It has been a tough week or so for our family. Unfortunately, after 11 years, we have had to say goodbye to our pet cat Louis, who sadly died. What was even more difficult was telling the kids that he won’t be around anymore and seeing them get so upset.
I thought I’d write about how we got through it for anyone else who needs to help their children when a pet dies.
To us, Louis was more than a pet. He came well before the kids and we joked (without joking) that he was our first ‘baby’. We met him when he was about 3 years old, in an animal shelter in Eccles.
It is shocking how many cats end up in these places for one reason or another. They were all jumping up, clawing at the cages, screeching ‘Pick me! Pick me!’
All except one that is. A furry pedigree Ragdoll slumped in the corner with his back to us, not caring about a ho was there to choose a new pet. Of course we knew straight away he was the one for us.
The man at the shelter turned pale. ‘Are you sure?’ he asked us about five times. He then shook his head and went to get a giant pair of protective gloves.
I looked at my wife. She looked at me. ‘What sort of rabid feral beast have we chosen?’ we both wondered.
The cat did not want to leave his cage or be paraded as a potential pet. He hissed, howled and scratched the poor man, despite the gloves.
But we fell in love with the grumpy fluff ball and called him Louis.
Our new complicated friend
I read about Ragdolls:
It is best known for its docile and placid temperament and affectionate nature. The name “Ragdoll” is derived from the tendency of individuals from the original breeding stock to go limp and relaxed when picked up.
This did not sound like Louis.
He loved fusses and strokes, he was ok with being picked up, but he never went limp and floppy like the websites all said. If you tried to stroke his belly, or stroke him when he decided he had had enough, he would try to take your hand off. He mellowed age and although he was always still a bit Jekyll & Hyde, it became far less frequent. He even began to like my parents.
Not long after we welcomed him into our home, there was a sudden bereavement in my wife’s family. I believe in the power of pets to combat stress and during those dark days I think Louis kept my wife going. We may have saved him from the pet shelter, but he saved us in return and for that I will always be grateful to him.
During his time with us he survived:
- Three house moves
- An operation to remove clumps of fur from his insides following a bout of over-grooming
- The birth of three children (who he never scratched)
- The arrival of a new dog (who he scratched lots)
We obviously we knew he was old (72 in human years) but didn’t want to believe that he hadn’t been himself for a while.
He had become even fussier with his food and water and wouldn’t venture out of the living room. He lost weight, stopped grooming himself and began to look very tatty and thin. The vets confirmed the worst and said his kidneys were failing. The only thing they could do for him was to switch him to a special diet to prolong his health as much as possible. We did this but Louis still deteriorated. He lost another half a kilogram in a week and had started to lose control of his back legs.
We took the heartbreaking decision to let the vets put him to sleep rather than watch him deteriorate any further.
When a Pet Dies
Having children of different ages meant we’ve explained Louis’ death in different ways. Noah is nearly eight and needed far more detailed answers, whereas Roo is four and seemed to accept that she wasn’t going to see him again.
We have always been honest with the kids when it comes to talking about death. Unfortunately, we have lost many family members and friends in recent years.
We explained the illness and how Louis was old and wasn’t going to get better. The vet had done all they could and that the only way to stop any suffering was to let him go to sleep.
We’re not religious so it didn’t occur to us to say ‘he’s gone to pet heaven’ or invent some story like he had run away. I don’t know why anyone would want to lie, and surely when they find out it’s a load of rubbish they’d hate you? Different people have different views on what happens when we die, but to me simply saying that no one really knows felt appropriate. All you can do is be as honest as possible and see where the questions take you.
It’s all right to cry
There is so much pressure on boys and men to be strong, to hide their emotions and to not talk about their feelings. I want my two boys to grow up not being afraid of their emotions and knowing that it is normal to cry or get upset.
We explained that it is perfectly normal to feel sad and cry that Louis had died. As parents we were upset too and weren’t afraid to show them.
To help them deal with their emotions, we shared happy stories about Louis and remembered how happy he made us.
Help them move on
We opted to have Louis cremated with the intention of scattering his ashes somewhere peaceful and meaningful to us as a family. Noah has horrified by the idea. He accepted the cremation part, but the idea of letting him go and not knowing where he was proved too much to bear. He was also worried about moving away and leaving Louis behind. Noah wanted to keep Louis’ ashes in his room, beside his bed so he would always be close.
We haven’t done this, but we still have Louis’ ashes and at the moment we haven’t decided what to do yet. Grief affects children differently – the loss of a pet seems to have been as intense as the loss of a distant family member. By talking about his emotions, and the happy stories of Louis we will wait for the feelings of loss to pass.
We aren’t in any rush to decide what to do next. We want to find a solution that suits us all – he was part of our family, so we will decide as a family.
I hope you have found reading this helpful, especially if your family has recently lost a beloved pet. If any of this has helped, or if you have any tips of your own, I would love to hear about it.