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The Dog Joined the Circus; What Not to Tell Your Child When the Family Pet Dies

University City Patch Editor Myra Lopez explains how she and her husband told their son the family dog had died.

Ever heard of the animated movie All Dogs Go to Heaven?

Well, whatever you do don't tell your child that's where dogs go, at least according to the director of my son's daycare Mr. Z. An amazingly caring man for the record.

Last week, when our family dog Laika died my husband and I went to pieces, and we didn't know how to tell our two-and-a-half-year-old that Laika had died. He knew she had a boo-boo in her tummy because she was sick before she passed.

My instinct was to tell him Laika had joined the circus. I thought he'd understand why she left us for such a better place. My husband was of the same mindset. He wanted to tell our son that Laika had run off with penguins and bears.

This seems ridiculous in hindsight, but we wanted to spare him the whole notion of death. Plus, penguins and bears don't even run in the same circles.

Before we had "the talk" about bunnies and fairies and the circus and maybe a detour to Heaven and totally messed him up, I suggested we ask Mr. Z what to do.

To our surprise, he advised us to do exactly the opposite of what we were thinking of saying. He told us to avoid bringing up Heaven or Laika having gone to sleep, because that notion really scares children. It's a hard concept for them to grasp.

He said to tell our son that the boo-boo had gotten really bad and that all of those things Laika used to do, like lick his face and toes and run after him, she was no longer able to do. That she had gotten so sick that her body had stopped working, and she wouldn't be the energetic, loveable Laika he knew. Oh and we were balling our eyes out as we did this. We told our son we were sad and that was ok, and that he could be sad too. 

I have to admit, we were chicken to tell him at first. We assumed he would ask where the dog was but he didn't. So, finally the next morning at breakfast we told him. Honestly, he seemed more interested in his yogurt. 

But it clearly seeped in because as the days passed he would ask, "Where's Laika?" "She's dead, remember?" "Oh, yes," he would say.

The only thing is, now, when I yawn and my eyes get watery or I cry laughing at something my husband said our son will ask me "Mommy, you sad?" 

"No, I'm happy," I say. Puzzled look from my son.

So, now we're having to explain to him the difference between sad tears and happy tears. Thank goodness for  Mr. Z. 

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