Peta Todd on what to tell your kids when a pet dies — the truth or white lies?

WHEN I was a child, I don’t remember being told about the passing of a pet.

I had the rabbit who moved next door, cats that went missing and stick insects that went to find their friends in the garden.

Mum-of-four Peta Todd weighs the pros and cons of telling the truth or lies to kids about a pet’s death
Stewart Williams – The Sun

But the “D” word never came up in my family home.

You can imagine my sheer panic when recently I went outside to find my three-year-old son Frey inside the rabbit hutch. The door was wide open and our poor bunny, Rusty, was nowhere to be seen.

Usually when it comes to parenting, I go down the “honesty is the best policy” route.

But how could I tell the truth to my seven-year-old, Delilah?

To do so would risk her blaming her little brother for ever for the bunny vacating the hutch.

How do you explain away a rabbit-shaped void?

Peta with kids Frey, three, Delilah, seven and Finnbar, 13
Stewart Williams – The Sun

The first thing that popped into my mind was to tell Delilah the rabbit had gone away to have babies. So that’s what she currently believes.

It’s the worst lie ever but she’s cool with it. But how long can I pretend the gestation period of a spayed rabbit lasts? Why is it we find it so difficult to tell the truth to our children about pets croaking it?

My childhood home was always full of pets – a cat, dog, fish, lizards, rabbits and stick insects.

As one went off backpacking or to join the goldfish circus, another would enter the fold.


As I got older, I figured out that our pets couldn’t last for ever and although it didn’t make it hurt less, I learnt a little about life, love and death.

But as an adult, I have found it really difficult to deal with the end of a pet’s life. After my eldest son Finnbar’s fish died when he was around the age of six, I tried to encourage him to say goodbye as we gave it a send-off to fish heaven (aka the toilet U-bend).

He said it was his fish and he wanted to do it himself. He said a few words, shed a tear then flushed.
I was impressed by how rational and sweet he was.

But when we lost our dog Nala suddenly four years ago, I was devastated. I didn’t know how to tell the children, or even Mark.

I sat the kids down and explained that she had been poorly and we loved her so much that we wouldn’t have wanted her to be in pain and how lucky we were to have had her. It was savage.

Should we always be straight up about pet death? Or are we OK to replace a goldfish and live with the very small white lie so long as the child is under a certain age? Are there different rules for different pets?

They don’t tell you this stuff in that Bounty pack on the labour ward.

My advice: Always buy plain orange goldfish or hamsters with no distinguishing marks – just in case you can’t bring yourself to tell the truth when the time comes.

They’re much easier to replace.


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