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Christine McNiff (website) was interviewed by The Cape Cod Times for the following feature article on pet loss.

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Be honest with children when pet dies
Published: January 19, 2003
A pet's death is often a child's first encounter with the reality of death and the meaning of grief.

see their child more upset by the death of a pet, even a goldfish, Biale says, than they were about the death of a family member, but this reaction is quite common for young children. A pet's death can reawaken feelings of loss and pain for children who already have experienced the death of a family member or a friend of the family, she notes.


Christine McNiff, a Concord-based mental-health counselor, often gets calls from parents seeking advice on how to help their children cope with the death of a pet.


"Parents are concerned about what to say," she says. "Do they tell them the pet has gone to heaven or that it's lost?"


Here are some tips from McNiff and other counselors:


Be honest. "Don't say the pet ran away because the child will worry about whether it will be safe or if it's coming back," McNiff says. Instead, explain what happened in clear, simple terms the child can understand.


Memorialize the death. A memorial service or ritual that celebrates the life of a pet can be especially comforting for children, McNiff says. Bury a pet, for example, with its favorite toy.


Don't get another pet right away. Instead, allow your family time to grieve, experts say. After an appropriate period of grieving, a pet can be replaced by a new one, Biale writes, and most children will soon form a new, healing attachment.


Don't use confusing terms like "putting an animal to sleep" for euthanasia. Instead, Dr. Evelyn Richer, associate veterinarian at Veterinary Associates of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth, explains to children that their pet is dying. "We aren't killing their pet but helping to make their dying easier," she says.


- Johanna Crosby

Copyright, 2003, Cape Cod Times. All Rights Reserved.




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