Having been a veterinarian for almost 25 years, Shrewsbury resident Monica Mansfield has seen how the pain the loss of a pet can cause both to adults and children.
This type of loss is often a child’s first experience with grief, Mansfield said, and can make for a difficult conversation between parents and their children.
“The parents are going through a hard time too,” she said, adding if the conversation is had in an honest and positive fashion, it can build a foundation for the child which would help in dealing with grief experiences in the future. “There will be, for all of us, other grief experiences.”
Mansfield, who works with five other veterinarians at Medway Animal Hospital, hopes a book she recently wrote When You Have to Say Goodbye: Loving and Letting Go of Your Pet will help children through the process, whether it be impending or if the loss has already taken place.
The original idea for the book came from one of her clients during an appointment just a week after another family asked her how to talk with their child about the impending loss of a golden retriever.
“It seemed like such a brilliant idea at that moment,” she said, adding that she is asked several times per year by parents, “How much do we say? When do we say it?”
The book, which Mansfield said is intended for children ages 5 through 8, discusses the bond between a pet and child, reasons a pet may need to be euthanized and a variety of feelings the child could experience when having to say goodbye. The book also gives suggestions on how a child may deal with the grief such as talking to someone, writing a poem or planting a flower or bush in memory of the pet.
It is the same concept that she would tell adults but in child language, she said, adding that her experience as a veterinarian played “a ton” into writing the book and that the front desk at her veterinarians’ office has a number of copies of the book, which came out in October.
When Mansfield’s own children were approximately the same ages as the intended audience for the book, she said, her family had to make decisions about euthanasia for three pet cats all within one year.
“It definitely is heart-wrenching,” she said, adding that she hopes When You Have to Say Goodbye will “reach a whole lot of families in a positive and helpful way…like a tool.”
Mansfield said the goal is to have the book in veterinarian offices throughout the country as well as in school libraries. The book was illustrated by Lennie Peterson, a professional artist, cartoonist, illustrator and musician around Massachusetts…and “a huge animal lover,” according to Mansfield, who called the book “a poignant project” for both of them.
Her two sons are now 19 and 15. Her husband is also a veterinarian.
Mansfield said she was always an animal lover and that as far back as when she was just about 5 years old “nothing could have been more important” to her.
“I always liked the sciences, tried to do very well and keep my grades up,” she said. “I’m glad it all worked out because I think that (becoming a veterinarian) was the place where my heart most wanted to go.”
When You Have to Say Goodbye is Mansfield’s second book. It is available at Tatnuck Booksellers in Westborough as well as Amazon.com and major bookstores. It can also be purchased on her website.