On Pets, Life and Death

This week we had to have one of our birds put down. It was, obviously, a sad event in our house, however I actually believe this is one of the most important lessons offered by having pets. 

Birds are very companionable animals and we love having them around for the company and for the breath of life they bring to our house. There is always squawking and singing, fluttering and rummaging going on. They do ridiculously funny things and also a lot of irritating things. But they’re our friends and family. I think this connection we have with these creatures is really important for Cam and I think it helps her develop and empathy for other animals, for the environment and for other people. She practices kindness with them daily by gently touching them or by learning to think of how they feel when she bangs on their cage. We recently went out and bought each bird a new toy and she was so excited that when we came home, she ran up to their cages and began telling them all about the toys she picked out.

Having pets also teaches her about caring for and being responsible for another being. At this point I feel she is too young to be in charge of any of the birds, but she sees me feed and water them everyday. She helps clean out their cages and pick out new toys for them. She also helps us interact with them and keep them company because as birds they need our company as much, or more, than we need theirs.  

But then there is the hard, hard conversation about death. Cam kept asking if Mango was going to be okay, clearly not grasping the finality of his death. But seeing it and experiencing it now will help her come to understand. We used the opportunity to talk about how we made an effort to ensure Mango had a happy, healthy life while we owned him (he was a rescue that came to us three years ago). We talked about what we liked about him and what we’ll miss.

Death throws life into sharp relief and I hope by beginning to understand it Cam will learn to live. She will want to do great things with her life and appreciate all the wonderful things she has. I hope it teaches her not to be afraid, either of the inevitable or of living. I hope it teaches her how to grieve and to know that despite the sadness she can be happy again. I hope it teaches her that a life with meaning has sadness in it and that this makes the good all the more sweet. This all seems a tall order for the death of one small bird, but it was the first friend she has lost and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think she will take pieces of this away from it all.  

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