5 Year Old and Death of Dog

Updated on August 20, 2010
L.C. asks from Brighton, CO
14 answers

UPDATE: I did fail to mention that his death was unexpected. 10 days earlier we were told he "may" have skin cancer. But he was doing fine, showed no signs of being sick, just old and tired. We were going to the lake for the the weekend and decided that it would be too hot for him so we left him with my father-in-law (which was like a second home to him). While we were gone he died. Turns out he had more than just skin cancer, it was rapidly spreading through his body. So there is alot of guilt on my part and I am sure my sons that we were not with him when he died. We are the type that treat our dogs as family members so he was our kid.


About a month ago our dog died, he was 9 years old. My kids have never known life without him. My 5 year old is taking it really hard. He is a very sensitive child who cries at the humane society commercials. So we told him that Rufus went to be an Angel dog to take care of all the dogs and cats he sees on that commercial. We thought all was fine.

Now for the past week he has been saying that Rufus has been gone long enough and needs to come home now. My husband tried to explain heaven to him, but that didn't go well. Today my husband went to pick him up from daycare and the teacher told him that he had a major meltdown this morning about missing his dog. I guess it was really bad, she even cried.

We are out of ideas to help him cope. Does anyone have any advice. We had talked about getting another dog in October when life slows down alittle. But we aren't sure if that would make it better or worse for our son.

Thanks in advance for your advice.

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for your replies. I found some very helpful advise, plus some reassurance that we are doing things right. I have the book Dog Heaven reserved at Borders and will pick it up tomorrow. Whenever he talks about wishing Rufus will come home, I always tell him so do I (then my eyes well up with tears). I had a talk with him today, he understands that Rufus will not be coming home and that he is in heaven (and that means that he died). I assured him it was ok to be sad, that I am too. I asked him what we could do to help him through this. We decided that are going to put a picture of Rufus in his room for him, this way he can talk to him whenever he wants. He also asked me if we could get a puppy. So we will start looking at some of the puppy rescues and shelters to see what is out there. I warned him that it may take a little while to find the right fit for our family but we will start looking. I volunteered at a puppy rescue for several years so I am definitely a big believer in the rescues. Even though 2 out of 3 of our past dogs have been from Breeders, they were throw away dogs, not show quality with major flaws that the breeders just wanted out of there.

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answers from Detroit on

I don't have personal experience with this but...

My daughter's friend accidentally killed her cat when she was 2 or 3. Her mom said her daughter had horrible nightmares about it and would wake up screaming. They also didn't want to get another pet because they thought it would be too soon but the pediatrician said it would be the best thing to do. The mom said that as soon as they got another cat, the nightmares stopped and never came back. She's almost seven now and I found out about the cat incident because SHE brought it up - with absolutely no trauma. In fact, she was very matter-of-fact about it. Seems counter-intuitive, but it worked for them.

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answers from Detroit on

I am very sorry for your loss and for what your family is going through. There are some really great children's books out there about losing a pet that you might be able to find at the library. You might also want to look into resources for helping children understand death (their capabilities depend on their age) and learn how to grieve. You could also have your kids work on making a memorial to Rufus - pictures, a scrapbook, etc. It might help them to remember him in a positive way. As for when to get another dog, that's hard to say. You don't want your kids to think you are simply "replacing" Rufus. You might want to talk to your son about that and see how he responds. Above all else, do not belittle his feelings or tell him Rufus was "just a dog" (not that you would, but other people might). Rufus was a family member and your son has a right to grieve and to process his feelings and learn how to cope the best he can (background story: I am a veterinarian, so I see this a lot. Once I had a man bring his cat in for euthanasia. It was quite old and very ill, so it was not unwarranted. He had his little girls with him, maybe 5 and 7, and they were hysterical. He kept telling them to stop crying because it was "just a cat". I wanted to slap him. Later we went him a letter asking him to basically never step foot in our clinic again and if he ever wanted veterinary services for other pets, he could go elsewhere.)

Good luck to you and blessings...

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answers from Minneapolis on

My daughter was six when our 17 year old dog died - she had never known life without him and it was hard. It has been more than two years now, and she is still occasionally upset about him being gone, to the point of tears. (Incidentally, so am I) We waited about six months to adopt a new dog, and I wish we had done it sooner. It helped us so much to have another canine personality to love and laugh with/at and to get back to our normal life which had always included a dog.

We buried our dog on my parent's farm, and she made a stepping stone gravestone and picked out some silk flowers to keep near the grave. I know that most people don't have the luxury of burying their pet somewhere they can visit, but it might help your son to make a little memorial to your dog that he can go to when he wants to think about your dog or talk to him.

My daughter carried around a picture of Darwin for a long time, and I have one that is framed in her room of the two of them together. We tell stories about Darwin and laugh together about him. When he first died, I couldn't tell a story without crying, but I think that helped her too - she knew that she wasn't the only one hurting. And we would laugh through our tears.

I also second the idea of going to the library and checking out some books about pets. One book that somebody gave us which is very general but sort of nice is, "The Fall of Freddy the Leaf." The book "Jasper's Day" is one that I can't read without sobbing, but it's a great book. We also liked, "Say Goodbye to Lulu." I've never read it, but the book, "Dog Heaven" was also suggested to us. Maybe one of those will help your little boy.

I can't think of anything more difficult for a child than losing a family member - whether the family member has four feet or two. Good luck and hang in there.

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answers from Colorado Springs on

A month isn't too long to grieve for someone you love - especially someone who was part of your family since you were born.

Speaking as another person who cries at the Humane Society commercials (!), death is only one of many, many hard things in life. Your son needs someone who can help him understand and face them.

You don't mention whether you are a religious family or not, but let's say you are not. Even then you can assure your boy that Rufus didn't desert him. Tell him that it's very hard to say goodbye to someone you love, whether that someone is dying or moving across town - whether that someone has two feet or four. Living things live a certain amount of time - sometimes a long time, sometimes a very short time - and then they stop living. We can't control that. That's the way it is on this planet. But we take the best care we can of those we love while they're here - and the love we had for them is real, and it's all right to cry (although meltdowns at day care are not preferable).

It's also all right to draw pictures of Rufus or do other things that help to honor his memory. (Have you thought about helping him send his pennies to the Humane Society, or even to the vet's office, in memory of Rufus?)

Tell him that there may be other dogs who need his love now. And tell him that YOU plan to be there for him as long as he needs you. I imagine that's in the back of his mind, even though he may not have said anything about it.

I love that cute puppy commercial, but I must say that telling your son that Rufus became an "angel dog" didn't help him. It helped you. You felt that you were in a tight spot and wanted to get out of it. That's a thing that happens to all parents (it sure happened to me!); unhappily, however, it's still lying. I hope you'll ask him to forgive you.

P.S. Just read your update, and had to go find a handkerchief. That's such a hard thing! Cancer is nothing but nasty, and even doctors can't always tell about it, in people as well as in pets. Rufus died without you all, perhaps, but he was in a place and with a person that he loved. So you didn't abandon him, either! It just underscores that we do not have control over everything that happens. Let's ALL love our loved ones the best we can while we have the opportunity. (Time to wring out the hanky.)

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answers from Wheeling on

Try to get him to talk to you about what he's thinking and how he's feeling. There may even be some guilt or self-blame going on or some other unrealistic feeling he's dealing with, but the more you can get him to 'express' his feelings, the better you can honestly answer his questions and hopefully allay his fears. Every being who's been born has either died or will die (unless we go in the Rapture of the Church!), and those affected have had to learn to live with death. I hate those tear-jerking abused/neglected animal commercials. I think they probably do more harm than good. Maybe I'm crass, but for thousands of years animals have served humans. In this last few years, animals are either catered to (better than most humans are treated) or they're abused. Either extreme is wrong and can be exploited or exploitation.

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answers from Denver on


Love the rainbow bridge story (link above)! I like the idea of a collage of pictures or memorial (planting a tree?). Our dog died over a year ago, my kids are 9 and 12, and we still hang the plaster cast of his footprint and have "Mady Moments" when something will remind us of him and we can talk and remember. Since you will have to care for the new pet, get one when you are ready!

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answers from Salt Lake City on

I haven't been through this, but I know the day will come. My 20 month old son and our dog Allie are best friends already so I'm sure their bond will only get stronger throughout the years. I do think you should get another dog, I think it will help everyone out so much. I also agree with looking into adopting from a shelter, that's how we got Allie and she is awesome! She was about 8 months old when we adopted her so she still had a lot of puppy characteristics but she was potty trained which was a huge bonus! Just remember Rufus would want you all to be happy and for you to help another dog be happy by giving them a great home!



answers from Denver on

Like some others have mentioned, there are some good books out there to read to him and help him to understand the situation-we like dog heavan and we read it over and over and have lent it out several times...even though your dog has already passed, if you did not have a "memorial service" you can still do that to give him some kind of closure. We all say nice things about the pet, the kids made a cross and wrote on it. etc.. so let him particpate the way he would like in the memorial. We also keep pictures around and talk openly of fond memories. Either way it is a hard situation and takes time....



answers from Hartford on

Let me first send you my condolence on the loss of your dog. We had to put to sleep one of our dogs last year and it was very hard for the whole family. I think in addition to the loss of his friend, my son also had trouble with the realization of mortality all together. We tend not be the most religious family, but we did share with our son that Bella is now in heaven. And that it is a wonderful place where she can run around outside and play, just like when she was a pup. We also explained that even though it is hard for us because we miss her, she is not in pain any more. He still talks about her and has her picture in his room, but as time passes there is less crying and more fond discussions of how wonderful she was. xoxoxoxo



answers from Denver on

I am so sorry for your loss! I disagree with the previous post, as I feel like you were being honest with him from the start - I do believe that doggies go to heaven and that we'll see them again someday! We've lost two dogs to cancer and both have framed pictures among our family pictures. We knew ahead of time as well, so we were able to put their pawprints in a stepping stone - both sit by our front porch. I got my husband a wind chime from personal creations (.com) in memory of his dog, Dakota. The kids' golden retriever was a hard loss for them and each handled it differently. We talked about our memories of him, funny stories, looked at pictures. My oldest wanted his ashes, my middle wanted to carry a picture around for a long time, my youngest got a stuffed dog and named it Shadow. For me, after losing two, I wanted another furry friend to greet me at the door, the house was too quiet, so we have an adorable Havanese named Sadie - such a healing to the heart and the kids adore her and their laughter fills the air.



answers from Denver on

I am so sorry to hear about your loss, and how hard this is on your son. My heart breaks for him.

I second the books idea. Find whatever you can from the library that is kid-related, there are plenty.

Mostly, your son needs to keep processing his feelings. It sounds like he is fine talking to you, so let that continue. One note about that- you don't really have to have an answer for him, it's more important that you 'hear' him. If he says "Rufus needs to come back now", make sure to paraphrase back to him, "you really wish Rufus could come back now, it's so sad to not have him here". You can go on to explain that he won't come back, but don't skip the part where he'll get that you understand his feelings.

And encourage him to draw pictures about what he's feeling. The more he can express his feelings, the sooner he will come to terms. But sooner is relative, he may hang on to this for a while, and as long as no one is giving him bad information about how he should get over this, he can take as long as he needs.

And my opinion, I would not consider getting a dog or even talking about it until it's clear that he has resolved a lot of these issues.

Good luck.



answers from Washington DC on

Hi L., I too am sorry for your family. Animals are a large part of our family too. We had to make the difficult decision to have our dog, Bailey, euthanized when our daughter was 4. She STILL gets upset about it 5 years later when she is in trouble or just sad. Grief is part of life and it is ok. We got her a stuffed black lab that looked like Bailey and I had a dog tag made at the local pet store with Bailey, 10/1997 to 10/2005 on it. She loves that dog and sleeps with it every night. We also put Bailey's collar on our Christmas Tree every year to remember the good times with him.

Personally I was lost without having a dog. My husband was hesitant to open himself up to the pain of losing another animal, but he agreed to foster. I told my daughter that our job was to offer a temporary home and help dogs find their forever family. We did adopt our second foster but continued to foster for a year. At one point my parents and sister got very attached to one of our fosters and when he was adopted my sister and mom got teary. My five-year-old told them that this was awesome that Lucas got a forever family and now we can save another dog! It was so neat how she really got it.

My best to you all...time does help!




answers from Denver on

I am so sorry for your loss of your dog. We lost one of our dogs 2 years ago and my daughter will still sometimes get sad and say that she misses Rocky ( heck I still miss my dog that died 15 years ago) they are such a part of our lives. Your best bet is to be honest and let him talk about his feelings as much as he needs. With our daughter we wrote our dog a letter, I also reminded her that Rocky was no longer in pain and she was able to run and chase squirrels again. Her teacher told us of two books by Cynthia Rylant called Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven. My daughter really liked those books and I think it helped her ( be warned they are tear jerkers) Its also good to let your son see you grieve. It gives both of you time to talk and remember the good times. It may also help if your son has a picture in his room. Also be aware if this is your sons first time really experiencing death he may be worrying and trying to understand his role in life. My daughter was 5 when Rocky died and she also started worrying about dieing or us dieing and leaving her. It may help if you get another dog, but make sure you are all ready so the new dog wont be compared to your old one. Its so hard when we loose our furry friends, so take time and be kind to yourself too. Best of wishes to you and your family.



answers from Grand Junction on

you should have been honest with him from the start. my husbands grand-father died earlier this year, and like your son, my daughter is very sensitive. we told her that he was getting older and his heart wasn't strong enough to keep the rest of him alive. we tried to explain how the heart keeps blood flowing to the rest of the body and organs and how sometimes it's not just strong enough to keep going and it stops. she asked why we couldn't just start the heart again. my heart broke, and we told her that we just can't start it again, once it stops, it stops. she seemed to get it and was very upset even though she had never met her great grand father. just tell him that your dog was sick and he was older, and it's very sad but he's gone, (to doggy heaven, heaven, what ever your religious preferences are.)hope this helps.

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