Coping with a Missing Pet
by Sandy M. Fernández
Tactics to use (or to avoid) to help your child cope with a lost family pet
You may know what you’ll say if the goldfish goes belly-up or the gerbil is found inert. But have you wondered what you’ll tell your child if you discover the door open and the dog gone? Here are the tactics to use (or to avoid) in the first frantic hours after beloved Fluffy or Buster goes missing.
“A missing pet can be upsetting, but what scares kids most is parents being out of control,” says Rachel Fleissner, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Fargo, ND. “So keep that emotional level down.”
Tell the truth.
It’s so tempting to promise a pet will come back—or, conversely, to deny he’s really gone at all. But resist, advises Landa Coldiron, a Burbank, CA, pet finder who’s been called into hundreds of households. “You don’t want to get caught in a lie,” she says. Instead, tell your kids what happened in a way they can understand. “Fluffy went out for a walk” or “We think she went to see some friends.” Avoid the term “ran away”—it can be frightening for little kids, explains Dr. Fleissner.
Explain, but don’t blame.
If something led to the pet’s running away—a gate left open, for example—let your child know. That information might also help keep the same thing from happening again if she returns.
Show you care.
“A pet is a family member, and you want your kids to know that if a family member goes missing, you’re going to do everything you can to find him,” says Dr. Fleissner. Let your child see you making calls or going out to search for the pet.
Get the kids involved.
This can be a small thing, such as making flyers and posting them around the neighborhood.
Tell your child’s teacher or daycare provider.
You want her to be ready if he needs extra reassurance.