When you think about it…losing a pet teaches children how to grieve.

1379641382bmhauIt’s a day that we know will come in one form or another. That day, you may feel a pit in your stomach when you arrive home from work and find your daughter’s rabbit stiff and unmoving. Maybe you’ll glance at the fish tank and notice your son’s goldfish floating at the top of the tank. Your family pet may die in an accident, or you may meet the day when the only way to end your pet’s suffering is to ask the veterinarian to end his life.

As a parent, you ache for the pet you lose, but also for your grieving children. You may feel tempted to take great measures to spare them the anguish of losing their pet. Even if you don’t resort to the now-iconic adage of claiming the pet “went to live on a farm,” you might feel tempted to “fix it” by asking your children to choose a new pet before the sun even sets on the former pet’s grave. Some parents have even tried to deny the loss entirely. One mother became so distraught when she awoke one morning to find her daughter’s hamster dead, she hastily buried the hamster’s remains in the trash and bolted to the nearest pet store with hopes of purchasing an identical hamster before her daughter woke up. The desire to protect children from emotional pain is understandable. But are there other ways to support children through grieving for a companion? Just as pets help children understand living, the loss of a pet may be a child’s first experience with death and dying. Though it’s inherently unpleasant, healthy grieving is a life skill. The way you guide your children through grieving for a humble goldfish will influence how they cope with grief later in life.

In the first 48 hours… First, acknowledge your own emotions. Although it is vital that you remain calm, it is okay to show your feelings, even if you cry. If you want your children to recognize the intrinsic value of animals, don’t allow anyone to dismiss your loved one as “just an animal.” This will also reassure your children that their feelings of loss are justified. Seeing the lifeless body of a pet who was moving just days or hours before can come as a shock, especially if the body is still surrounded by food, toys, and the things it enjoyed in life. If possible, put the body in a blanket-lined box. Inform your children of the death in a separate room from the body. Ask your children if they would like to see it. If they don’t, that’s okay.

As a family, you may decide to hold a memorial service or “celebration of life” for the pet. If your family holds religious beliefs that include animals, you might incorporate those into your service. Avoid referring to the pet as “asleep.” The euphemism doesn’t spare older children, and can be confusing to young children. They may feel reluctant to fall asleep themselves, or believe that in time their pet will wake up.

The week of… Encourage your children to write a letter to their pet, or if they want to, build a memorial.

Reassure your children that the pain of loss subsides with time and will be replaced by happy memories.

Watch very young children for signs of guilt and worry. Some children may fear that the death was their fault or begin to fear that you will die. Reassure them that death is a part of life. Also, let your children know that you will be around for a long, long time!

Resist the urge to immediately acquire another pet. Doing so inadvertently sends a message that animals, and for that matter, relationships, are replaceable. Equally problematic is the perception that grief is bad and something a person should fight to distract oneself from.

Allow your children to choose a few of the pet’s belongings to keep in the family as mementos, such as the collar and a few favorite toys. Other items should be thrown away or donated. If young children continue to see pet food in the cabinet, this could delay their acceptance of the pet’s passing.

The weeks following… Allow your children the freedom to grieve, but encourage them to continue hobbies, even when they don’t feel like it.

If your children wish, allow them to talk about any dreams they might have about the pet. Also, be aware of “grief hallucinations”. Some studies show that over 50% of people think they can see or hear a deceased loved one immediately after the loss. A child may tell you he “saw” his cat rounding the corner. Simply put, our brains are so accustomed to seeing familiar people and objects on a regular basis, that our perception can take some time to catch up. This phenomenon is temporary.

As your grief within the family eases over time, consider the possibility of adopting another pet. There are millions of animals in shelters whose very lives depend on adoption. Adopting an animal could very well be one of the best ways to honor your pet’s memory.

When you think about it…the death of a pet can teach valuable lessons about the end of life.

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When you think about it…can you trust animal-based product labels?

Find vegan and vegetarian versions of popular foods at http://www.nhes.org/articles/view/588 .

Find vegan and vegetarian versions of popular foods on the NHES website.

We are bombarded by advertisements encouraging us to buy the latest and greatest, the biggest and best. Many of these products come with labels using words we think we understand but do we? For instance, when grocery shopping, do we know what “cage free” means when referring to eggs, or even what “humane” means when referring to farmed animals?

“Although USDA  [U.S. Department of Agriculture] regularly approves claims related to animal welfare, no legal definitions exist for the terms ‘animal welfare,’ ‘humane,’ or ‘animal care.’” So if there are no legal definitions, how are we as consumers to know how well, or ill, treated the animals are who produce food for our table? Sadly, we have no way of knowing.

We can, however, avoid the issue altogether. We can shop vegan. Vegans  eat no animal flesh or animal products thereby avoiding the issue of what exactly animal-based product labels mean. For, when you think about it…can you trust animal-based product labels?

 

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When you think about it…garbage destroys life.

Marine animals are drastically affected by garbage, litter, and pollution.

Marine animals are drastically affected by garbage, litter, and pollution.

We’ve seen pictures of floating masses of sea junk , mounds of typically plastic garbage coming together to form sea islands larger than some countries. Other than the fact that these islands are ugly to look at, what harm are they doing to our oceans? The fact is that many sea creatures are injured or killed as a result of coming into contact with sea junk. Some sea creatures become entangled in long fishing lines, which cut into their flesh. Some ingest plastic objects floating in the sea which then cause blockages and death. Some of the sea detritus keeps orcas and dolphins from surfacing so they suffocate.

As we have polluted our land masses, we are now polluting our water masses and in the process we are destroying life. What masses are left to us? None. We must take care of the land and water masses we have for when you think about it…garbage destroys life in the ocean just as it destroys life on land.

 

 

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When you think about it…is there glory in winning the Triple Crown?

Horse racing is not fun or beneficial to horses.

Horse racing is not fun or beneficial to horses.

California Chrome didn’t go down in history as a Triple Crown winner. Should we care? Should we be upset that the prize was lost? No, we should not. Instead we should be outraged at the treatment horses in the racing industry must endure to make it to any race let alone the major races of the year. Horse racing is a dying industry—but it seems no one has told racing officials. People still buy horses with the thought of becoming the next millionaire; and with the winnings California Chrome brought to his owner, you know there are others who are just dying to get a piece of the action. Unfortunately, there are many horses that are dying because of horse racing. There’s nothing about horse racing that supports the horses—all the support is for the money people can make off the backs of magnificent animals. Racing is not a sport—the horses don’t agree to “suit up.” The owners, jockeys, trainers, and everyone else who might make a buck off a stallion or filly have a say—but not the horse. It’s time we realize that when we really think about it…there is no glory in winning the Triple Crown or any other horse race.

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When you think about it…geography shouldn’t determine whether a dog lives or dies.

Dogs in rural shelters may face a higher risk of euthanasia.

Dogs in rural shelters may face a higher risk of euthanasia.

If a dog is born in a rural area and winds up in a shelter, he or she is more likely to be euthanized. Euthanasia rates in rural shelters may run as high as 95 percent, meaning that out of every 100 dogs who enter the shelter, only five leave alive. Why?

 

Low-cost spay/neuter programs are prevalent in populated areas but not in rural areas. Also, there are more people to adopt shelter animals in populated areas than in rural areas. So, basically, it’s a numbers game and unfortunately the animals found in less populated areas stand less of a chance of ever reaching adulthood.

 

Rescue groups often transport animals from rural areas to heavily populated areas where their chances of finding a forever home are assured. Furthermore, these animals are either spayed/neutered before transport or immediately after, thus ensuring they won’t be able to reproduce.

 

While these transports are lifesavers for the animals who find a space on the van, there are still too many healthy, well-behaved, adoptable animals losing their lives, every second of every day—all because of where they live. So, when you think about it…geography shouldn’t determine whether a dog lives or dies—but unfortunately it does.

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When you think about it…animals are smart!

Animals like goats may be more intelligent than once thought.

Animals like goats may be more intelligent than once thought.

You may have read about a parrot who had 100 words in his vocabulary and great apes who speak sign language. Pigs are said to be as smart as dogs. Sheep recognize and remember the faces of 50 other sheep. A documentary on ravens shows us their intelligence. Dolphins are creative, cats are adaptable, elephants exhibit self-awareness, and other animals show their smarts as well. And now we find out that goats are smarter than we thought. As we learn more about the animals in our midst, we might just come to realize they are their own “persons” and deserve to be left to their own lives. Now, wouldn’t that show just how smart we humans are? For when you think about it…animals, including humans, are smart!

 

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When you think about it…retiring some while squeezing others doesn’t make sense.

New policy takes one step forward, and two steps back.

New policy takes one step forward, and two steps back.

Last year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced, on at least two occasions, that the agency would be retiring laboratory chimpanzees. For all of us in animal welfare circles, we applauded their decision. Now we read, in a recent article, NIH has decided the remaining research chimps don’t need as much space in which to live. So, if you’re an old chimp, you get the freedom of a sanctuary; but if you’re considered necessary for scientific experimentation, you get a couple hundred square feet. We shouldn’t be squeezing any animal into a confined space. We should be ensuring they all have reasonable retirements after the invasive tests done on them. For when you think about it…retiring some while squeezing others doesn’t make sense.

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