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Losing a Much Loved Pet - a Lesson in Love for Children

By Catherine Sim - 6th July 2011

Our children have always grown up with pets of some description – chooks (translates as ‘chickens’ for northern hemisphere readers), dogs, fish, stick insects and lizards have shared our lives with various degrees of longevity.

Probably the pet with the shortest lifespan was Bingo, the pet fly, closely followed by a pet nit, Bonkers, that met an untimely end when he crawled from his host to my jumper during a cuddle.

Our longest survivor and most beloved pet was Loki, the Bernese Mountain Dog. Riddled with anxiety about storms, fireworks, water, feathers and tradespeople, she ruled our lives and loved us with joyous enthusiasm. It was with great sadness, (and some poignant relief because we’re about to renovate and the tradesman thing was going to be tricky) that we realised she was dying.

The children have lost all their grandparents in the last few years so they are not unfamiliar with loss and have coped during these times with a calm stoicism that surprised us. In fact, I began to wonder if they weren’t sad enough and that maybe they were missing some important part of their makeup that allowed them to grieve.

Things seemed to change when Loki was on her deathbed. There were tears and promises made to be better behaved and do better at school if only she would get better herself. There were cards made and prayers sent and special meals cooked.

Loki’s final days were spent under a hastily and wonkily erected tarpaulin in the backyard - she couldn’t get up to come in and we couldn’t lift her. Loki was covered in blankets, patted, sung to and kissed. Homework was done uncomplainingly beside her. Secrets were told to Loki and one or two children fell asleep beside her. When she died during the early morning hours, our children were so very sad.

I realise now that the kids’ apparent lack of feeling those years before, was a quiet and logical acceptance of the normal nature of life. Old people die sometimes and even often, and our children’s robustness at that time, was not a lack of empathy. They have learned lessons about love and loss that most adults don’t learn until they’re, well...adults.

Loki s death may have seemed a bit different because she was not terribly old and she was part of our immediate family - perhaps more like a hairy, slobbery sibling. She tripped them up and stole their food and slept under their beds so her loss was more keenly felt and acknowledged.

Of course, it didn’t take long for their natural buoyancy to bounce them right back to the surface and it was probably only a day until the inevitable question: “Can we get a puppy?”

Editor's note: Catherine is far too modest to tell you this but the picture above is her own pastel drawing. It is part of a series of the most gorgeous drawings for a children's picture book that one day will get published. Sadly, we had to crop this picture to fit the site. The original picture includes a child hugging Loki from the top.

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