My three-year-old daughter is sitting quietly and looks sad. “Honey, what’s wrong?” I ask. “Mommy, I miss Tanky,” she replies. “I know baby, and that’s ok. I miss him too. Everyday,” I say.
Tank was one of those one-in-a-million dogs. Incredible temperament, loved by everyone, so happy to just be near you. I adopted him at a rescue event in 2011 after he walked up to me, put his head in my lap, and looked at me with his big soulful eyes. I fell in love.
Fast forward five years and I was married and brought home our first child. Over the next 2 years that baby girl and Tank would build an incredible relationship with lots of guidance from my husband and I. They were buds. He followed her everywhere and would do a happy dance when she came home that used to be reserved for me.
Losing a beloved pet is difficult. Having to tell a two-year-old that she is never going to see her dog again is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I am sharing what we did in the hopes that it may help other parents who find themselves in the same situation.
Tank started to decline at the beginning of 2018. He was losing weight and showing signs of vision loss and early dementia. I was pregnant with our second child and prayed I wouldn’t have to let him go before the baby was born. I didn’t know how I’d get through. Also, I didn’t know how to explain death to my two-year-old.
I reached out to my dog training colleagues and asked for their experiences and thoughts on explaining the loss of a pet to a young child. Then my husband and I talked and came up with an approach for when the time came. And it did, a month and a half after our son was born.
The most important thing for both of us was to be as honest as possible, but we didn’t directly mention death (due to our daughter’s young age).
We told our daughter that Tank had “boo boos” we couldn’t fix and that the only way for him to feel better was to go to heaven. Then we explained that once he went to heaven he wasn’t going to be able to come back because that’s how heaven works. We told her he would always be with us and watching over us, and that she could talk to him any time she wanted to.
We told her that it was ok to be sad and to miss him and that he would miss her so much. My husband and I also made sure to not hide our emotions from her.
She asked how he would get to heaven. We told her that Mommy and Daddy would take Tank to heaven and that she was going to stay at our friend’s house while we did.
Since we knew Tank was declining, we were able to discuss everything pretty early on. This way our daughter could ask questions and spend as much time as possible with him. Tank got lots of extra walks, treats, and cuddle time in the weeks before he left us.
One of the most special videos on my phone is from the day before we let him go. It is of my daughter feeding him massive amounts of treats out of a bulk treat bag from Petco. They are both loving every second.
Tank went to heaven on August 9, 2018. His little buddy said goodbye to him and told him she loved him so much before we took him to the vet. Even though it’s been over a year since he left us, our daughter talks about her pet all the time. She tells complete strangers how her doggie is in heaven. She asks to mail pictures and treats to him in heaven, and sometimes waves to him up in the sky. It’s the most beautiful and heartbreaking thing to watch. And I am continually amazed at how well she has handled her first real loss. Having a toddler who asks questions and constantly brings up memories of Tank has helped all of us to be more open about our feelings. She keeps his memory even more vibrant.
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