One of the hardest things to happen in a family with small children is the death of a family pet. As Catholics we know that we have immortal souls and that we can someday be with our Lord and our loved ones in heaven. But the family pet doesn’t have the same guarantees and it can be difficult to comfort our bereaved little ones with stories of doggy and kitty heaven when our Catholic faith doesn’t teach that.
I’ve had some experience with this as a child and as an adult.
When I was a little girl, my beloved cat, Shadow, was hit by a car. For many days my folks would not tell me what happened to her and so I continued to call and search for her. When they couldn’t stand it any more, my grandfather finally lead me to a little spot in the garden with a neat little grave and a pretty white cross that he had made especially for it. Then he just let me cry and cry on his shoulder for as long as I wanted – I knew that this was my cat’s grave, and I never questioned the symbolism of the white cross. I knew that when people died they got pretty grave sites with crosses or other religious symbols and so I didn’t question the Christian Cross on my cat’s grave, put there by my Christian grandfather! At that age I simply considered my cat to be a Christian too! The little grave with all the trimmings brought me some comfort.
A few years ago our beloved dog, Pepper, got sick and died. When we got the news from the vet we were all shocked and saddened. In the midst of all the sobs, 7-year-old son Noah asked, “Shouldn’t we pray the rosary or something mom?”
And so we did. Pepper lived in our Catholic household, so we prayed for our Catholic Dog. We started out with the joyful mysteries and I did some improvisation. The first mystery we prayed to thank God for the gift of having Pepper for a pet. The second mystery was a prayer that she didn’t suffer too much. The third mystery we asked for the intercession of Old Testament Noah and St. Francis, because they loved animals and know that they are God’s creatures too. The fourth mystery I reminded the children that they could ask for their little brother’s intercession too. My little daughter said that perhaps Pepper could be his dog now, to which I simply replied that we could have hope in God’s mercy and love. The fifth mystery we prayed for our veterinarian, and gave thanks for all of the good care he has given our pets over the years and for the comfort and care he gave Pepper.
I’ve had pets all of my life, and I am always amazed at how much losing them hurts. And yet with the companionship and joy they bring to the home, we never seem to go long without one. But not right away, and sometimes not for a while. It is good to feel the loss for at least a little bit, even if it does make our domestic church seem just a little emptier.
Elena LaVictoire has been married to her high school sweet heart for over 30 years. They have six children (from 23 to 7) who were all homeschooled. She blogs regularly about her issues and events that affect her family at mydomesticchurch.com.