was at day care and that night I tearfully explained that Max had died during the day. My son responded with a chipper ''Oh. Okay!'' But then several weeks later, and for many weeks since, (still going on,) he asks about Max--where did he go, etc. I just try to be as straight-forward as possible and explain that his body stopped working and he's not alive any more--but even though his body is not here, we still remember him in our hearts. (I'm not religious so I don't feel right bringing heaven into the mix.) My son definitely does not understand what I'm talking about, except in the most general sense, but I think it's okay; he gets that it's something important to me, and he knows that I am sad about it, and he's working on figuring it out in time. I think what worked best was just to be honest without jumping into endless detail. Elizabeth

We put my dog to sleep at 19+ years - youngest kid around 2, other in kindergarten. We had talked for quite a while about how old and hurting the dog was getting. Then one day (when the kids were not home) the vet came and injected her - it was hard for us, a good thing for her. We told the boys that our dog had died that day. We talked about how much we missed her and referred to 'hearing' her walking or expecting to see her. Years later, the kids asked about a box on the kitchen counter - it was the box with her ashes in it - just seemed like the right place for her to be! Years later still, we told them (in a conversation about assisted suicide) that we had her put to sleep........ 2 years old is too young to hear the whole story (and confusing). Be honest with your feelings and love. one of the hardest things i've done

My condolences to you. We had to make the difficult decisions of putting our cat to sleep last February and our dog last September. Our daughter was about 2 years old. We decided to tell her that they went to heaven, saying nothing about the euthanasia. She hasn't yet asked any questions about what heaven means but I know the time will come. She still talks about them and will tell other people they are in heaven. She did ask one time why they were in heaven and why we couldn't play with them. I said simply that it was their time to go. Luckily she didn't probe any further. I'm just winging it with my responses, but am happy with how we've explained it to her thus far. Good luck. By the way, my daughter ''caught'' me crying a few times over our loss and I just told her that I was sad because I missed them. She was okay with that and it didn't seem to upset her. Leslie

Explaining pet's death to a 3-year-old

March 2006

The vet has said that our 17 year old cat will die soon. I'm wondering how other parents have explained this to a 3 year old. Our daughter is very attached to him and will definitely miss him a lot. Thanks

My 18 year old cat died on my daughter's second birthday, she was VERY attached to her and very sad. I thought the best way to deal with it was to explain exactly what had happened: Kitty died. Then explain that all living things live and then die, just like plants, etc. No made up stories or anything- this worked quite well. We had the cat cremated and then let my daughter decorate the box (which she still keeps on a shelf in her room 2.5 years later) once in a while she still says- I miss her, she was the best cat ever. But she dealt with it and got through it just fine. I miss her , too

Before our beloved golden retriever died from bone cancer I spoke with a therapist specializing in bereavement. Our dog was not acting sick so I though it would be very difficult for our then 5-year old daughter to comprehend. The therapist suggested talking in very concrete terms, such as ''when we die, we don't need to eat, when we die our hearts don't need to beat anymore, etc.'' Using a picture book called All Dogs Go to Heaven (I think there is one for cats too) to launch the discussion worked very well for my daughter. We also worked with our vet to allow my daughter to see the dog after it died (she was not present for the euthanasia) and after some initial confusion, she climbed up on the table to lay on the dog and looked up in wonder when she realized that the heart was no longer beating. It did not lessen her grief but judging from her questions and comments as she grew older, I know that it helped her to understand what happened. anon

There are so many books geared toward this subject. I have checked many of them out at the library (I cannot remember the titles!!). It is a wonderful gentle way of introducing the topic. You can do an online search for some titles or ask your local librarian for some help finding appropriate books. I googled ''children's books about death'' and came up with many titles. Must make sure that they are preschool appropriate (some are for older kids) and that they resonate with your beliefs. This is a hard one!

Our cat of 17 years died in her basket. We let our 3 yr old daughter see the cat, pet her if she wanted. We explained the cat had been old and had gotten sick and was no longer living. She watched as we wrapped our cat in a towel and as a family, we buried the cat in our yard, placing a large rock over the site so our daughter would know where she could visit the cat. We made sure our daughter saw the cat & burial and had a spot where she could visit the kitty when she missed her and wanted to say hi. Our daughter still talks about our cat but seems to understand the cat was old & sick. We explained all living things have a life cycle including bugs, plants, people, our pets etc. She knows we are all sad that our cat died but I believe letting her see the cat and help us bury her was a good process for our 3 year old. Anon

I am so sorry about your cat. It is a very sad time. To help our 3 year old when our dog died, we used the book by Mr Rogers ''When a Pet Dies''. I found it very comforting for our son and opened up discussions. Best wishes. Linda

We went through this with our 16-year-old cat when our daughter was 18 months old (she's now 2.9) . . . it was really hard! Our cat, Daisy, suddenly became ill and after about a week of tests, the vet said there was no hope. Throughout the week, we told our daughter that the cat was very sick. When we knew we would be putting her to sleep in a couple of days, we told our daughter that Diasy was probably going to die very soon. She already knew about people dying, because she had asked about grandparents who died before she was born. Because our daughter was so young, on the day we put the cat down, we told her, ''Say goodbye to Daisy . . . she is going to the doctor but she is very sick and she might not come back.'' When we came home, we told her, ''Daisy died. Her body stopped working, then she died.'' Our daughter asked a million questions (at least 5 times a day for 6 months!) about Daisy's death. ''Why did Daisy die? Why did her body stop working? Will your body stop working? Where did Daisy go? Is she sad? Will she come sleep with me tonight? Is she coming back home?'' And she would say things like, ''Tonight I'm not going to sleep with Daisy. She died. Her body stopped working and then she died.'' This went on for what seemed like forever. We were very straightforward with all of our answers to her questions, but tried not to overexplain. When she asked if we would die, for example, we said, ''Not until we're very very old, and we're not old right now.'' Anyway, good luck with this . . . it is hard but in retrospect it wasn't as bad as I feared for her. I get the feeling it would be harder for our daughter now that she is older, but we'll see. Noel

When our cat passed away last year, a friend recommended ''Desser, the Best Ever Cat'' by Maggie Smith. It was the best thing possible for my then-3-year-old. It is a fabulous story about a young child and the cat in her house -- how the cat came to her family and her perception of how he was there for her childhood. B It deals with the sadness you feel when a beloved pet dies, and has helped my daughter process it in a way that is appropriate for her age. She still wants to read it occasionally and remembers our cat with fondness. Lisa

Preparing for logistics of pet dog's passing

March 2005

Our wonderful 10-year old labrador retriever is getting on in his years, and although he is currently in good health, we anticipate that it will be only a few years before he ''crosses over into doggy heaven.''

Since he is my first pet dog (or first pet-anything that can't have a burial-by-toilet), I am totally clueless as to how one handles the physical aspects of a pet's death. What are the options (burial? cremation? other?)? Who makes the arrangements? We just want to be mentally prepared for this when it happens. Wondering and preparing

I just had to put my 14 yr old Yellow Lab down last week. There is no preparing yourself, you become an emotional wreck. (At least I was) It's an awful thing to do. 9 time out of 10, it's the best thing for the dog, but the human doesn't want to let go. It's a very unselfish act of love.

We had our dog cremated and will bury her in our yard. Didn't want to chance a wild animal digging her up. The Vet will handle the details and calls when they are ready to be picked up. Hope you don't have to worry about this for many years. Carole

We had to put our first dog, a labrador retriever, down last August. It was so very hard and still is. It comes and goes in waves.

Anyways, a vet or a place like Animal Care Control will help you arrange a ''community cremation'' (meaning with other animals cremated together or a private one (which cost us around $100). You can ask to have the ashes back or not. It takes several weeks to get the ashes back and the service our vet used put it in a nice wood box about 4''H x 5''W with lock and key and a card with the dog's info.

Hope this helps. Good luck and may you have peace when the time comes. irishsupersonal

When our daughter was 5, it became clear that we were going to lose our golden retriever. Having lost both of her remaining grandparents in the course of the previous 14 months, I needed to prepare her for the loss of her dog. I saw a therapist specializing in bereavement and although I cannot remember her name she gave some wonderful advice for a 5 year old dealing with death. We did have our dog cremated--the vet who had to put her down when it was time took care of everything. When my daughter was ready (about 2 years later), we scattered the ashes at our dog's favorite swimming place. anon

Our almost 18 year old cat died recently. Our kids are teenagers so we all talked about what to do and decided to have him cremated so we can scatter his ashes in our garden. We had it done by Abbey in El Cerrito but I think most vets will handle it for you. It was $140 but it was obvious that this was the right thing for us. Hopefully you'll have a lot of years before you have to face this. Cathy

My last dog lived thirteen happy years. During the last year of his life he lived with some aches and pains, and had only one eye. I knew the night that he fell trying to ''take care of business'' that it was time so I called a 24hr vet to make an appointment to euthanize him, took him for one last walk at the Berkeley Marina with the close firends that had become part of his pack, and then said goodbye. Most vets will give you a choice between cremation and group burial, or cremation and then return the ashes to you. I know that the Berkeley Humane society returns ashes in a pretty wooden box. If you are lucky enough never to have to make the decision that it is time and your dog passes naturally I assume you can take him to the vet and pay for cremation services if you want, but would recommend calling to double check.

I assume some folks still bury their pets, but its not something I feel comfortable with as a renter. It is common to keep old collars and tags to remember your pet by. Dog Lover

I've said good-bye to many beloved pets, dogs and cats, some at a natural age, some way too young.

Unless an accident befalls him, you will have warning and time to prepare. I have put my animals down when they were too sick to have any chance of recovery and were clearly suffering too much. It's a very difficult decision to make, and to know the right time to do it, but if you're tuned in you'll know when it's time. Warning: you'll ask yourself repeatedly for awhile if you made the right decision no matter what you do.

If you do need to put him down, you can do it at your vet's, or there are vets who will come to your house (the option I've always chosen as less traumatic all around).

Your vet, or the traveling vet, can make the arrangements that you request. You can have him cremated and the ashes buried anonymously with other dogs ashes. You can have him cremated and get the ashes back to do with as you want. You can have him buried at a pet cemetary (the most expensive option). You can't bury an animal that big yourself, not only because of the logistics, but it's illegal because of germs getting into the water table.

It's good to remember that our pets' lifespans are much shorter than ours and that they are going to die before us. It's good that you're thinking about it. anon

How wise of you to be thinking about some of these details in advance! Our elderly cat recently died, the second pet we have had die in our care, and it was helpful on the emotional side that we had figured out some of the practical stuff in advance. If your vet ends up putting your dog down, their office will take care of the body. The options I am aware of are the more inexpensive cremation, where you do not get any ashes back, and the more expensive one, where you do get back the ashes of your pet. We recently chose this second option, and it was $140 for an under 10 pound cat. Might be more for a dog. We will bury the ashes in our yard under a cast-concrete ''rock'' with her name. You can order these online and maybe also in pet stores. I don't think burying the animals body is a responsible choice in an urban area.

If your dog dies at home, you can take the body to the emergency vet on University Ave. at any hour and they will arrange for cremation. Your regular vet may also do that if it happens during business hours. anne

You have a sensible approach to a distressing situation. I worked at a vet for a number of years and dealt with many kinds of pet owners and saw many ways of handling the loss of a pet. The first step is the death itself, either by euthanasia or natural causes. You will know when its time to euthanise, a dog has a look in its eyes that lets you know ''I'm in pain, make it stop''. Let your dog go with some dignity. You can be with your dog when the injections are given or you can let the vets handle it in private, you can have home euthanasia's also. Talk to your vet about the options. Euthanasia is not distressing to animals, they are give a relaxant and then a second injection that makes their heart stop. Its very quick and you should be able to stay with your dog in the vets or in your home for as long as you need to say good bye.

Remember to take the dogs favorite toy or blanket with you, these can be placed with the animal when it is taken away. After the dog has passed the options can be limited, vets can arrange for animal control to take the dog and do a mass cremation or a private cremation where ashes can be returned upon request, this all depends on your vets policies. There are also pet crematorians, you can transport the animal to them and have the ashes returned to you. These are very private locations that let you grieve in peace. I am not aware of burial sites for animals and health and safety regulations restrict you from burial on your property.

I hope this helps, my main recommendation is speak to your vet about your options. helen

I'm so sorry about your dog. I lost one of my female Labs last May at 9 1/2. I was lucky that I knew a bit about the final details in advance. My dog had heart disease and my vet put her down at my home, then took the body with her to store at the office. I opted to have her cremated and to receive the ashes back. This cost around $140, including a very nice wooden box with her name on it. I believe cremation alone is pretty cheap--maybe $30-60. It's a bigger deal to get the ashes back because they otherwise cremate your pet with others. I believe it's illegal to bury your pet on your property, for health reasons (what if a raccoon dug it up? etc.). I plan to bury the box on my mother's property the next time we visit (she owns several acres up in Washington). Best of luck to you. Labradors are wonderful. Jennie

Dying cat and 3 year old

July 2004

I would appreciate hearing how others have approached the dying of a pet with their 3 year old children. Our cat has bone cancer. He is still enjoying life but I fear the day may come soon when he will have to be put to sleep. My 3 year old son knows his cat is sick and that the doctor may not be able to help him. He is very worried. I am assuming it will be best that he is not present when the cat is put asleep but that he should have a chance to say good bye beforehand. I am unsure about the burial, should he participate, or be shown the grave after the fact or not at all. What have been your experiences good and bad? Many thanks, Eva

We had two cats (litter mates) die within a few months of each other last year. Each one was a different situation and my kids (then 4 and 8) reacted equally different each time. The first one had been quite sick. One day I had to take him to the vet because he seemed like he could go at any minute. We decided at the vet's office to put him to sleep. It was really hard on my kids to not get to say goodbye. Like your child, they knew he was sick and I warned them that it might happen like this, but even so, they were heartsick. On the other hand, our other cat went downhill quite quickly. I put off taking him to the vet to see how he fared over the weekend. Well, we went out to dinner on a Sunday night and found him waiting for us - barely alive - when we got home. We all gathered around him and held him while he took his last breaths. It was really sad, but my kids handled it incredibly well. They got to pet him and kiss him, which seemed to help. For both cats we lit candelaria (spelling?) and put flowers and a picture of the cat around the candle. I felt silly at first, but boy did it help the process. We were able to share fond memories and such for a while. So, I definitely vote for letting your kid say goodbye. It might be a bit much to have him there while putting the cat to sleep, though. You will be distracted by the process and 3-year-olds aren't very understanding about that. Maybe he could kiss and pet the cat goodbye at home and maybe give him a cat toy for his ''journey to the beyond'' or something like that. Good luck and sorry about your kitty. It is a hard thing to go through. We had our boys for 14 years. Mary

What an awful situation! I too have an older, much loved cat with health problems. Thankfully, not too expensive yet. If the cat is in pain from the crystals in his bladder and this is causing serious tension in your family I would really consider putting it to sleep. As much as you adore your animal it is not worth the problems it could bring to your marriage! After all it is a cat. And after all your first obligation is to your family, specifically your marriage and your financial viability. One has to draw the line somewhere between what is reasonable for an animal and what their obligations are to the humans in your life. I feel this way about my own pet. Apologies to the animal welfare enthusiasts, and no guilt trips please. love my cat but....

Hi there I have gone through something similar. Here's what we did: We bought the excellent book ''Desser the best ever cat'' by Helen Smith, that helped our 3 yrs old a lot to process what was going on, before and after. We did'nt mention putting to sleep. We talked about him being very sick, deteriorating and death. When the time came, we said that we will have to take him to the vet and that he will die there because he is very sick. My 3 yrs old had breakfast on the floor next to him... We all went to the vet where I went with him and my husband stayed with our children in the waiting room. After checking the cat they came in to say last goodbye. I wish you all well catlover

When I was a little girl, my mom read me Judith Viorst's The Tenth Good Thing About Barney, which is about a young person whose cat dies...none of our cats were ill then, but Mom and I both loved the book. A couple of years ago, her favorite cat disappeared and never came back...she was very sad. After about ten days, I dug up our old copy of The Tenth Good Thing and called her up and read it to her over the phone...we were both crying by the time I was's sad but hopeful, and just what I'd pick for a 3 y.o. And who knows...sometime, twenty years from now, maybe your kid can read it to you...? I checked on Amazon and it's still in print: Sara

Eulogy for pets

March 1998

I got this originally from a posting at the SF Gate Conferences - one of the participants had lost a pet and this was posted by another participant - many of us had tears in our eyes when we first read it. Have since sent it to family and friends - hope it helps.
Just this side of heaven is a place called Rainbow Bridge. When an animal dies that has been especially close to someone here, that pet goes to Rainbow Bridge. There are meadows and hills for all of our special friends so they can run and play together. There is plenty of food, water and sunshine, and our friends are warm and comfortable. All the animals who had been ill and old are restored to health and vigor; those who were hurt or maimed are made whole and strong again, just as we remember them in our dreams of days and times gone by. The animals are happy and content, except for one small thing; they each miss someone very special to them, who had to be left behind. They all run and play together, but the day comes when one suddenly stops and looks into the distance. His bright eyes are intent; His eager body begins to quiver. Suddenly he begins to run from the group, flying over the green grass, his legs carrying him faster and faster. You have been spotted, and when you and your special friend finally meet, you cling together in joyous reunion, never to be parted again. The happy kisses rain upon your face; your hands again caress the beloved head, and you look once more into the trusting eyes of your pet, so long gone from your life but never absent from your heart. Then you cross Rainbow Bridge together.... Author unknown...