Gift for a 12 year old that's about to grieve her dog.
September 12, 2006 10:28 PM   Subscribe

Good ideas for a genuine token of sympathy for a 12(ish) year old girl who is about to lose her dog?

Bare facts: One of my clients just found out that their less than two year old Lab has cancer. The absolute best case scenario is that the cancer is isolated in one leg and it will have to be amputated. The more likely case is that it has spread to vital parts of the body and she'll have to be put down.

The dog is, technically, the dog of their entering 7th grade daughter. She's a hell of a great kid and I know this is not going to be easy on her. Any tips on what I can do to hopefully put her heart a little bit at ease or at least make her smile when the (I fear) inevitable happens? I'm completely out of touch with middle school aged kids and have spent precious little time around children that age since I was, well, that age. Also, my experience of losing pets has been either as a toddler or as a college student.

If it matters, they do have another dog (~3 year old lab).
posted by Ufez Jones to Pets & Animals (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry about your friend. It's hard to lose a family pet, harder still with children. We lost our lab, age 13 and with us since puppyhood, this past spring. Our two girls 11 & 14 dealt with it very differently, and there's no telling how your friend will take it. Making her smile or putting her heart at ease may be too much to ask. On the other hand she could conceivably be quite OK with it (although you say you're sure otherwise). I don't know how much you are around this girl, but after the first couple of tearful days we tried to talk a bit about good memories we had of our dog, and we made the kids framed prints of photos we had of each of them playing with her. Over time, of course, it got easier. I would say the best thing you can do is to acknowledge the loss to her, offer your sympathy, and maybe mention a happy time you recall involving the dog. We had friends who actually sent over food baskets and not only was that kind of charming, but for the kids I think it helped make them feel like the sadness they were experiencing was OK and shared by others who knew our dog.

One other thing that may be out of your control, but worth mentioning, is the way we had our dog put to sleep. She was really struggling around the house that day, so we made the vet appt. and our vet agreed to come out to our house (many will). When she arrived, our dog had settled in to a favorite spot in the front yard, where we were all sitting with her and saying goodbyes. The vet gave her the shots right there, and it was a very peaceful and loving scene to say goodbye to her that way. Now only 2 of our 3 kids opted to stay until the very end, but I think they all got a lot out of the fact that they were able to be with her pretty much the whole time, and experience all this in a safe, familiar place, as opposed to seeing her taken off in a car to the vet's office.

I'm sniffling now so I'm signing off. I hope you're able to find a way to help your friend thru this.

PS. As you probably realize, the fact that they have another dog won't help much with the grief.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:54 PM on September 12, 2006

When my dog died when I was in high school, a friend's mother gave me a votive candle to burn in the dog's memory. I lit the candle immediately and left it going until it burnt itself out. It was extremely sweet and thoughtful of her.

Although, now that I'm thinking it through a bit more, a fire hazard might be inappropriate for a 12-year-old.
posted by rhapsodie at 11:13 PM on September 12, 2006

If it ends up that the dog has to be euthanized make sure the parents let the girl stay home from school that day if she wants to be with the dog beforehand. Make sure the parents see how the girl wants the dog's remains to be handled. (There are different laws/restrictions in some states about whether or not animals can be buried at home, cremation, etc.) Along those same lines: if the dog has to be euthanized get it done early in the week and do NOT screw up an entire weekend for the kid. It's better to ruin a Monday or Tuesday than an entire weekend.

In the past year I've been around two dogs going through chemo. (One of them did not make it and one is dealing with it really well.) It's amazing what vets can do these days.

Additionally: Make sure the parents are willing to let the girl have a new pet when she is ready and let her pick it out. (Don't bring home any surprise pets.)

Make sure the parents get pictures of the pet NOW, too.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:19 PM on September 12, 2006

Crap. I forgot the recommendation for a possible gift.

A silver charm of a lab and either a charm bracelet to put it on or a necklace for it. The bracelet might be a good idea - it could be explained that it's for charms to mark big events/special things, etc. If that's too girly - then maybe a framed photo of the dog.

(It might be best not to spring this type of gift on her until she's done grieving. Ask the parents.)
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 11:28 PM on September 12, 2006

My family's first pet, a JR terrier, was put down due to cancer when I was 12. I was really upset. It helped that I got to see him after he was dead (because he basically looked asleep, which made me think it must have been relatively painless). We buried him in the back garden and my brothers and I made him a headstone. It's still there, 12 years later.

If you don't have any say in how the kid gets to say goodbye to the dog, then some kind of "rememberance" gift (for want of a better expression) might be a good idea. A stuffed toy labrador, perhaps? Or a locket/photo frame with a photo of the dog and the girl?
posted by robcorr at 11:40 PM on September 12, 2006

Gah, and for want of better spelling, too -- remembrance.

And while I'm typing again, fluffy battle kitten's suggestion of a charm bracelet sounds nice.
posted by robcorr at 11:42 PM on September 12, 2006

You know... my dog passed away years ago, and the only thing I really wish is that I had more pictures. Could you offer to send over a photographer to do a little photo shoot with the family? Then you could give them the album of pictures so they'll have memories later.
posted by eleyna at 12:21 AM on September 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

A few years ago, a friend of mine's dog was diagnosed with terminal cancer. The day before he was scheduled to be put down, I fried up a bunch of of bacon and brought it over. Then my friend, her housemates, her daughters, and I sat in her living room crying and giving the dog as many savory snacks as he was willing to eat. He'd been lethargic for weeks, but when he figured out that all the bacon was for him, he wiggled and begged and acted like a puppy. It wound up being a pretty good way of saying goodbye.

Maybe, if your friend does get Really Bad News (and if the dog's not already too far gone) you could give her some sort of super high-reward treat for the dog? In effect, your gift to her would be the chance to make her pet really, really happy one more time. You should, of course, check in with the parents before doing something like that-- you don't want to give her something that will make the dog sick, or that she won't be allowed to feed him.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:23 AM on September 14, 2006

both eleyna and palmcorder_yajna have wonderful ideas. We never took pictures of my pets when I was younger (in the pre-digital-camera-take-a-dozen-pictures-of-any-damn-thing-era), and so I have very few photos of my first pets. When our last dog was very sick, we all went out to the park and spent the morning taking photos. They came out very nice, and are a wonderful reminder of her.

It is also a great idea to make the dog a really special treat and let the family enjoy giving it to her.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:56 AM on September 14, 2006

Rock Steady and palmcorder_yajna beat me to it, Ufez, but I would also suggest a treat. The family should have a party for the pup. A celebration of her life. Invite all of the dog's dog friends, and the people they are closest to. Make special dog treats - not dog biscuits, but the kind of stuff that you would ordinarily not let them have - like get a bunch of rotisserie chickens and pull the meat off them, or pizza with ground beef, or bags of McDonalds cheeseburgers, shortbread cookies - you get the idea. The dogs all sit around the room, and they get treats one at a time. The ill pup gets served first. It is very interactive, and everyone is involved, but the ill dog is the "center of attention." Have a poster with her baby pictures, etc., decorate the room, make it a special occasion. Take lots of photos. It's like a wake, in that it serves an emotional purpose, but it creates a lot of happy memories that the owners can hang on to and console themselves with after she is gone.

We do this with every one of our dogs when we know it is time. The dogs love it, and it helps us grieve.

Having said that, our next-door neighbor's Basset Hound went through chemo last year - it was very expensive and we thought they were crazy to put her through it, but she is cancer-free and happy again. It can be done.
posted by tizzie at 6:05 AM on September 14, 2006

I remember losing a beloved dog at around that age. It was awful, and it took some time to get over it.

I like the charm bracelet idea - I think it's kind of perfect, in fact. It is a rememberance, and she doesn't have to wear it until she's ready, if ever - if she wants to leave it in a drawer for a little while, if it is too painful, she can do that as well. If she wants to, she can add other charms as she grows up.

If she wants to talk about it, be there to listen and let her work through it. The wake/party sounds like a nice idea as well.
posted by KAS at 7:12 AM on September 14, 2006

Does the dog have tags and a collar?

A picture of her and the dog, or just the dog, in a frame or shadowbox with some of the dogs personal items (toys too) is a lovely gift to help remember him by.

Not sure if this is what you're looking for, but it helped my sister a lot when her dog had to be put to sleep.
posted by agregoli at 7:36 AM on September 14, 2006

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