How To Have A Pet Funeral

Losing a pet can be traumatic for children. Here are tips for organizing a pet funeral to help your child learn to grieve.

Your kitty gets run over by a car. Your child cries. Now you have to dispose of the remains. Why not arrange a pet funeral? Teaching your child how to grieve a sentimental loss can provide excellent preparation for the day that a family member passes away. A pet ceremony also reinforces basic respect for life, a principle that all children should be taught from a young age.

To organize a pet funeral, you will need to take some preliminary steps. Afterward, your child may ask difficult questions. Here are a few tips that can help parents deal with the process.

1. Comfort your children. Let them know it is right and good to mourn the loss of a family pet. Don't laugh at or ridicule them or they may learn to hide their emotions and avoid dealing with sensitive issues the rest of their lives.

2. Handle the remains carefully. Depending on how the animal died, avoid contamination with bacteria by placing the body in a box, with a blanket if desired, and perhaps then in a grocery or plastic bag for extra protection. (Or leave the bag until just before burial.) Don't let the kids touch their pet's lifeless body unless you are sure it is germ-free and safe. For example, if your pet has died of unknown causes, check with the vet to rule out illnesses like rabies that can be transmitted to humans.

3. Prepare the burial site. A distant place in the back yard or under a tree may be a suitable location. Dig a hole at least three feet deep to keep predators, attracted by the scent, from digging up and eating the remains. You may want to buy or make a stone or wood marker with the pet's name and dates, and perhaps a few words, to set in the ground afterward. Realize, though, such markers tend to be transient and may not remain upright for very long. (By then your kids may have another pet anyway.)

4. Gather the family at the site. You may want to carry the box bearing the body in single file to the grave, or simply bring it there without ceremony. Parents, siblings, and maybe even a neighbor or two can gather to say goodbye.

5. Have someone read a poem or say a few words about Fido or Tweetie. Perhaps each child will want to add a few words in final prayer as the body is laid to rest. The entire process probably need not last longer than five minutes or so.

6. Close the grave. You may want to encourage younger children to play elsewhere, as seeing the animal covered by dirt can stir powerful emotions like fear or dread. Pat the dirt firmly in place and if you haven't already, set the marker or a stone. Adding dry leaves or replacing the sod might help deter night-time predators.

7. Prepare to answer questions. Children who are confronted by death for the first time may have uncertainties about bodily decay or in facing future deaths of themselves or loved ones. This is a good time to share spiritual insight and religious values.

Losing a pet can be a difficult experience for young children. Turn it into a positive handling of death and grief by taking a few moments to help them effectively handle negative emotions.

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