Q: [School Age] We recently lost our family dog, Bowzer, and I’m worried the upset will cast a sadness across the holiday. We are thinking about surprising the kids with a new furry member of the family as a present. Good idea? Or will it just highlight how much we miss Bowzer…
A: The death of a family dog or cat is often one of your child’s first experiences with loss. Parents grapple with how best to handle talking about this loss with their child and when they should consider getting a new dog or cat. I suggest reading the book, For Every Dog an Angel, as it is upbeat and positive. For younger children, Dog Heaven is also very nice, as children love the illustrations. It’s important to do a remembrance for your family, creating a memory box or some kind of ceremony to honor your dog’s passing. Ask your child to participate and talk about their favorite things about their dog.
It’s good to not only remember your dog, but to also begin to discuss the fact that Bowzer would not want your kids to be alone and would think it’s important for them to have another dog. Discuss that the new puppy would not be Bowzer, but a new friend with a different personality that they will all love knowing. You cannot replace Bowzer, but you can get a new friend they will also love. By doing these things, you can begin to prepare your child to move on and be ready for a new friend.
As Christmas time is near, tell them that Bowzer might have a surprise for the family at the holidays. Plan ahead. Make sure that you have time for the crate training and spending time with a puppy before you take this on. Then you can select the next pet in one of two ways. You can either involve your children in the search for the next pet, and they can go along and see which dog best interacts with them. Or, you can select the pet you feel is the best fit for the family. Either way, your children will realize that the new puppy or dog is different but over time they can love him or her just as much. Besides, in the words of Charles Schulz, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” What better time to experience that love than at Christmas.
Dr. Amy Stark, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Santa Ana. She works with high-conflict divorce situations teaching families how to be divorced. One unique element Dr. Stark utilizes while working with children is the presence of her two therapy dogs, Gregory and Rita. www.dramystark.com