“Having a dog will bless you with the happiest days of your life, and one of the worst days,” is an anonymous but true sentiment. Hopefully fond memories, family traditions, and, perhaps, one of these books will help your family through the grief process when it’s time.
Keep in mind, no book or blog post can substitute for grief counseling, which is often available virtually.
Below are the books I most recommend. There are other, including non-fiction titles. Please note the main characters in these books, when human, are white. This is a trend that will hopefully change soon. Most of the titles are about dogs.
Sally Goes to Heaven by Stephen Huneek is a beautiful celebration of dogs. Sally, the main character of Huneek’s books, wakes up in Heaven where her joints no longer hurt and there are meatballs on the bushes. Afterlife is pretty amazing for dogs and all animals in Sally Goes to Heaven. This is a good book to read if your beliefs about a pet’s death include an afterlife. Note that the family gets a new pet fairly fast.
Todd Parr’s books pair the ethos of Fred Rogers and the style of Keith Haring. His The Goodbye Book explains grief through the eyes of a goldfish who has lost his bowlmate. It goes through the stages of grief with the message that whatever you are feeling, that’s OK. This book is a treasure. It would be helpful for kids of all ages going through all sorts of grief, not just the loss of a pet.
Where Lily Isn’t by Julie Paschkis is very relatable for anyone who has lost a pet and realizes the huge hole they leave in a home and a heart. Lily, a golden terrier type of dog, is gone and the little girl is reminded of her at every turn. Lily isn’t waiting for table scraps. She isn’t stopping to smell bushes on walks. She isn’t at the door waiting for the girl to come home from school. Lily isn’t in Dog Heaven, like Sally. She is inside the little girl, always. This is a very good book to remind readers that a simple explanation of where our friends go is often all that’s needed.
If beliefs include an afterlife, try Cynthia Rylant’s Dog Heaven and Cat Heaven. may be good choice to read. Cat Heaven is one of the few that deals with a feline afterlife. It is also quite funny. Both books may be comforting if you are dealing with grief at a pet’s death. However, they are also books to read along with your child, perhaps to prepare them for the concept of a pet’s death down the line. Or to explore the topic safely, and creatively–what is fish heaven like, what is Guinea pig heaven like, for example.
An adorable, persistent pup reminds the main character in Amy Hest’s My Old Friend Oscar of his recently departed pal Oscar. The boy isn’t at all tempted by the pup’s cuteness. He is determined to never stop being sad. However, memories of Oscar combine with the pup’s vulnerability in the midst of an approaching storm and the boy’s heart melts. He soon has a new friend.
Addy’s Cup of Sugar by Jon J. Muth features the death of a cat, rare for picture books about pet grief. This is a rare book indeed for it works powerful life lessons into a beautifully illustrated picture book. Namely, that no medicine can bring the dead back; and no household has escaped grief in its many forms. This title features Stillwater, a wise Panda character from Muth’s other books.
- UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center has an excellent article, “What to do When a Pet Dies? which has helpful suggestions for parents.
- If your child is sensitive to the death of an animal on screen, especially soon after experiencing the loss of their own beloved pet, you may want to try Does The Dog Die? This is, in their own words, “crowdsourced emotional spoilers for movies, tv, books and more.” Not only can you look up animal deaths but other triggering scenes, like abuse or clowns.