When it comes to facing the death of our pets, many people struggle to know how to cope. How do we face making such a difficult decision such as euthanasia? How do we take care of ourselves afterward? Even more so, how can we help children understand pet loss and a way that focuses on healthy grieving?

Last year, I published an article, Support, Nurture & Love: Talking to Children About Pet Loss, which highlights important aspects of discussion about pet loss and illness with children. One way to help children understand and normalize death, whether it was sudden and tragic or due to the onset of illness or old age, is to read to them. Children learn immensely through play and reading.

A fellow Psychology Today contributor, Peter Gray, Ph.D., highlights in their article, “Stories provide a simplified simulation world that helps us make sense of and learn to navigate our complex real world” and continues with, “The aspects of our real world that are usually most challenging, most crucial for us to understand, are social aspects.”

I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Corey Gut, who has turned to write children’s books to help children understand the death of their pets and how they got started in this journey.


1. If you could please take a moment to introduce yourself to the readers so they know a bit more about you?

I live in a small suburb of Detroit, Michigan with my husband, my 2-legged daughters, Addison (9 years old) and Ashley (7 years old), and my 4-legged sons, Vinnie (a 12-year-old Lab mixed breed) and Derby (a 3-year-old Lab/Hound mixed breed).

I’m a veterinarian in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. I grew up in a family of animal lovers. My mom had a wildlife rehabilitation license, so in addition to many pet dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, gerbils, mice, lizards, and guinea pigs, we also occasionally had an orphaned raccoon or opossum. Working with animals is in my genes!

When I’m not working, I love spending time with friends and family, practicing yoga, writing, and spending time outdoors.

Pixabay/Public Domain

2. How is it you came to start writing Children’s Books focused on Pet Loss?

Parents have asked me thousands of times over the last 14 years for resources for their children when they are facing the death of a family pet. Since there was not a resource available to fit their needs, I decided to create one myself.

“Being Brave for Bailey” was my first book and I wrote it for my niece, Lexie when I diagnosed liver cancer in her dog, Bailey. The book was so helpful that we decided to publish it. Shortly after that, we got tons of requests from teachers, librarians, and parents for a kitty version, and that’s when I wrote “Staying Strong for Smokey.”

3. What is the reaction when you tell people what you’re working on?

Everyone has been incredibly supportive. The most common reaction I get is, “I wish I had this book when my kids went through this!” Pet loss and children is an area that really needs more attention. It’s such a huge event in a child’s life and how it’s handled can really affect them and the way they handle both love and loss in the future.

Pixabay/Public Domain

4. What’s the hardest part about writing these Children’s Books?

The hardest part is knowing every time I inscribe and ship a book, that means that someone has lost their best friend. It’s heartbreaking.

5. Where can people buy your books, and where can people find out more about you?

The best place to purchase books is online at www.beingbraveforbailey.com. These can be inscribed, dedicated, or even donated to a library, school, or church in a pet’s name. Additionally, they are available at my vet hospital, DePorre Veterinary Hospital in Bloomfield Hills, and various other stores in the community.

6. What’s your biggest piece of advice with supporting children through pet loss?

Let them be involved, even if only in a small way. Age needs to be taken into consideration when deciding in what ways to involve children, but there are always ways to make them feel a part of things. Helping kids through the process by letting them make some decisions helps the child process everything in a healthy way instead of feeling like this awful experience is happening to them. Let them pick out a tree to plant in their pet’s honor. Have them draw a picture for their pet or write a letter to their pet. Make a memory box and let them pick out what to put in it. Older children can even be involved in the euthanasia process and decisions on cremation, burial sites, etc. Involving the children even in a small way will mean the world to them and will give them a healthy way to begin to work their way through their emotions as they grieve.

One last thing. It’s okay to let your kids see you cry. This is hard. And it’s supposed to be. Show them it’s ok to be emotional and that you are sad too. It’s very healthy.


Adam Clark, LCSW, AASW is a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. Adam is the founder of the Pet Loss Education Project, and focuses his work on the psychology behind the human-animal bond, specializing in endings and transitions. He is passionate about reducing the cultural stigma associated with pet loss, supporting pet owners, and educating veterinary professionals. Additional information on Adam and his current projects can be found at www.petlosseducation.com, or he can best be reached at adam@lovelosstransition.com

Whether you’re a Licensed Professional Counselor, Psychologist, Marriage & Family Therapist, Social Worker or other professional that serves others, such as Nursing and Care Workers, pet loss matters. Knowing that pet loss is a profound and realistic point of grief for many animal lovers and pet parents is important to adequately serve the needs of our clients, patients, and residents.

The American culture has an underlying fear with death and dying. It’s an uncomfortable topic for many, professionals alike. Although it certainly makes sense that unless one has spent time truly processing through their own fears, beliefs, and judgments about death, facing one’s mortality could be a scary prospect.

Stanford School of Medicine launched a study in which they tallied the wishes of respondents to die at home. The study found that a majority of respondents, 80% expressed their wish to die at home. The study additionally highlights, however, that in America, 60% of us die in hospitals, 20% pass in skilled nursing homes, and a measly 20% die at home surrounded by loved ones. We have a misunderstanding about death and when asked, most will say they hope to die peacefully in their sleep overnight.

Pet lovers all recognize that the time with their furry friend can be limited, but just as we have many misconceptions about human death, we have them about the death of our pets. This article begins a series in exploring why exactly pet loss matters for the professional. It will highlight overall themes and approaches to supporting the people, families, and systems we serve in an empirical way, allowing counselors to deliver effective, culturally sensitive and responsible support to those facing difficult decisions with their four-legged friend.

Reason 1: Professionals are critical for normalizing a stigmatized grief experience.

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

There’s a lot of cultural stigma that comes from experiencing, and subsequently grieving, the death of a pet. Professionals can help individuals and families understand where this grief is coming from. They can also normalize the grief experience if they present an understanding of where it comes from.

Many times the concept of death is smoothed-over by parents telling children their pet went to sleep or well-intended words are shared by friends that “it was just a pet, you can always get another one.” As a result, we have a culture of children afraid to sleep and night and wishing their pet would come back, and others that feel conflicted about the amount of grief they feel, questioning if they are going crazy.

Reason 2: Not all grief is the same.

Grief never presents itself “within a box.” Meaning, even if we know there is an upcoming physical death and prepare with anticipatory grieving, everyone grieves in their own unique way. Take a nuclear family, for example. Each parent will be grieving differently, and each child presents with their own manifestation, and subsequently coping ability to process through their emotional experience.

Not only does grief impact us, the fact that it is a pet will also impact us. Complications arise with a traumatic grief experience of our pet, or if we are facing an incomplete loss through a pet running away.

Reason 3: Euthanasia decision making and the impact on the psyche. 

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

A lot of complicated emotions arise when having to make a choice as difficult as euthanasia. Pet owners must make extremely difficult decision(s) when it comes to euthanasia and assessing their pets quality of life.

Pet owners find themselves facing extreme amounts of guilt and possible shame for what they are experiencing. Most pet owners find themselves facing sleep disturbances and may find it difficult continuing the tasks required for meeting basic needs and engaging in self-care.

Professionals can help the people that they serve navigate through the complex structure of emotions that families and individuals face during a difficult time. Professionals can also provide guidance on maintaining basic needs and processing through the guilt experience in a healthy, constructive way.

Reason 4: Understanding attachment and the positive role of animals within the life-cycle.

Key to understanding many areas of our life is our level of attachment. Whether we have unhealthy or healthy attachments, pet owners will be impacted in a significant way when faced with the death of a pet. Children, for example, typically experience the death of a pet or small animal as one of their first experiences of loss. If handled properly, a loss experience can build children’s resilience and impact their worldview of death, promoting a reduction of fear and stigma that’s so typically associated.

Pets are immensely beneficial supports that build an empathetic connection and bond throughout the human life-cycle. Individuals who struggle with social isolation, coping methods, and mental health concerns can all benefit from the positive relationship built between themselves and their pets.

Unfortunately, many such individuals and family systems do not prepare ahead of time for a loss experience, and can be left feeling completely devastated should their pet suddenly fall ill, or in the case of a traumatic loss. Professionals can begin to teach and understand anticipatory grief and making plans in case of such events.

Adam Clark, LSW, AASW is a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. Adam focuses his work on the psychology behind the human-animal bond, specializing in endings and transitions. He is passionate about reducing the cultural stigma associated with pet loss, supporting pet owners, and educating veterinary professionals. Additional information on Adam and his current projects can be found at www.lovelosstransition.com, or he can best be reached at adam@lovelosstransition.com.


Experiencing the death of a pet can be incredibly painful, especially as more and more households consider pets to be members of the family. Pet loss still holds common cultural stigma, or societal judgement, which can make grieving for our pets more complex. We are also faced with having to make extremely difficult decisions on their behalf, commonly increasing guilt, and making it easy to second guess ourselves.

When a pet passes, whether through old age, disease process, or in a more tragic manner, the entire family is impacted. Many pet parents struggle in how to talk to their children about the death of their pet, using terms like “they went to sleep” or “they are in a better place” in an attempt to buffer their children’s experience of death.

These strategies will help your family support, rather than avoid, the painful experiences and emotion children face with the death of a pet. Although difficult, teaching your child effective ways to cope, grieve, and process through their loss can build a healthy approach to facing death for the rest of their lives.

Don’t Sugar-Coat Death 

Andrey Kekyalyaynen/123RF

Placing the word death and child together is one of the hardest and scariest combinations for many parents. We hope, pray, and wish to protect children from the harsher realities of life for as long as possible, which makes it extremely intimating to know what to say and how to say it when it comes to experiencing pet loss.

Commonly, parents use terms such as “they went to sleep” which can actually produce a fear-oriented response for many children. Suddenly, a child is afraid of going to sleep and refusing nap time as they are afraid they might leave and never come back, like the pet.

It’s important, using age appropriate language, to talk about the finality of death using proper words and discussion. Saying “they went to a better place” can leave children looking intently to find them at grandma’s house or the park.

Instead, support them in conversation about final goodbyes and sharing our pets memories, as discussed below. Doing so can naturally lead to more in-depth conversations about death, so be prepared to be open and honest with your child.

Death Doesn’t Have To Be Negative  

One of the first experiences with death many children have is associated with a pet. Whether this is a mouse, toad, fish, rat, gerbil, hamster, bird, snail, slug, cat, or dog, the impact of death and its permanence is something that every child must eventually face.

Although death is painful and hard, endings do not have to be approached as a negative or scary experience. As parents portray gratitude for experiences shared together, and discussing positive memories in how a child’s life was changed by the impact of their pet, we grow a sense of respect for death which can lead to gratitude for life, even at a young age.

Exploring books such as The Bug Cemetery By Francis Hill, we can start reducing the unconscious impact of death and dying and teach our children healthier approaches to grief when they face a loss in their lives. Yes, you can even start over the death of a bug.

Give Children The Choice To Be Present 

It’s hard to know whether or not to have a child present during a euthanasia experience with the family dog, cat, or horse. In order to protect our children from pain, many parents automatically decide that it is within their child’s best interest to not be present.

Annems/123RFSome families euthanize their family pet with the best intention when the child is away at school, to have the child return home to find their pet is gone. Doing so can actually have the exact opposite effect from the one we intended. Goodbyes are extremely important for every member of the family, especially children.

Having age-appropriate discussion with your children about euthanasia and suffering, as well as what the process looks like can be helpful for a child to understand the “mystery” surrounding death and the family pet. Integrate your veterinarian into the discussion if possible to answer any questions your child may have.

Children can be more resilient than we give them credit for, so allowing them the choice to be present or absent can help a child foster their own coping abilities in the face of pain at a young age. Additionally, giving your child a voice allows them to feel a part of the decision-making and can give back some feeling of control in what can feel like a helpless and overwhelming situation.

There are times, of course, that it may be inappropriate to bring your child to a euthanasia appointment. If the experience would cause an overwhelming negative impact for your child, such as if there’s traumatic physical damage to your pet that cannot be covered, it may be better to support your child in another room.

There are even children oriented books about animal euthanasia, such as When You Have to Say Goodbye: Loving and Letting Go of Your Pet By Monica Mansfield and Lennie Peterson.

Allow Children to Express Without Words  

Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Children commonly cope with their feelings not with words but through arts and crafts. A child may be able to paint a picture that expresses their emotion, allowing them an outlet. Giving your child this opportunity can be one of the most helpful decisions you can make.

Talk to your child about what their picture may represent and what emotions they are feeling. It can also be helpful to ask where in their body they are feeling the emotions, to gain a better sense of how your child reacts emotionally and where it manifests.

Help your child to write a letter or poem. Finger paint alongside them with your own emotion and show them that adults, especially parents, have feelings as well. Teach them that it is important to grieve, healthy to experience their emotions and that it is perfectly normal to grieve the loss of a pet.

After death, help your child make a shadow box with your pets collar and a favorite picture. Take the favorite walk you used to do as a family with your pet before their death and talk about the beautiful memories shared. Also talk about the pain of loss, and how the family will move through it together. Remind your child that a pet is never forgotten, just as they will never be forgotten, and begin to teach them the safety and security in true, loving relationships.

Adam Clark, LSW, AASW is a published writer, educator, and adjunct professor at the University of Denver’s Graduate School of Social Work. Adam focuses his work on the psychology behind the human-animal bond, specializing in endings and transitions. He is passionate about reducing the cultural stigma associated with pet loss, supporting pet owners, and educating veterinary professionals. Additional information on Adam and his current projects can be found at www.lovelosstransition.com, or he can best be reached at adam@lovelosstransition.com.