Helping Kids Cope with the Death of a Pet

Good-bye, Sheepie, is written by Robert Burleigh, and illustrated by Peter Catalanotto.  It is a touching story written for children 4 to 8 years of age.  The illustrations are soft and beautiful and add to the somber mood.

Owen and his dog, Sheepie, are best friends. They are constant companions as they play fetch, go for long walks and sleep together at night.  Sheepie is aging, he’s not as playful and he’s starting to sleep more.   Sheepie begins to limp as he walks and Owen has to help his best friend climb the stairs.  One day, Owen finds Sheepie lying under a tree.  His best friend won’t wake up.   Owen’s father is very supportive and helps him understand that Sheepie is dead.  He honors Owen’s grief and they do a special tribute to Sheepie as they bury him in a favorite place.  His father helps his son find closure as they talk about all of Owen’s happy memories of his best friend, and how Sheepie will remain a part of him.

As a child, I remember the neighbor’s cat killing my baby rabbit.  I sobbed and insisted on putting my bunny in a box, digging a grave, burying the box, and holding a service with my younger brother.   It was an early experience of death for me, and I wanted to  honor the short life of  my pet.   So, I thank  Burleigh for writing such a memorable story on a heartbreaking subject of the death of a pet.   The loss of a favorite friend and companion is even more devastating for a child.   Burleigh  handled the subject gently, and his book is a beautiful lesson of loving and letting go; something a child will continue to learn throughout life.

Two other books written for children who have experienced the loss of a pet, are Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven.  Written and illustrated by Cynthia Rylant, the books are colorful, uplifting and at times humorous.   The Book Jacket says:  If  you have ever been lucky enough to have a special dog or cat in your life, then you know there is a place called Dog and Cat Heaven.  The vision of both books mirror what many people believe about heaven.    There is a religious element to the books.   Regardless of what you believe, they are good books to help you talk with your child about their grief and what happens to their pet.

Rylant, the author of more than 60 books for children, debuted her first attempts at painting in Dog Heaven.  She is a self-taught artist, who is strongly influenced by the folk artwork of Grandma Moses.  She also illustrated Cat Heaven.   Children will delight in the bold and beautiful  pictures.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

6 thoughts on “Helping Kids Cope with the Death of a Pet

  1. Good-bye Sheepie is a lovely tender story and many children will understand by having a parent read this to them, to help come to terms with their loss. Honouring their pet and friend is important, as you are well aware of.
    Cynthia Rylant has done well to produce the two books Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven, as that is surely a question that is on every childs lips, …… do they go to heaven? To know they go to a good, safe place is comforting for a child.
    I was never allowed a pet when a child so never experienced this unique bond, until later. Pets certainly are an extension of ones family, I came to learn that very quickly.
    Such a loving, tender post, Pat.

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed the selections. I thought all three were great tools for parents and teachers to help kids share their emotions about grief and ask questions, where do they go. Although my favorite was the first book, with its rich text and lovely illustrations. Kids have strange notions about what happens after death, especially if it’s not talked about. So getting them to talk is great! The second too books were bright and bold illustrations, that rhymed, with a tad of humor that might lighten the situation for a kid.

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  2. I lost a number of cats, dogs, rabbit, guinea pigs when growing up and would have loved books like these. I like the healthy closure the parents help bring to Owen in “Goodbye Sheepie”. I buried all our animals in the garden. When I looked ip these books up on Amazon, I was surprised how many had been bought and read by adults going through this loss – some great bibliotherapy!

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    • So, I think I’ve come full circle with writing about giref this past week. Of course, I focused in one major area. Thought it good to end with a review pet grief. I also would have liked a book liked Sheepie as a child. Don’t know if they existed, or it wasn’t something was written when I grew up. I know I had some strange ideas about death as a young child and what happened. I didn’t see how many adults had bought and read these books — interesting. We’ve lost three miniature poodles in the past 20+ years. Sadie, a chocolate brown poodle lived for 17 years, and died in 2008. She really was a member of our family. Don’t think she knew she was a dog. She was my constant companion after my injury and seemed to know something was wrong and how to be with me. I know so many adults who really grieve their pets. Could see how these simple books might help.

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  3. Have you read “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” by Judith Viorst? I will be reviewing it during my read-aloud series. I think you would like it as well.

    Goodbye Sheepie particularly appeals to me — perhaps because it looks as if it is softer and gentler, as the father and son talk about Sheepie and work toward closure. For me as a child, I think Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven might have been “too much” in terms of color, particularly. But that’s just me.

    When I was growing up on the farm, it was just seen as part of life that most kittens died, but it would have been helpful to have books like Goodbye Sheepie to deal with the deaths of an especially beloved rabbit and cat.

    Thank you, Pat, for introducing us to such good resources.

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    • No, I haven’t read “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney,” but will certainly look forward to your review. Good-bye Sheepie, was soothing. I loved the folk art approach of Cynthia Rylant, as it seemed brighter and more bold. Rylant’s books certainly allows kids to ask all kinds of questions. But Sheepie was more realistic for me — and I loved how Burleigh handled the subject with great compassion and grace. You’re right, kids grow up with different perspectives of death, especially if they grow up around animals on a farm, or have parents who hunt. Glad you liked the selections.

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