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Explaining having horse euthanised to young DCs

(13 Posts)
Backinthebox Mon 25-Mar-13 10:36:24

Only just seen this, hope things are OK with your horse so far.

As DolomitesDonkey said, we had our pony pts last year. She was old, but suffered a very rapid deterioration in her health, and I called the vet out to put her to sleep. DD was 4 at the time, we'd discussed that pony was poorly and we were doing our best to make her better but that she might not get better. We talked about this and how this meant that we would know if she was going to die (ie I would know because I would be the one calling the vet out! I didn't discuss this aspect with her though.) When I did call the vet, I asked DD if she would like to come and give pony one last polo. She was too busy watching Scooby Doo! I didn't press the issue, as it was early morning, and I had got up to feed pony, and she was looking extremely unwell. So DD remembers her looking brighter eyed as she was the previous evening.

DD did ask later to see her pony again, even if it was just the body, but I had to tell her she couldn't because she had died, and we had put her body somewhere safe, just like we had done with Grandma. (Obviously we didn't have Grandma put to sleep! But she understood the concept of the body being gone too from that.)

We had already decided that in the Spring we would be getting a new pony and old pony would be retired. Old pony clearly decided she was having none of this, and made her own mind up how she was stepping down from work, which was just like her! Why have a quiet retirement when you could suffer from something alarming and expensive! Anyway, we brought the time of buying a new pony forward by a few months so DD had her new pony, and she's happily transferred her affections to this, and for DS this is his first pony as he never had anything to do with the old one.

adoptmama Sun 24-Mar-13 19:55:17

my sister had to have one of her horses pts just after christmas. I dreaded telling DD1 (5) as she loves the horses and had spent much of the holidays visiting and grooming. I prepared her from the start as my sister had warned me the ongoing medical condition was likely to be ultimately fatal. So I prepared DD by telling her the horse was sick and sometimes the vet can't make these things better, no matter how hard they tried, that E had had a good life and the vet was going to give her medicine to make her fall asleep and then medicine to stop her heart and that she would not feel any pain. She accepted it and although there were tears after she heard E had been pts it was nothing like the hysteria over the loss of the dog (for which there was no preparation). She has come home from school now and then with cards she has made saying she loves E and wishes she didn't die, which is just her way of processing it.

So my advice is to give the kids plenty of heads up warning that, although you and the vet are doing everything you can, it is not always enough and reassure them it is pain free and not scary at the end.

disliketrolls Wed 13-Mar-13 02:56:29

Btw Page two of the link is very helpful ,it recomends you say dying or death rather than put to sleep to avoid any confusion ect ,I am sorry you have to make this heart wrenching desision but you ARE doing it out of love for your horse try to keep that in mind you are doing what is best for your horse ,I do feel for you xxx

disliketrolls Wed 13-Mar-13 02:48:33

I have no advice to give you apart from this link might be helpful
I am sure you will find your own way to help your child understand but I did want to share this with you also

Why dogs don't live as long as people
by Robin Downing, DVM

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog's owner, his wife, and their little boy were all very attached to Belker and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family there were no miracles left for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.

As we made arrangements, the owners told me they thought it would be good for the four-year-old boy to observe the procedure. They felt he could learn something from the experience.

The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker's family surrounded him. The little boy seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on.

Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away. The little boy seemed to accept Belker's transition without any difficulty or confusion.

We sat together for a while after Belker's death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.

The little boy, who had been listening quietly, piped up, "I know why."

Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I'd never heard a more comforting explanation. He said, "Everybody is born so that they can learn how to live a good life - like loving everybody and being nice, right?" The four-year- old continued, "Well, animals already know how to do that, so they don't have to stay as long."

dopeysheep Tue 12-Mar-13 23:20:40

I agree with Flora you don't need to say you are having him pts, just say he has died. Otherwise he will be dealing with both the death and the idea of someone causing that?
Sorry for you it's never easy but sometimes you have to know when the time has come.

karenski Tue 12-Mar-13 20:27:14

Sorry to hear this - am not going to be much help really but just to say I had my horse put down last year when DS was not quite two: he is nearly three now and still asks after him now and then. It is difficult, DS does not really understand death (like you I didn't want to do the whole 'gone to sleep' explanation) so will ask 'where is DHorse' and recently when we were chatting about horses and riding 'mummy when I am bigger I will ride DHorse for you'. :-( however he does not seem upset about it, rather just doesn't really get it.

equiliteral Tue 12-Mar-13 20:11:24

Thanks so much everyone, really helpful. DS1 is a sensitive soul and I think that this has the potential to be really hard on him if handled in the wrong way, so your thoughts are much appreciated. Will spend tonight working out a strategy from what you've suggested. At least I'll have a plan for that part :-(.

Floralnomad Tue 12-Mar-13 16:27:53

I've had 3 horses and a pony PTS over the years and it is an incredibly difficult decision to make . As its not being done in a great emergency rush why not just take the photos and then ultimately tell your child that the horse died . He really doesn't need to know the whys or wherefores and at that age its enough probably to deal with the death aspect without the added ' we chose to do it ' . My eldest was about 8/9 when we had the last horse death and I just said she had died and he came to the crematorium to collect the ashes . I must say when we lost our first horse we had several weeks notice that it was inevitable and had plenty of time to research a crematorium and had discussed it with the vet at great length ( all mine had lethal injections) .it is very scary the first time you do it . I don't intend that to sound blasé ,its very upsetting on each occasion .

mrslaughan Tue 12-Mar-13 15:30:51

We haven't been in the position of having a horse PTS, but have with too cats. TBH we didn't go into the decision, that the cats were going to be PTS (it was at different times) as I felt that this was beyond DS understanding - it is a very adult decision. We just talked about their Ill health and didn't think that they would live much longer, that every moment with them was special. After the fact we explained that they had infact died , then when we got the ashes back had a little ceremony.
Tbh - with our last cat - he had been so sick for so long - there had been so many good byes when we thought he wouldn't be coming back from the vet (he had an inherited heart condition), DS I think was almost a little relieved for him.

Mitchy1nge Tue 12-Mar-13 14:30:03

sad sorry you have this horrible decision to make

I think it might help if you emphasise the kindness of the process rather than the loss, it is a very loving and peaceful way to end the pain and discomfort - maybe involve them in creating some sort of memorial, photos, shoes, lock of mane/tail? Will you cremate and keep the ashes, maybe some sort of ceremony?

But definitely be honest, there are limits to what it is fair to put animals through and I think children understand this and can appreciate that.

50BalesOfHay Tue 12-Mar-13 14:26:22

Poor you, I've never been in the postion of making this decision, and it must be unbelievably upsetting for you. As far as your four year old is concerned, I don't think there's much you can do beyond being matter of fact as you intend, then help him to come to terms with the loss afterwards. Maybe you could involve him in a few of your own saying goodbye things, and a nice photo is a good idea, but I'd probably leave it as close to the event as possible so he's not waiting for it to happen for too long.

No easy answers, and this must be the most dreadful time for you. I'll be thinking of you.

DolomitesDonkey Tue 12-Mar-13 14:20:14

backinthebox had her daughter's pony PTS last year (?) - I remember her saying she invited her daughter outside to say goodbye just one last time. She was given a cheery wave and told "too busy" (watching cartoons).

I think maybe we worry more than we ought - although on saying that, my son was only 2 when my horse was PTS and he keeps finding tack and saying stuff about the horse... so I guess he does remember.

equiliteral Tue 12-Mar-13 14:12:08

I think I am going to have to have my 19 year old horse put to sleep. I am desperately sad, I've had him for years, but he's arthritic and on top of this has been horribly unwell the last few months, now has a tendon sheath infection, is just not picking up like he should, and I'm fairly sure that the time has come.

My 4 and a half year old DS1 is really very fond of him (as is my 2 year old... but I really doubt my 2 year old will query not seeing him again, whereas my 4 year old definitely will). How do I explain this to him? I tried to have a discussion this morning about how my horse is old and sick, and sometime we have to help animals to die so that they are not in pain any more. He got very upset, and also worried because his pony (in v good health) is older than my horse, so he obviously now thinks that the same thing may happen to his pony (which ultimately it might and I don't want to make any promises I can't keep on that score - but the pony is very sturdy and healthy ATM and looks like he'll go on and on).

I've probably got a couple of days to prep him - if anyone has suggestions I'd be very grateful, I'm finding this almost the hardest part. I might try to take a special picture of him with my horse for him to keep (we have a few, but no very nice recent ones), but beyond that I feel quite clueless. I do want to explain in in as matter a fact way as is reasonable for a 4 year old - no put-to-sleep euphamisms or similar, even though they sound more gentle (worry he'd never sleep again). He has a fairly good concept of death, but I don't want him to worry about sick / old people in this context, going forward. He's a real worrier anyway.

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