Please help! Last evening our dog, Cocoa, was hit and killed by a car. Our 8-year-old daughter, Julie, had been in the back yard playing with the dog and when she was ready to come in, Cocoa didn’t come when she called her, so Julie left her in the yard. Later Cocoa climbed the fence and ran into the street.
We don’t know what to tell our daughter! Should we tell her the truth? I don’t want her to feel that it was her fault and keep thinking of how her dog was killed. Should we tell Julie her dog ran away? She will want to look for Cocoa and put up flyers to find her. What is the best way to handle this? ~ Kim
As hard as it is, I recommend telling Julie that Cocoa was hit by a car. I’m sure she’ll feel terrible, but maybe you can diffuse her guilt somewhat by saying that you noticed Cocoa in the yard and forgot to let her in too. Stress that it was an accident and that no one intended Cocoa any harm (you, she, or the driver); it was simply a situation that Cocoa couldn’t understand so she ran out into the road.
I know many people who were told as children that their dog ran away. They tell of looking for the dog and hoping for its return for years–far beyond the dog’s logical lifespan. In response, you’ll find yourself trying to distract Julie when she talks about Cocoa, which may make her think that you don’t care that Cocoa is lost.
Telling your daughter the truth will be painful, but you’ll be able to talk things over and move forward. Give her time to grieve and remember that kids process things very differently. Many kids look for a silver lining and will say things that sound hurtful. For example, one of my sons told me that he was glad when our golden retriever died “because now we can get a black dog.” Ow! He was 7 and didn’t understand; that was just a child’s way of trying to find the good in the situation.
The loss of a pet is often a child’s first experience with death. Your support will help Julie deal with Cocoa’s death in the best way she can.