It is hard losing animals you love and care for. The sad truth is, it’s inevitable on the homestead. We hope that this blog post helps when you wonder how to deal with losing animals on the homestead. For us, many of these animals are also our pets. Recently we lost our precious Leo. This loss was particularly hard on Kate, as we lost another cat named Charlie only a few months before. To add insult to injury, one of our hens was also taken the same week that Leo disappeared.
Homestead Animals Have Jobs
Many of our animals on the homestead have jobs to do. Our barn cat, Benny, guards the barn from rodents. He is great at this! He is a little bit more cautious than Charlie and Leo were, because Benny doesn’t roam too far from the chicken house or the barnyard. Perhaps his feral mother taught him to be extra cautious. We adopted Benny and his mom at the same time. His mom did not stick around, but Benny did, and over the months became much more sociable. Today he is the sweetest, most loving cat we have ever owned. Charlie was also a feral cat, but he wandered a bit farther than Benny and he, like Leo disappeared without a trace.
We have had hens taken by hawks, fox, and coyotes. Over the years, we get used to this, and we understand that no matter how much we try to protect our animals, sometimes predators outsmart us. It is never easy to lose an animal. To my daughters, all of our animals are pets and every time we lose one, we all grieve. It is particularly hard on our youngest, Kate, who is still grieving over the loss of all of her animals. Each time we lose another, the grief of them all is renewed.
Grieving is Necessary
We all know how attached kids can get to pets. We have had memorials for Beta fish, baby opossums, beloved guinea pigs, baby birds that we’ve found as well as services for our hens and cats. When a child loses a pet for the first time, they don’t know that the feelings will be so strong, and they don’t know to expect grief. This is a big emotional load for a young child to deal with, not just the first time, but every time.
To a child, and to many adults who love their animals, losing a pet can feel like the loss of a human loved one. Pets are more than just animals to children; they are companions, good listeners, and even physical comforters. Pets can fill an emotional need for children like nothing else can. Feelings can range from anger, sadness, depression and despair. We lost Leo in early January, and we are all sad, however, Kate still falls into despair at times.
Allowing your child to have a ceremony can be helpful, and talking honestly with them about their feelings is important. For me, as a mom, I try so hard to not give the “adult response”, but to find my inner eleven-year-old who lost her dog one winter in Upstate NY. I grieved for that dog for months, maybe years. When Kate and I can talk about all of that honestly, I think it makes her feel like she’s not so alone. It doesn’t take away the heartache though; only time can do that.
Unfortunately, so often on the homestead, our animals disappear without a trace, and so no formal burial can take place. We try to remind Kate of all the fun times that she had with her animals, especially with Leo. We remind ourselves that some pets are with us for a long time, others for only a short time. Remembering Leo as a joyful cat who lived his life at 100 mph almost always makes us smile.
We made Kate this poster of Leo to help her remember all the fun times she had with her beloved kitten. It hangs in her room next to her bed.
And Then Another Animal Comes Along
Just when you think you can’t get any sadder, sometimes God gives you a gift. This little guy wandered over to our neighbor’s house. She called to tell me that she found Leo. When I got there, my heart sank; it wasn’t Leo. But, it turns out this guy was a stray who had obviously been wandering alone for quite some time. I brought him home, surprised Kate and her sister when they got home, and the rest as they say “is history.” For now, this guy’s only job is to live inside and bring joy to our healing hearts. He’s adjusted well, after his surgery, many naps, and proper nutrition. Kate has even taught Jesse how to walk on a harness!