Explaining (Pet) Death to a Toddler?

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April777's picture
Joined: 10/01/08
Posts: 579
Explaining (Pet) Death to a Toddler?

Zoey keeps asking to see our cat, Otis, who was put to sleep on Tuesday. I don't know what to say to her. I'm sure I'm not handling it properly as I just tell her Otis went bye-bye. Does anyone have any advice?

It's strange because we have 3 cats and she had such a small amount of interaction with Otis. We kept her locked in our bedroom all during the day when Zoey was up and about, because she was very violent. We went so far as to get a behavioral consultation, and the vet (who is really, really big on medicine and behavioral methods) adamantly felt that Otis was a danger to others and could not be helped. We even had to do a mandatory 10 day rabies quarantine with her because she had bitten 2 people and broken the skin. So...needless to say Zoey didn't spend much time with her. It was limited to me rushing into my bedroom during the day to grab clean clothes, and Zoey seeing the cat sprawled out in the middle of my bed. She pet her maybe once per week when I sensed the cat was behaving herself. Otherwise, the two were never around each other.

But Zoey is nonetheless very distraught and wanting to know where Otis is, and I just don't know what to say to her. Any thoughts? The only thing I know I don't want to do is say anything about Otis having gone to the "kitty doctor" because she understands that our other cat sometimes has to go there for 2-3 day stretches when she gets sick.

TIA!

babyJtime's picture
Joined: 05/23/05
Posts: 682

When Jeena was just about 2 we were living with my Mom and she had to get rid of her dog. My Mom brought it to the Humane Society. At that time, we told Jeena that the puppy went to play with other puppies. She seemed to be fine with that answer although she kept asking and asking. We just had to be consistent in what we said. We told Jeena's cousins what we told Jeena so they would stick with the same story too. It was REALLY hard on Jeena, not to have the dog around anymore.

I hope you can find something to say that will help!

harmonybear's picture
Joined: 06/06/07
Posts: 639

Well you might not want to take my advice (after all, what do I know Wink ), but I think it's important to let her know that Otis died - not that he went away or that he's at the doctor's (what is she going to think the next time you take one of the other cats to the doctor? that they're never going to come back?). Be honest with her, but you don't have to give her all the details - just that Otis died, maybe tell her he went to heaven, if that's what you would say about a relative who died. It's a good opportunity to deal with death on a small scale before it happens to someone she's closer to - a grandparent or another one of the cats, or (God forbid) you or Mark.

That seems to be the general consensus with the online "experts", too: see here, here, and here.

ETA: Doh, you said you didn't say that he went to the kitty doctor. I totally misread that!

April777's picture
Joined: 10/01/08
Posts: 579

You know, Harmony, I was thinking that, too. I really do believe that honesty is the best approach with kids. I'm having such a hard time processing it all though and dealing with it myself, and though she was "just a cat" I can't even bring myself to say it aloud yet. I haven't gotten over my guilt either, as I have taken care of and loved this cat for almost 12 years. No matter which way you look at it, I willingly chose to kill this animal. Yes, to protect my children, but still. It sucks, and I'm the one who did it. I know that goes off topic but I think it's making it harder to honestly discuss with her.

harmonybear's picture
Joined: 06/06/07
Posts: 639

"April777" wrote:

You know, Harmony, I was thinking that, too. I really do believe that honesty is the best approach with kids. I'm having such a hard time processing it all though and dealing with it myself, and though she was "just a cat" I can't even bring myself to say it aloud yet. I haven't gotten over my guilt either, as I have taken care of and loved this cat for almost 12 years. No matter which way you look at it, I willingly chose to kill this animal. Yes, to protect my children, but still. It sucks, and I'm the one who did it. I know that goes off topic but I think it's making it harder to honestly discuss with her.

You're right, that would be really hard. If our dog started biting A and others, it would absolutely tear me up to do with I knew I had to do. Sad

Here's another idea. Someone said to me once that having a funeral service is so important as closure for deaths. Maybe it would help you both to have a little funeral for your cat?

Girlandi's picture
Joined: 10/29/07
Posts: 49

When Miriam's great-grandmother died and we went to the funeral we told her that Grandma's mommy had died, and that we were a little sad, and it was OK to be a little sad. Then we explained that she wouldn't get to see Great-Grandma any more, and that it might be a little confusing, because we would still talk about her sometimes, but we could only see her in pictures, and if she really wanted to, we could look at pictures to help remember great-grandma, but that we couldn't go and visit her.

JackieJ1's picture
Joined: 02/18/09
Posts: 24

"April777" wrote:

You know, Harmony, I was thinking that, too. I really do believe that honesty is the best approach with kids. I'm having such a hard time processing it all though and dealing with it myself, and though she was "just a cat" I can't even bring myself to say it aloud yet. I haven't gotten over my guilt either, as I have taken care of and loved this cat for almost 12 years. No matter which way you look at it, I willingly chose to kill this animal. Yes, to protect my children, but still. It sucks, and I'm the one who did it. I know that goes off topic but I think it's making it harder to honestly discuss with her.

He wasn't "just a cat" to you. He was a member of your family and it's ok to grieve the loss. I can imagine how painful it was for you.

I would be honest with her too so that she understands when the next time (years from now knock on wood) comes.

:bigarmhug: