Neighborhood Kids family fun in bellingham & whatcom county


Coping with the Loss of a Family Pet

Dog and girl with a ball. Saying goodbye to furry members of your family is difficult for kids of all ages.

Like many parents, our first “babies” were our cats and dogs. Now that our family has grown and our children are growing up, we’re suffering the loss of those pets as they age. Last Halloween, after a long illness, we said goodbye to our quirky 21-year-old black cat, Buddy; last week, our loveable thirteen-year-old dog Kharma passed away unexpectedly.

Thankfully, our six-year-old twins handled the losses fairly well. To help your family through this transition, here are a few things that worked for us, both before and after the loss of our beloved friends.

Read and Discuss

When Buddy turned 20 and began to lose weight, we talked gingerly but frankly with the boys about the fact that, someday, our pets would die. Then I went to the public library. I searched the subject keywords pet(s) and death and found more than ten picture books about losing a pet. Here are a few stand-bys to look for at your local library:

  • When a Pet Dies by Fred Rogers of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood
  • The Berenstain Bears Lose a Friend by Stan Berenstain
  • Saying Goodbye to Lulu by Corinne Demas
  • Goodbye, Mousie by Robie Harris

Say Goodbye

There are many appropriate ways to say goodbye. Use your best judgment about what is fitting for your child’s age, maturity, and attachment. Should the child see your pet after it has passed? Will you have a funeral or memorial?

Release a balloon in their honor. Have the kids draw pictures and dictate farewell statements to their pet and hang or scrapbook them with photos. Make a donation to your local humane society in your pet’s name. Select, as a family, a photo of your pet to hang in your home. Whatever you do to honor the passing, be sure to include the kids on each step of the way.

Remember the Stages of Grief

Losing a pet might be a child’s first experience with death. Some kids go through the stages of grief (shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, and acceptance) more quickly (or slowly), or skip certain steps altogether. Others experience these stages in ways so subtle that their astute parents don’t even realize how the children are coping.

Accept whatever state your child falls at any given moment, and be a sympathetic ear to hear their feelings. Be honest, and let them see how you handle grief in a healthy manner. Muster some extra patience for any temporary behavior changes your child might experience.

If you’re not sure what to expect, check out’s Developmental Grief Stages. Adolf Moser’s book for kids, Don’t Despair on Thursdays! The Children’s Grief-Management Book, might come in handy during this tough time as well.

Resist Getting a New Pet for a While

Predictably, many children will wonder when you will get a “replacement.” Although a new pet might provide a temporary distraction, The Humane Society of the United States recommends first giving your family time to grieve and to consider carefully the responsibilities of pet ownership (“Coping with the Death of Your Pet”).

A new pet will never fill the hole left by the previous one, but with patience and thoughtfulness, your family will be able to move on in a healthy way.

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Childhood Cancer Awareness: Brandon’s Goal

By Kris Brauns (Brandon’s Mom)

My life was forever changed on February 4, 2003 and March 20, 2010. The former was the day that my son Brandon was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor; the latter was the day he passed away. The years in-between were filled with fear and hope, courage and humility, love and compassion, and pain and sorrow.

Brandon Brauns Brandon Brauns

September is National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and I want to share my story with you so that you will become just one more person better educated about this deadly disease.

Brandon was almost four years old when an emergency room doctor told us that he had a mass in his brain. I was not aware that children could get brain tumors. I spent most of that night watching my child sleep. We went to Children’s Seattle Hospital in the morning for an MRI and to meet with a surgeon.

On February 10, 2003, Brandon underwent a 12-hour surgery to remove half of the tumor. We were told that Brandon would not survive with 50% of the tumor remaining, and that we should enjoy our time together.

This scenario was unacceptable to us, so we found the best medical team in the country to treat our son. We spent the next three months in Memphis, Tennessee so Brandon could receive care from Dr. Tom Merchant. This decision gave Brandon two wonderful years of remission.

During that period of remission, Brandon had seven MRI checkups and each one showed that he was cancer free. Every MRI was preceded with loads of anxiety and feelings of elation for the following months.

Brandon was back in school and recovering well. He did have numerous deficits from the treatment. He had a left facial palsy, ate from a feeding tube for nine months, was unable to run like he used to, and lost his hair. The list goes on.

What I was thankful for was the gift of slowing down and seeing what is important: time with Brandon, sharing experiences, and enjoying the privilege of being his mom. Even though my life was horribly changed on February 4th, it also became filled with more love and feeling. I turned my cell phone off after work, left my laptop in its bag, and didn’t try to clean house while talking to my son. I would sit down and play with him, completely engaged in what we were doing.

During these seven, years, I educated myself about pediatric brain tumors. I didn’t know that cancer was now the #1 killer in children. I didn’t know that of those cancers, brain tumors killed more children each year than any other. I was shocked at these statistics. I felt so fortunate that Brandon’s life had been saved that I wanted to help others. We started a non-profit, Brandon’s Goal, to help other families, and we formed a support group for parents. Unfortunately, Brandon’s cancer returned and it became very aggressive. Brandon underwent several more surgeries, numerous radiation treatments, and painful chemotherapy. His life was full of doctor’s appointments, IVs, stitches, physical and mental deficits, and more.

Brandon started to feel isolated from his friends and was uncomfortable in large social settings. His friends would invite him out to a movie, but he would decline. Brandon wanted to stay home with his parents in the safety of his home.

It was heartbreaking to watch this disease take my child’s life away from him. What did make Brandon feel better was time with his family. During the last year of his life, we spent our time together by taking long drives, reading books, listening to music, drawing, watching movies, and inviting our family over for dinner.

Brandon suffered a severe brain event and seizure on March 15, 2009, one day after his tenth birthday. After this setback, it was clear that Brandon was losing the battle against his cancer.

Brandon’s goal was to beat his cancer and to help cure other children. He participated at fundraisers, spoke on the radio and at events, gave gifts to other sick children, and even organized a toy drive at Children’s Hospital during Christmas.

My goal was that he would survive to see his next birthday; he passed away at 8:29 AM, six days after his eleventh birthday.

Brandon’s celebration of life was attended by more than 850 people. His battle with cancer, his courage and humility, touched the lives of so many people. I have received letters and phone calls from all over the world about how Brandon changed their lives.

When someone says you can’t understand how it feels until it happens to you, nothing is truer than when you lose a child than in any other situation. I’m sharing my son’s story with you so that more people in our community will be aware of this deadly disease. By bringing awareness to childhood cancers, especially brain tumors, I hope that the support for finding a cure will increase. Pediatric cancers are the least funded cancers when it comes to research. I don’t wish my journey on any child, parent or family, so please help us find a cure for all pediatric cancers.

Visit to learn more about Brandon Brauns and the foundation created in his memory. The Brandon’s Goal website,, will be up and available to visit on September 25, 2010.

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Happy Harvest and Healthy Kids!

Girl with carrots. Photo courtesy Bellingham Farmers Market

Autumn has arrived in Whatcom County. Kids are getting back into the routine of school and parents are wondering how they’ll keep the family occupied during the months of cold and rain ahead.

But before the weather gets too tumultuous, you’re invited to celebrate the start of harvest season with local organizations and farms! Check out a few great, family-friendly events that will educate your kids about the abundant harvest that they can enjoy in our county.

Whatcom County Farm Tour
September 11, 2010

Sustainable Connections invites you to visit 11 local farms to learn about agricultural practices in Whatcom County. From Twisted S Ranch bison to Bellingham Country Gardens U-Pick vegetables, it’s amazing to see all that our community offers. You can even ride your bike from farm to farm! Download the Farm Tour Map to find your way to the farms.

Whatcom Harvest DinnerSeptember 26, 2010

Whatcom Harvest Dinner Photo courtesy Whatcom Harvest Dinner

Celebrate the abundant harvest season, the talented farmers and food artisans, and our amazing community at the Whatcom Harvest Dinner at Boxx Berry Farm. The Whatcom Harvest Dinner is a collaborative effort of local food, farming, and sustainability focused nonprofit organizations that are passionate about good food, community, and sustainable living in our beautiful home. Tickets are $45, available at Brown Paper Tickets.

Cloud Mountain Fruit FestivalOctober 2 & 3, 2010

You and your kids can sample over 200 varieties of fruit at Cloud Mountain Farm in Everson during their annual fall festival. Open on Saturday, October 2, from 10 AM to 5 PM and Sunday, October 3, from 11 AM to 4 PM, you can try all kinds of fruits that can grow in Northwest Washington while listening to live music by Giant’s Causeway and Polecat. There are activities for kids too! Admission is $2.50 to support Western Washington Fruit Research Foundation.

How does your family celebrate the harvest season in Bellingham and Whatcom County? Leave a comment below!

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