Three Books to Help Kids Cope with the Loss of a Pet {Guest Post}

boy holding dog with rainbow

The bond between a child and their pet is nothing short of extraordinary. Pets quickly become cherished family members, making the loss of a pet a heartbreaking experience, particularly for young ones.

In this guest post, Dr. Jacqueline Johnson—mother, veterinarian, and author—offers solace through the pages of three picture books designed to guide children through the grieving process of the loss of a pet.

As a small animal veterinarian, I am often asked if euthanizing pets is the worst part of my job. And most people are surprised when I answer, “No, not at all.” Sure, I love all the puppy and kitten appointments and solving mystery illnesses, but euthanasia is something special. There is an honor in being able to relieve an animal’s suffering in the most painless way possible, and a privilege in being with an owner in those last moments, to guide them gently through the process, and to bear witness to the immeasurable love that people have for their pets.

Losing a pet is hard for anyone, but those families with children hold a special place in my heart. Often, this will be the first experience a child has with death. Parents can be not only overwhelmed by the impending loss of a sick family pet but unsure how to discuss the situation with their children. So, this is another place where I like to step in and try to help.

As a children’s book author, I know that picture books can be a wonderful way of introducing kids to many important concepts and life lessons, and that includes grief and death.  I have a particular list of picture books I like to share with parents as a way of helping their children in this difficult time.

Big Cat, Little Catbig cat little cat book. cover
By Elisha Cooper

Big Cat, Little Cat was my first picture book introduction to pet loss, and it still gets me to this day. It is the beautiful story of a white cat who lived alone, until the day a new cat came. He teaches the small black kitten everything about being a cat, and they spend their days together in peace and love. Until the day the white cat left…and never came back.

Now the black cat is all alone, and that is hard…for everyone. There is a touching illustration of the family all mourning the loss. Later, a new white kitten appears, and the cycle begins again.

big cat little cat book pageElisha Cooper, 2017

The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeralthe end of something wonderful book cover
By Stephanie Lucianovic, illustrated by George Ermos

Who could have thought that a book about pet loss could not only be entertaining, but actually also kind of funny? The End of Something Wonderful is exactly that. Its charming illustrations and slightly dark humor offers a guide on what to do when your “Something Wonderful” becomes your “Something Dead.”

Leaning more towards the smaller pocket pets, the book takes you through the process of finding the right box (shoe boxes are best), how to dig the right-sized hole (not too big or you will need a city permit), and what you might want to do or say at a funeral. But it’s also full of touching lines that let kids know it’s okay to be sad (“Because even dead, they know how much you miss them, and how much you want to be able to explain that to everyone. But that sort of explaining can be hard.”)

This is one book my kids pull out repeatedly to read.

the end of something wonderful book coverGeorge Ermos, 2019

The Rough Patch
By Brian Lies

This book is one of my favorites, even if I can’t get through reading it with my kids without crying every…single…time.  Granted, I’m a bit of a softie, but seriously, have some tissues ready. This beautiful story begins with a fox and his pet dog, and the life and love that they share as they tend their beautiful garden. That is, until the day the dog fails to rise from his bed.

In his grief, the fox destroys the garden. It is soon overrun with weeds and thorns, and the fox leaves them to grow. One day, a pumpkin vine begins to grown, and the fox leaves the prickly vine rather than pull it up. Soon, a small pumpkin appears, and the fox begins to nurture it until it eventually grows into a massive thing that he decides to take to the fair. We see him finally interact with other people, smile a little at the ride and fair food, and start to come back to himself. He wins 2nd prize in the pumpkin contest, the prize being either $10 or a puppy from the box.  He first takes the $10, but in the last image, we see him driving back home in his truck, a small puppy sitting next to him.

I love this book for its depiction of what happens after loss.  It is okay to not only be sad, but to be angry. Something precious has been lost to us, and the world may feel as if it will never be the same. But the days and months will pass, and slowly things will start to hurt a little less, and eventually the smiles and laughter will return. Maybe even a new something to love will come, and that’s ok too.

The Rough Patch book pageBrian Lies, 2018

I happily share this list with you as I have shared it with so many clients. These stories are all beautiful in their own right, but they are a particularly powerful tool in opening up a conversation with your kids that I know you don’t really want to ever have.

I’ll leave you with one more story that shows that these lessons can come not just from books.  A few months ago, a mom brought in their unwell dog, not understanding how sick it really was. Her daughter, perhaps 6 years old, was watching Bluey on mom’s phone while I broke the bad news to her mother that there wasn’t anything I was going to be able to do, other than offer a peaceful passing. The little girl began to understand something was wrong, but her mother was understandably overwhelmed with the unexpected news and wasn’t sure what to say.  I explained that their dog was very, very sick and there was nothing I could do to make her better.

As the little girl got more upset, I knelt down in front of her and said, “Do you like Bluey?” She nodded. “My girls like Bluey too.  Do you remember that episode where Bluey goes camping to the river and meets Jean Luc? They had all that fun and then Jean Luc went away?”  Another nod. So I said, “And do you remember what Bluey’s mom said? That ‘sometimes special people come into our lives, stay for a bit, and then they have to go? But the bit when they were here was happy.’ That’s just like this, right now. We love our pets, but they can’t stay forever. We just have to remember all the happy times.”

Dr. Jacqueline JohnsonAbout The Author:

Dr. Jacqueline Johnson is a small animal veterinarian and author living in San Diego, CA. She has two little girls who love hearing stories about her vet work, and then reenacting them on stuffed animals and their 4 unfortunate living pets. She loves 80s hair metal, bearded dogs, and black licorice. Her new picture book, Elinor McGrath, Pet Doctor: The Story of America’s First Female Veterinarian, just went on sale.

Pet doctor book cover

About Elinor McGrath, Pet Doctor:

When Elinor McGrath decided she wanted to be a veterinarian, the world told her no. It was 1907, and that job was not considered suitable for women. Even after she was accepted into veterinary school, the 137 male students in her class made it clear she was not welcome. Yet despite constant criticism, Elinor persevered. She could see that the future was changing and was determined to show the world of veterinary medicine that accepting women wasn’t the only change the profession needed.

Written by a small-animal veterinarian, Elinor McGrath, Pet Doctor tells the true story of the first woman veterinarian in the US. Backmatter highlights Elinor’s career as well as other pioneering women vets from around the world.



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