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The Ralph Site - pet loss support

Welcome to The Ralph Site Blog

Hello, and welcome to The Ralph Site Blog.

We celebrate the unique place that pets have in our lives through regular features and practical advice on pet bereavement and other animal-related matters.

Pet loss support

The Ralph Site is a non-profit online pet loss support resource which provides support to pet carers coping with the loss of a beloved companion. There are a website and an active Facebook community with a public page and a private group.

Pet carers’ community

The Ralph Site aims to provide a non-judgmental and supportive place for those pet carers who have lost a much-loved member of the family. We know all too well the pain and heartbreak that accompanies the passing of your pet. And whilst these pets can never be replaced, we may find room to enrich our lives further with others when the time is right.

At The Ralph Site, we understand the special bond between you and your pets.

Thank you for your support.

 

Life after euthanasia for bereaved pet carers

The decision to have a pet ‘put to sleep’, to choose euthanasia to end their life, is one of the hardest decisions a pet carer may ever have to make.

Even when an animal is suffering and has no hope of recovery, the decision is rarely as clear cut as you might expect. Will tomorrow be a better day? Is it too soon? Have I left it too late? Will they think I’ve given up on them? Will I be able to be strong for them?

These thoughts are all common.

If you’re faced with this heart-breaking decision, we have a number of pages dedicated to information about euthanasia on The Ralph Site. We’d recommend these if you’re worried about what to expect, whether or not you should be present or the aftercare of your pet.

In this blog, however, we wanted to take a look at life after euthanasia for bereaved pet carers. It might be helpful to know that, whatever your thoughts and feelings, you’re not alone.

Common feelings after euthanasia

Some people experience a strong sense of peace, of having chosen a final kindness for their pet after euthanasia. We often talk about putting an animal ‘out of their misery’ and this can be the case when a pet has been very unwell or badly hurt.

But, for others, euthanasia can raise a whole host of difficult thoughts and feelings that are extremely traumatic for the bereaved pet carer. This is something that comes up a lot in The Ralph Site Facebook group.

Common feelings after euthanasia include:

  • Guilt (“I shouldn’t have given up”, “I should have noticed something was wrong sooner”, “I should have asked for a second opinion”)
  • Worry that it was too soon or too late
  • Repetitive thoughts about the pet being stressed and scared at the end
  • Fear that the pet wanted to live and their trust in us was betrayed
  • Worry that there might have been a different, unexplored avenue of treatment that was overlooked

So often, people worry that if they’d have done something different, their pet might still be alive. In the pain and fog of grief, it can be hard to reflect objectively on the reasons for choosing euthanasia.

Also, if your pet became ill or injured unexpectedly, you may feel that you didn’t have time to think about what to do. If you followed your vet’s advice, you may question whether it was the right course of action.

Many people in The Ralph Site Facebook group also talk about replaying their pet’s final moments in their mind over and over again. This can be relentless at first or even for some time afterwards. They can worry that they’ll never be able to remember the good times again.

Every person is different but many of us experience emotional or behavioural responses to having a pet put to sleep.

Other feelings you may find yourself experiencing include:

  • Denial
  • Disorientation
  • Shock
  • Disbelief
  • Anger
  • Regret

Many people talk about feeling like they’re ‘going crazy’ or that they’ll never be the same again. It’s usual too to focus on all the lost moments you will never share with your pet.

You may have a disconnected feeling where you emerge from the moments after your pet has died to find that the world is carrying on with no understanding of what you’ve just lost. This can be even more pronounced with euthanasia.

Grief can affect how we behave. Some people find they can’t move their pet’s possessions – water in a bowl is left to evaporate, blankets in a bed stay tangled from the last sleep, toys are scattered around the house – while other people pack everything away immediately, feeling that they can’t bear the constant reminders of their loved one.

Some people struggle to sleep in the bed without their pet snuggled by their side, while others just want to sleep every day away.

You may feel a compulsion to talk about your pet, to memorialise them or to recount the details of their death as much as possible. Equally, you may find yourself withdrawing from people because you don’t feel anyone can understand your loss.

People may reassure you that euthanasia was the last gift and kindness you had to give your pet but you may feel like it was less of a gift and more of a poison chalice.

My point in discussing these thoughts and feelings is to reassure you that there is no such thing as a ‘right’ response to euthanasia or bereavement. Every feeling I’ve mentioned here has been experienced many times over. You are not alone.

The most important thing to remember is that, whatever led you to the decision that euthanasia was the best option for your pet, you were trying to do the right thing for them. Vets do not recommend euthanasia lightly and will always advocate for an animal if they think there is an alternative. You knew your pet best and did not want them to suffer. Letting them go is a selfless act when forever wouldn’t be long enough together.

Many people wish that their pet could give them forgiveness or send them a sign that they understand why euthanasia was necessary. In the potential absence of this, the forgiveness has to come from within and that can take time.

If you are struggling with life after euthanasia, please do reach out for support. There are some wonderful pet bereavement counsellors out there and many, many people within The Ralph Site community who understand your feelings.

Above all, be kind to yourself and know that you are not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

 

Could you be suffering from Compassion Fatigue?

For all the joys of loving an animal, caring for an older pet or one that is very sick can be exhausting and traumatic.

Equally, if you work in a care setting such as rescue centre or veterinary practice, you may find yourself feeling worn down or eventually disconnected from the seemingly never-ending stream of animals that need help and support.

You may find yourself feeling literally sick of caring so much or wondering if you have the strength to keep going down a path that may not have a happy ending.

These feelings are so significant and potentially debilitating that they’ve been given a name, Compassion Fatigue.

This condition is defined as “a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.”

According to the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project, the symptoms of Compassion Fatigue can include but are not limited to:

  • Excessive blaming (of self or of others)
  • Bottled up emotions
  • Isolation from other people
  • Compulsive behaviours such as overspending, overeating, gambling, etc.
  • Poor self-care
  • Legal or financial difficulties
  • Recurring nightmares or flashbacks to a traumatic event
  • Chronic physical ailments such as recurring colds or digestive problems
  • Apathy, sadness or depression (no interest in activities the person would normally find pleasurable)
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Physical and mental exhaustion
  • Preoccupation
  • Denial about behaviour or feelings

People suffering from Compassion Fatigue because of their job may find themselves the subject of a higher than usual number of complaints or may be more vocal about what’s broken within the care system of which they’re a part. This can lead to more days off work, friction with other colleagues, tasks not being fulfilled and many other problems that lead to a further decline in working conditions.

Even if your Compassion Fatigue comes from circumstances at home, such as caring for a terminally ill or older pet, it can cause problems within the wider family and put the fatigued carer under even more stress.

Why does Compassion Fatigue happen?

When you think of the stresses and strains of caring for one or more animals in distress, it’s easy to see why Compassion Fatigue can set in.

If you know your pet’s life is coming to an end, you can feel like you’re living with a death sentence. There’s a huge amount of pressure to enjoy every day and yet you know that your worst fears are lurking around the corner.

At the same time, caring for an ill pet can be physically demanding and the source of significant financial worries, even if you have pet insurance.

You may feel isolated in your anticipatory grief, unable to share with people who don’t understand your feelings for your pet.

For people who work with animals in care settings, there is often the added frustration of knowing that resources are stretched to the limit and that the help you can offer is limited. And that, every day, more animals will come through the door needing your help.

It is exhausting to know that, for all the good in the world, some humans are capable of terrible neglect and abuse, the result of which is seen in animal rescue centres throughout the world. This can darken your world view.

It is perhaps inevitable that people feel they have to protect themselves from the overwhelming feelings associated with these situations or that they become highly fatigued.

The Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project points out that many of us who care for animals have the kind of personalities that need to feel like we’re helping others and that this is where our self-worth comes from. We may have been taught from an early age that we should put the needs of others before our own in order to be a good person.

Where this message can be damaging is if we forget to take care of ourselves while we’re caring for others. You can’t give from an empty well.

How can you come back from Compassion Fatigue?

Does having Compassion Fatigue mean that it’s time to stop bringing pets into your home? Is it time to stop volunteering at your local rescue centre? Do you need to stop fostering pets in their twilight years?

Absolutely not.

Compassion Fatigue can be overcome.

The first step is awareness. Experts say that if you think you might have Compassion Fatigue, you’re probably right. The key is to be aware and to acknowledge your feelings, no matter how difficult they might be.

If you have Compassion Fatigue, it means that you’re a deeply caring individual with huge amounts of love and empathy. You’re also human. It’s okay to be exhausted, to feel stress or to face significant emotional challenges on a daily basis and to need support to manage it.

As with a condition like depression, one of the most important steps you can take to address your Compassion Fatigue is to prioritise your own self-care. Take time to eat well, exercise regularly, write about your feelings, get as much sleep as possible, and prioritise making time for activities that you enjoy, even if it’s hard to feel enjoyment at the moment.

If you feel you need the support of your doctor or a mental health professional, make an appointment to get the ball rolling.

It is also important to set boundaries and say no if something is too much for you. Ask for help from your friends, family or colleagues and talk about how you’re feeling. Make time for the people in life who lift you up and who fill the well inside of you, instead of the ones who leave you feeling drained.

A blessing and a curse

Ultimately, Compassion Fatigue is both a blessing and a curse. The curse comes from the symptoms, in the trauma and burnout that can leave you feeling low and disconnected from the animals you love so much.

It’s also a blessing because it’s a nudge to bring your life into balance and prioritise your self-care. With the right approach and support, it’s possible to continue caring for others in the most terrible of circumstances but to feel whole.

As always, know that you’re not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Writing your pet loss grief

This week’s blog is a guest contribution from freelance copywriter, Emma Heasman, who became a member of The Ralph Site community when her beautiful cat, Stone, passed away in July 2016.

As a freelance writer and someone who has felt compelled to write for as long as I can remember, it’s perhaps no surprise that I’ve turned to writing to help me with my grief every time I’ve lost a beloved pet (or person, for that matter).

Like the animals we’re mourning, I find writing to be a non-judgemental outlet for my feelings. I don’t have to share it with an audience unless I want to. All I know is that writing makes my feelings tangible. The very act of putting pen to paper or even tapping away on the keyboard gives me something that I can touch and feel, which makes my grief feel more manageable than when it’s raging away inside of me with no outlet.

For this reason, I asked Shailen if I could share an exercise for grief writing that those of you who express yourselves through the written word might find helpful:

  1. Write every day, even on the days you don’t feel like it

Some writers suggest writing for 15 minutes every single day. In her famous book, The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggested that everyone should write ‘morning pages’, i.e. three long-hand, stream of consciousness pages first thing every morning.

Either way, the idea is to let the words fall out of you, almost without thought. Whatever is on your mind, however you want to express your feelings, whatever you need to say about your loss, this daily writing commitment can stop you bottling things up.

  1. Use a pen and paper

As I mentioned above, there’s something more tangible about writing long-hand on paper. Evidence suggests that we better retain what we physically write compared to what we type, so long-hand can be a great way of actually connecting with your grief and acknowledging the truth of the words you write.

Grief writing isn’t about creating a work of art for others. Your handwriting can be furious, untidy, hurried, slow or careful, whatever reflects your current mood; it may even change from one line to the next – there’s no right or wrong, only what you feel in that moment.

But, if you’re like me and you spend a lot of time in front of the computer or you don’t have the patience for writing these days, typing your words is fine too. The key is to just give shape to what’s in your heart without overthinking it.

  1. Forget about spelling and grammar

I am well-known for worrying about good grammar and accurate spelling – after all, it’s part of my job. My children joke about me being the ‘Grammar Police’, but I also know that writing that comes from the heart doesn’t have to adhere to grammar rules or be perfectly spelt.

Grief writing exercises are about the words you want to say to and about your lost pet. They are for your eyes only, not to pass an exam. Your pet certainly wouldn’t care about missing commas or spelling mistakes!

  1. “I remember” and “I feel”

I once read some great advice about grief writing that said to begin each new section with the words, “I remember” or “I feel”. This will encourage you to put your feelings and memories – the good and the bad – into words.

If you run out of things to say before the end of the 15 minutes or three pages suggested above, write “I remember” or “I feel” again and see what springs to mind.

  1. Anything goes

My experience with pet bereavement is that some people find it hard to understand how the loss of an animal can leave such a massive hole in your life or be the source of so much grief. This means that pet carers often find themselves censoring what they feel or hiding their emotions about the depth of their loss.

With this grief writing exercise, I want you to know that anything goes. You can say whatever words come into your mind from the smallest or lightest of memories to the darkest of despair.

Write about the happy days, the memories of a thousand wonderful hours together. Write about the bad days too, including the times your pet was poorly or did something mortifyingly embarrassing! You might even find yourself writing about their death.

Nothing is off limits. There are no rules. It’s OK to cry as you write but it’s also OK if you don’t feel like crying. The exercise is to just let your feelings come, whatever they may be.

Don’t stop before you hit your target of writing for at least 15 minutes or three pages. It’s important that you keep going, even when you don’t want to, because in many ways this reflects the journey of grief where we have no choice but to continue.

Remember, you don’t need to share your grief writing with anyone. There is no audience. You may not even want to read what you’ve written right now. That’s OK. There’s no pressure, no judgement, no expectations.

And please know that through The Ralph Site and all of the wonderful resources and people in this community of animal lovers, you are not alone.

Ten comforting pet loss books written for adults

Our recent blog article featuring ten fantastic books for children about pet bereavement proved to be a popular addition to The Ralph Site. But we know that it’s not just children who can derive great comfort from books tackling the heart-breaking topic of pet loss and grief – we adults need support too.

As a companion to this, we’ve put together the list below of ten of our favourite books about pet bereavement that are aimed at adult readers. We hope you find one or more titles helpful.

We already have a page on the main Ralph Site that lists book recommendations from other members, so do be sure to check it out here.

1.      Only Gone From Your Sight: Jack McAfghan’s Little Guide to Pet Loss and Grief

By Kate McGahan

This book is the fourth in the Jack McAfghan pet bereavement series by Kate McGahan and is written from the perspective of Jack, the author’s Afghan hound mix. Although the narrator is a dog, the contents apply to any pet and their carer.

Only Gone From Your Sight walks us through what to expect in the lead up to, at the time of and after a pet’s death. The tone is compassionate throughout and recognises that pet bereavement can be a lonely experience as other people may not know what to say or how to offer comfort.

There is a spiritual element to this book in that the author, through Jack, tells us that there are signs of our pets everywhere and that they are only gone from our sight but not gone from us altogether.

2.      Goodbye, Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet 

By Gary Kowalski

Many people feel self-conscious about being so heartbroken over the loss of a pet, as though we don’t have permission from society to grieve or that it isn’t right to mourn a pet as much, if not more, than a human.

The comfort of Goodbye, Friend is that it recognises that we share the intimacies of our everyday lives with our pets. They sleep near us, watch us as we get dressed for the day or ready for bed at night, hang out as we cook. They give us physical and emotional comfort every day and love us unconditionally. In many ways, we share more with our pets than with most of the people in our lives. We are bound to miss such a constant, important presence.

Reverend Gary Kowalski talks about bereavement within the context of Christianity in places but the book is open-minded about different beliefs.

3.     When Your Pet Dies: A Guide to Mourning, Remembering, and Healing

 By Alan D Wolfelt

“You loved your pet. And because your love was deep and profound, your grief is deep and profound. That is both normal and necessary. Never be ashamed of your grief over the death of a pet.”

This quote from When your pet dies sums up this book perfectly. It is a compassionate, realistic and gentle look at the issues we face around pet bereavement.

The book explores the unique nature of grief for a pet, remembering and memorialising a lost companion, talking to children about death and much more. There are blank pages throughout the book for workbook-style exercises that encourage you to express your feelings and memories.

4.     The Loss of a Pet: A Guide to Coping with the Grieving Process When a Pet Dies

By Dr Wallce Sife

You’ll find this award-winning book listed on our main page of book recommendations but it’s so popular with bereaved pet carers that it’s worth a mention in this list too.

The Loss of a Pet is slightly clinical in tone, which isn’t for everyone, but it does a great job of recognising why pet bereavement is so tough and why our pets hold such a special place in our hearts.

This book is particularly important because it covers all types of pet loss, including traumatic deaths and pets going missing. It also addresses why it’s completely understandable if you decide to bring another pet into your home straight away or if you decide you’re not ready.

We love how this book normalises pet loss grief.

5.      Soul Comfort for Cat Lovers

By Liz Eastwood

This is one of the only pet bereavement books specifically about cats. It beautifully interweaves the author’s own feelings and experiences with advice from professional therapists and fellow cat lovers.

The bite-sized chapters are easily accessible through the fog of grief and cover topics such as learning to ignore people who don’t ‘get’ your loss, understanding your feelings, looking after yourself, ways to honour and connect with your cat, creating something positive out of loss, saving your memories, choosing a continued connection with your cat instead of expecting ‘closure’, and much more.

6.      Buried Deep in our Hearts

By Tracie Barton-Barrett

If self-help books aren’t your thing then you may take comfort from reading this novel, which tells the story of three women and their friends and the deep connection they have with their pets.

At its core, the novel is about the coping mechanisms we need to bridge the joys and the sorrows of caring for an animal. It makes you laugh at the funny pet antics but also addresses the lasting impact of pet loss and how we can honour our furry, scaly or feathery companions.

7.      The Grief Recovery Handbook for Pet Loss

By Russell Friedman, John W. James & Cole James

This book is a sympathetic and straightforward self-help guide written for grieving pet carers. Chapters address common myths about grief that can slow down your healing, while the book walks you through a series of exercises designed to help you work through your feelings about your beloved pet. This book considers the practical elements of pet loss as well as the emotional impact and culminates with encouraging you to write a letter to your lost friend about the times you shared.

8.      Heart Dog: Surviving the Loss of your Canine Soul Mate

By Roxanne Hawn

Although the loss of every pet can hit hard, most pet carers agree that there is an occasional animal that takes the feelings of loss to a whole new level when they die. People often describe these animals as their ‘soul’ or ‘heart’ pets, creatures whom they shared a special connection.

Roxanne Hawn’s book Heart Dog recognises how devastating it is to lose a ‘heart’ pet and it’s a great comfort for anyone who feels that their friends and family just don’t ‘get’ the depth of their grief.

The author offers practical advice about dealing with the step-by-step, day-by-day acceptance of your loss. The tone is kind, understanding and never judgmental, offering you the tools and space to deal with the emptiness of losing your best friend.

This book is more suited to those of you who expected your pet to die due to old age or illness rather than a sudden, unexpected loss.

9.      The Pet Loss Companion

By Ken Dolan-Del Vecchio & Nancy Saxton-Lopez

In this beautifully written, generous book, the authors share stories from decades of experience gained from leading pet loss groups. Throughout the chapters, they perfectly capture the emotional roller coaster you may have found yourself on since your pet became ill, injured or went missing.

The book recognises that love and loss go hand in hand, especially with animals because they have much shorter lifespans than we humans. There is plenty of practical advice, examples and tools to help you during your time of grief.

Above all, there is a positive message about what our pet companions give us in their lifetimes and the huge role they play in our lives.

10.     From Empty to Empowered: A Journey to Healing from Unexpected Pet Loss

By Marybeth Haines

Although this book isn’t as well-known as many of the others on this list, it stands out because it deals with the very real trauma of unexpected pet loss. The chapters cover topics such as your reaction to shock, feelings of guilt, wondering how you will ever heal, how to move forward and more.

The tone is understanding, comforting and practical with plenty of tools to help you come to terms with the sudden loss you have suffered.

Any recommendations?

In compiling this list, we’ve tried to highlight a selection of books that cover a wide range of animals and pet loss circumstances. Some books will resonate and some won’t but we hope you find some comfort.

If there are any books that we’ve missed from the list that you have personally found helpful, do let us know so we can add the titles to The Ralph Site.

As always, know that you’re not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Ten fantastic children’s books about pet bereavement

In one of our recent blogs, we suggested nine family-friendly ways to memorialise a loved pet. This is because children often struggle with the loss of a pet as much as we adults do and it can be helpful for them to have an outlet for their feelings.

Family pets represent friendship, unconditional love and daily routines for children of all ages. Their passing can provoke a new understanding of mortality and a maelstrom of emotions.

If you’re wondering how you can talk to your child about your pet’s death or the grief they may be feeling, there are some fantastic books written for children to help them make sense of their bereavement.

We already have a page on the main Ralph Site that lists book recommendations from other members, so do be sure to check it out here.

As a companion to this, we’ve put together the list below of ten of our favourite children’s books about pet bereavement. We hope you and your family find one or more titles helpful:

1.      When a Pet Dies (First Experiences)

By Fred Rogers

Although the pictures in this book are dated, the words are timeless. Fred Rogers gently walks young children through the experience of loving a pet that becomes ill and dies, and the emotions they might feel afterwards.

The tone is matter-of-fact but compassionate. Rogers acknowledges that grief hurts and we will want to be able to bring our pets back but that we simply can’t. The message is hopeful – there will come a day when we can remember the happy memories of our pets and know that they will always be with us because of the love we carry for them.

This is a lovely book for little ones that still offers pearls of wisdom to us big ones. We also like that it features different pets.

2.      Jasper’s Day

By Marjorie Blain-Parker

This touching book tells the story of Jasper the Golden Retriever, an old dog who is increasingly in pain with incurable cancer. His family (mum, dad and son, Riley) have to decide whether euthanasia is the ‘last gift’ that they can give their beloved companion. Before his final trip to the vet, the family gives Jasper one last wonderful day doing all of his favourite things. Jasper’s last day is the hardest day of Riley’s young life.

This picture book is ideal for helping four- to eight-year-olds understand what planned euthanasia is, why it is sometimes necessary and what they might feel about it.

3.      Saying Goodbye to Lulu

By Corinne Demas

This story is about a young girl and her ageing dog, Lulu. It tenderly describes the decline of old age as Lulu stops being able to do all the things she loved in her younger years.

When the girl’s dad says they can get a new puppy when Lulu dies, it makes her angry. She doesn’t want a new dog, she wants Lulu to be young again.

Lulu dies one day while the girl is at school. What follows is a realistic, beautifully drawn insight into the intense grief she feels. The girl misses Lulu all the time – the thump of her tail, the smell of her. In the spring, she plants a special tree by Lulu’s grave.

Eventually, the family decide to get a new puppy. The girl knows it will never be Lulu but she will love the puppy with all her heart too.

This book is aimed at four- to seven-year-olds but most ages would get something from it. Told from the young girl’s perspective, the story is gentle and honest about the feelings associated with loss.

4.      Desser the Best Ever Cat

By Maggie Smith

For those of you wanting a cat-focused children’s book about bereavement, Desser the Best Ever Cat is ideal.

In this story, the oldest daughter of Desser’s human family tells the story of his life. The words and illustrations show how the pair grew up together and the precious moments they shared.

The story shows the family preparing for Desser’s death, talking about their good and bad memories, and burying Desser in a special spot in the garden. Ultimately, the girl and her family take in a new rescue cat with whom the girl shares her memories of Desser.

This is a poignant but realistic story that doesn’t shy away from the truths of old age and death. The message is a positive one about keeping memories alive, talking about our lost pets and knowing that, when the time is right, you can give a new pet a home without forgetting your old friend.

5.      The Day Tiger Rose Said Goodbye

By Jane Yolen

This is another poignant story about pet loss that features the titular cat, Tiger Rose. Tiger Rose is very old and has grown too tired to live any longer. She spends her final day saying goodbye to all the joys and comforts in her life, from the children and dog in her family to her favourite shady patch in the garden.

This story is a celebration of life, which concludes with Tiger Rose taking a leap into the blue sky and becoming one with the natural world she has loved so much.

Unlike many of the other pet bereavement books on this list, it doesn’t feature Tiger Rose’s family adopting a new pet. This can be helpful if you’re all a bit fed up of people suggesting that you get a new companion as soon as possible.

6.      Tenth Good Thing About Barney

By Judith Viorst

The boy in this story is heartbroken when his cat Barney dies. His mum and dad promise that they will give Barney a funeral in the garden the next morning and his mum asks the boy to think about ten special things to say about Barney during the service. He can only think of nine.

After the funeral, the boy’s friend, Annie, says that Barney will be playing in heaven now but the boy isn’t convinced. Isn’t Barney just in the ground? The boy’s dad says no-one knows and that people believe different things. Annie says if heaven exists, there’s definitely room for a cat like Barney.

The boy is troubled by the idea of Barney being in the ground because this is what he believes. His dad takes him out into the garden where they plant seeds together. He talks to the boy about how seeds change in the ground to become plants. He says Barney will change in the ground too, becoming one with the soil and helping everything in the garden to grow.

The boy knows this is the tenth good thing about Barney and a pretty amazing achievement for a cat.

7.      The Invisible String

By Patrice Karst

This book isn’t about bereavement. It’s about the feeling of missing someone or something that we love very much when they’re not with us.

When twins, Jeremy and Liza, are scared by a thunderstorm, they don’t want to go to bed because their mum will be in a different room. Their mum gently reassures them that she’s always with them and connected to them by the ‘invisible string’ that is tied between people (and animals) who love each other.

In the story, the mum explains that when we feel a tug in our heart from missing someone, it’s the string pulling at the other end and letting us know that we’re still connected. The twins still feel the tug from their uncle who has died. The mum says people feel it for their pets too.

The message of the book is that we always carry love with us and the invisible string binds us to our loved ones, even when we can’t be together.

8.      Lifetimes: The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children

By Bryan Mellonie

“There is a beginning and an ending for everything that is alive. In between is living.” This is how Lifetimes begins.

Using large illustrations and simple but clear explanations, this book explores how every animal, bird, tree, fish, plant and person has a lifespan, and that some lifespans are longer than others.

Lifetimes discusses how lifespans can be affected by when and where something lives. Living things can also become ill or get injured. The book reassures children that, in many cases, living things can get better but that death occurs when the body is no longer able to keep itself alive.

The beauty of this book is that death is treated very much as a natural part of living, an essential part of the life cycle. Birth and death are mentioned throughout but the real focus is on the lifetimes in between.

9.      Gentle Willow: A story for children about dying

By Joyce C Mills

Although this book isn’t specifically about pet loss, it is a tender and comforting story about death.

In this tale, squirrel Amanda and her friend Little Tree come to love Gentle Willow, a tree who grows on the opposite riverbank. Gentle Willow sings songs that sound like crystals chiming as she says good morning every day. Yellow butterflies play in her branches. Her roots make the perfect hiding place for Amanda’s acorns.

But, one day, Amanda notices that Gentle Willow is changing – her bark is covered in lumps and bumps. The tree wizards tell Amanda that Gentle Willow has an illness that can’t be cured. She will be going on a journey where she will change forms, a journey humans call ‘death’.

Gentle Willow is scared but Amanda comforts her with a story about how the yellow butterflies that dance in her leaves were once caterpillars that went into the darkness of their chrysalises and emerged in a new, better form. This comforts Gentle Willow.

After her passing, the butterflies gradually return to the place Gentle Willow once stood and the whisper of the wind through the long grass sounds like her song. This reminds Amanda and Little Tree that Gentle Willow will always be with them.

This book for nursery and primary age children gives a gentle introduction to the concept of death.

A book for pre-teens and upwards

10. Wonder

By R J Palacio

Number ten on our list is a book aimed at slightly older children – pre-teens and upwards – but will resonate with all the family.

While Wonder isn’t specifically about pet loss, this beautiful novel and its film-adaptation both sensitively explore the relationship the main character, Auggie, has with the beloved family dog, Daisy, as a key subplot.

Daisy has always been a non-judgmental friend for Auggie, a ten-year-old who has facial deformities caused by Treacher Collins Syndrome. Daisy’s death due to old age is particularly poignant for Auggie because she has given him unconditional love and been a constant presence, especially each time Auggie has recovered from surgery.

The way Daisy’s death affects the whole family feels very recognisable to anyone who has lost a family pet.

Any recommendations?

These are just a handful of the wonderful books out there written to help children make sense of pet loss and bereavement. If you’ve come across any other titles that have helped your own family, please do send us the details so we can share them with the wider Ralph Site community.

As always, know that you’re not alone.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support