First of all I want to warn people that this story contains the (non-graphic) death of an animal. If you find that upsetting, please don’t read on.
My husband and I are avid animal people, and among our many pets we have several reptiles. At one point, among those reptiles was a young bullsnake, only about two feet long. This snake was my pet in particular, and I adored her.
One day, we woke up and the little snake was acting strangely, obviously in distress. We took her down to the exotic animal store where we’d purchased her, less than a block away from our home and run by a friend of ours who is also a veterinary student who has kept snakes for over twenty years. If he didn’t know what was wrong with her, no one would. When we got there, there was already a man with his two sons in the store; one boy of about ten, and the other perhaps seven.
Both boys were naturally curious, and I didn’t begrudge them when they crowded around to get a look at our snake as we spoke to the owner. He examined her, and sadly announced that her lower jaw was broken (we still do not know how this happened; best guess was that it was already slightly fractured when we purchased her). This is a mortal injury in snakes, as it cannot heal properly, and the only thing left to do was euthanize her. Our friend kindly offered to do so by quickly breaking her neck, and tearfully, my husband and I agreed. We walked away and held each other, sobbing, while our friend took care of it, quickly and painlessly.
The etiquette hell part comes now. As I, still in tears, approached our friend to thank him for helping us, the seven-year-old boy rushed up to me. “You know that snake!” He said excitedly, “It died!”
I was still in tears from the loss of my beloved pet, and this just hit me like a baseball bat to the head. “Yes, it died. It was my pet, and I loved her, and she died!” I snarled, and then fled the store. I heard my husband angrily remark that some people clearly raised their children with no manners before following me. The father, by the way, took no notice, and never even attempted to apologize, even though he was in hearing distance. We returned to the store later in the day, and our friend apologized profusely, saying that the boys and their father were frequent customers and the boys often made rude and/or careless remarks, but he’d never heard them say something so callous before.
I don’t blame the children, again. Kids are curious, and often don’t realize when they’re about to say something inappropriate. But this was apparently normal behavior for this boy, and the father never made any attempt to correct him. It made a horrible day all that much worse. Parents, please teach your children about when to or not to say things! 0914-15
When parents decline to use situations to teach their children proper social behavior, it can be your opportunity to influence future behavior in these children. Obviously we shouldn’t be looking to pedantically instruct every child we encounter but sometimes a situation seems “just right” to provide a memorable lesson. In your situation you recognize that a seven year old boy is probably unaware of the social etiquette of being empathetic towards grieving people so snarling at him, while an immediate emotional reaction, wasn’t the best option, imo. You want to excite his compassion to rise to the forefront of his thoughts, not his desire to be dramatic. Bending over or squatting in front of him, making eye contact and saying, “Yes, that was my pet snake and, yes, she has died because she was badly injured and in pain. She was just a baby snake. I am sad because I loved her and will miss her very much.” Unless the child is a sociopath, this dialog should arouse his empathy for the snake and for you. He still may not understand the proper things to say (that will come later) but you will have used the opportunity to plant a seed of compassion in him.
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It’s hard to lose a pet. For many people, their pets are a companion, a beloved presence very much akin to a family member or a good friend. I’m so sorry for your loss. Because of your grief, I don’t think that this was, in fact, a teachable moment. (More accurately, you weren’t in any position to be expected to interact with anyone, and shouldn’t have been put in the position of having to deal with the two boys.) However, you were in a public place. The situation was so unusual that I think everyone can be excused for their lapse. The habit of not properly instructing his sons in appropriate boundaries and of not restraining their curiosity is wholly the father’s fault, and a dynamic that you are unlikely to be able to correct with a few well chosen words. This was just a wholly painful and unfortunate incident for you. I don’t know if it helps to reflect on the small graces here. Your friend diagnosed your pet. Your pet was euthanized in the best possible manner and her suffering wasn’t prolonged. The child who intruded into your grief will hopefully fade into the background in your memory. Your own mindfulness might assist you in putting him there. Perhaps his interest will one day lead to him working with some of these exotics in a way that gives back to the larger world. One can hope.
So sorry for your loss, OP. And also for having to deal with a callous remark in the midst of a tragedy.
I agree with everything the Admin said, but just to reiterate, your reaction was completely understandable.
Also, you weren’t mean or insulting to the boy, just visibly upset. It’s normal for kids at that age to seem to lack empathy, but I’m sure by your reaction he realized his faux pas, and even without his dad intervening, maybe he’ll try to be more sensitive in the future.
Sounds like Daddy is raising a couple of sociopaths. If children aren’t taught empathy when they’re young, it will be hard to learn it when they’re older.
Daddy seemed to lack empathy himself and you can’t teach what you don’t know.
I respectfully disagree with you. This reaction sounds pretty age typical of even a well behaved 7 year old. To call them sociopaths is extreme and unfair. Yes, the parents have to teach them to behave, but you cannot base the merits of a parent on one moment in time. (Especially one you didn’t witness)
I agree, and even a well-behaved 7 year old might lapse in an unusual situation.
To add to my post; I cannot think it ever right for an adult to snarl at a 7 year old.
I can’t see how the OP could be remotely chastised for snarling in a moment like that. Age of the person making the comment notwithstanding, a pet had just been euthanised. It’s not a time where the OP would be thinking clearly or even thinking. One cannot school one’s actions every second of every day. OP was pretty reasonably calm for this. I’d have said worse probably. OP didn’t curse or call the child names or yell at the father, I can hear the tone in my head. Curt, full of grief, angry that they were interrupted not by “sorry your pet died, but OMG cool.”
On the other side of it, the kid was a kid and the parent was a jerk. I’d have lost it on the parent/adult minder of the kid.
Tana’s resonse is interesting.
Starting with saying “One cannot school one’s actions every second of every day” about the OP, but ending with “the parent was a jerk” based on this brief encounter.
Everyone can walk away from this encounter thinking that someone else in the shop was the jerk because nobody was having their best moments in that shop. They’d all be a little bit right, and a little bit wrong.
The child needed to know that his behavior was bad. The father wasn’t doing that.
I agree Lulu. I think some of these comments about the 7 year old are pretty harsh.
And yes, Dad may have been oblivious and missed out on an opportunity to correct his kid’s behavior, but not super impressed with the passive aggressive “wow, SOME parents sure don’t teach their kids manners” uttered by the husband either.
Disagree completely. As an educator, this is a typical response for a young child (there are other opposite responses that would be just as typical as well).
I was just about to add this. I teach kindergarten and 1st grade, and this would be pretty typical of most… until someone sat down and talked with them about why it was not appropriate.
Firstly, I’m sorry for your loss. I have pets myself, and I know how it feels to lose one – the type of pet doesn’t matter. Whether it is a cat or a snake, it hurts.
Which brings me to the second part: why on earth did the pet shop owner euthanize the snake in close proximity of a 7-year old boy? Or at least withing seeing/hearing distance. He could have waited a moment until the other customers were gone, or have taken it to the back of the store, not further commenting on it towards the boy. If a pet has to be euthanized, it’s not appropriate to have spectators present, unless the family (owner) requests them present. Let alone a 7 year old boy – one that he knows is very rude, I might add. It would have prevented the entire situation.
Odd thing is, he probably wouldn’t have done this with a pet that is considered “cute” such as a cat, bunny or puppy, for fear it might upset the other customers.
It does not excuse the boy being rude and/or his father not correcting. It does not mean your friend that helped the snake is not kind (it was very sweet of him to offer his assistance), but it is what springs to my mind when reading the story.
I had the same thoughts as well. Euthanasia should be done away from public eyes. The pet store owner blameshifted to the 7-year old when in reality it was his lack of empathy and discretion that created the situation.
Marie – I agree with you that the store owner was irresponsible. I had assumed, in reading the story, that the snake was killed out of sight (because who would kill a pet so openly?!?) but then it doesn’t make sense that the boy knew about the death, so the deed must have been done at least partly in view.
I don’t give a pass to OP, however. Snarling at a 7 year old boy for being a typical 7 year old boy? OP is immature, not the boy. I understand that in the height of grief things are said and done that wouldn’t be at other times but the boy wasn’t grieving and was clearly fascinated by the situation, which is completely normal. That the father didn’t intervene I will chalk up to shock, as that would have been my first (and primary?) reaction. It’s possible he may have said something later to his son and it’s also even more possible he had to spend a lot of time trying to explain OP’s behaviour and to soothe the (probably quite confused) boy. I expect very little teaching was able to be done by the father as the lesson was already learned – some people are unpredictable and may not be very nice to others.
It’s as if OP doesn’t understand herself that reptiles are atypical pets and usually considered pests to be eliminated. This boy probably has seen his share of reptile carcasses and/or exterminations of problem reptiles either in real life or on TV. You never see a zoo giving children kitten and puppy carcasses to handle, for educational purposes, but snakes? Absolutely.
The store owner kills a reptile in a manner that excites a young boy. The boy reacts normally. The boy and his father get piled on for that. When that boy sees “adults” behave like that it sure does teach him a lesson, and it’s one that doesn’t cast those “adults” in a very good light.
I don’t recall ever seeing or handling a dead snake carcass in any educational context either as a student or when educating my own children.
I do, many times. Perhaps it’s the difference between a country or city school, but we quite often have old birds best, snake skins, even feet head skeletons as part of a nature exhibit.
Very sorry for auto correct, it is so bad now that it takes the right word, spelled properly, and changes it…..right as I am pushing “post comment”.
What zoos have you been to that give children snake carcasses to handle? The ones I’ve been to always use live snakes when they’re letting children handle snakes at all.
We dissected snakes in biology class at our school as well as other animals (frogs, small sharks, etc.) But never cats and dogs.
I used the term “carcass” just as a catch-all for taxidermied animals, shells and skins from molting (which often look like complete bodies), body parts, etc. Lots of zoos and reptile refuges have tours where you can handle and examine animal pieces; it’s not uncommon either here or places we’ve travelled to, far away.
I assumed they didn’t do it view of the children. Instead, I assume the kids went to the owner (the last person they saw with the snake) and asked what happened. The owner answered their question. By the time the OP returned to thank the friend/owner, the children had already answered the kids.
I seriously doubt the owner/friend snapped the snakes neck within vision/hearing distance of the OP, or the OP would’ve mentioned that additional heartbreak!
**the owner had already answered the kids. Sorry for the typo!
I agree that this is the most likely situation. I can’t imagine that most adults would lie to a child when they ask what happened to the snake; “it died” seems a perfectly logical response. Which the child then repeated to OP, not realizing or not caring that OP was the concerned and heartbroken owner of said snake.
I can also see a 7-year-old’s exuberance in talking about animals like snakes, even in the context of its death. I have a former-7-year-old myself who is fascinated with lizards and insects, and she might even have behaved that way at that age if it weren’t for the fact that she doesn’t normally strike up conversations with people she doesn’t know. And yes, I would be there to correct her if she were to behave that callously, and apologize to the owner. Kids that age haven’t quite finished developing the mental filters to stop themselves from potentially saying something callous; it’s up to the parents to use that moment to teach them (and teach them to apologize gracefully) so that as they get older they develop those mental filters.
The OP mentioned that there was a crowd gathered around the snake as the person looked her over so the kids may have overheard the guy say that the snake “couldn’t be fixed” and then put two and two together.
How can you assume all of this? It’s like you are filling in the parts of the story you don’t know and weren’t there for.
OP here; it wasn’t done in front of the kids, the store owner took our little girl into the back. The kids saw our friend bringing the body back out to ask if we wanted to take her home. And to those asking why this was done within earshot of the kids, the store was very small, maybe about twenty feet by eight, and the kids were swarming around us. We didn’t feel comfortable telling them to go away, and the father made no effort to call them back even when it became clear where the situation was headed.
First, I’m so sorry for your loss.
Second, perhaps your husband could have been the one to give the lesson mentioned by Admin, but I’m guessing he was also upset about the loss of your little snake and your grieving.
Third, it is possible that the euthanasia took place in a back room, but the snake was returned to its travel cage so it could be buried at home. The child may have seen the snake coming out of the back room, looking obviously dead. Or maybe there was no back room.
I am not certain that empathy can be taught. My older brother and I are only a year apart, but he never had concern for others, not their fear, their pain or their grief.
I know I have posted this before, but it is appropriate here too. I was 22 when Mother found out she had terminal cancer. Her doctor felt that chemo and radiation would extend her life, but she feared the effects-loss of hair, exhaustion, et al, and was hesitant.
My 23 year old brother said, “Just go on and die! You’re going to die anyway; and you have no business spending money just to stay alive!”
She did die within the year. When we went to the funeral home, my brother walked over to her corpse, grabbed her arm, waved it in the air, and chortled, “Hey! Look! She’s soft!”
To this day, so many years later, I cannot imagine why he never formed a conscience or empathy. He was never abused or neglected. He simply never saw others as human beings.
Your brother is mentally ill. Normal people can be entreated to engage their compassion.
No, that doesn’t sound like mental illness at all. It sounds like Aspergers or some similar syndrome, which are conditions, not illnesses. People with these conditions often *feel* as much compassion and grief as anyone else; they just can’t figure out, or need a lot of help figuring out, what society has decreed is or is not an acceptable thing to say or acceptable way to say it.
Consider what he said to his terminally-ill mother. Cat says that her cancer was terminal and the suggested treatment was at best only expected to ‘prolong’ her life, and would certainly involve horrible side-effects; she would only have been spending money to increase her suffering and the prolong the suffering of everyone who loved her. The *idea* ‘you’re going to die, so it’s best you just make up your mind to go ahead and do that’ must have occurred to everyone; it’s just that today in our society we feel it’s inappropriate to voice it. Like the child in ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, the brother just blurted out, without any beating about the bush, what everyone must at some level have been thinking. For all anyone knows he was as distressed by her state as anyone, and appalled at the thought of her putting herself through radiation and chemo for no good reason.
(FWIW, even a hundred years ago our society felt quite differently about this; a person with terminal illness would have been encouraged to accept the inevitable, order their worldly affairs, and compose their minds to their approaching end. In the Middle Ages there was a whole publishing genre of self-help manuals on ‘The Art of Dying’.)
I think Cat may be quite wrong to say that her brother was never neglected. If he has been like this all his life and has never been diagnosed, let alone given any help in learning to interact with people and express himself in socially-acceptable ways, then he *was* gravely neglected.
I beg your pardon, but I’m high-functioning autistic and I would never, in my entire life, even DREAM of telling my mother “just go ahead and die,” nor would I mock her corpse. Yeah, we’ve had nasty verbal altercations in the past, but even at my worst, I would never, ever be so callous toward Mom.
Please don’t lump people like me in with Cat’s brother. He’s not like us at all, and saying things such as “oh, that’s Asperger’s,” about a disgusting disregard for other people doesn’t help us at all.
I’m sorry I offended you. I certainly didn’t mean to imply that everyone or even most people on the autistic spectrum would behave like that. But the fact is that I have a nephew with Asperger’s and that’s precisely the kind of remark that he does come out with. As a result, of course to anyone who doesn’t know about his condition he sounds repellently callous, which he really is not.
Or he is simply a psychopath. Psychopaths do not feel empathy. And most experts agree it is not due to poor upbringing or mental illness – it is an innate trait. I am no psychiatrist but I have done a lot of reading on the subject after my own encounter with one.
The 7-year-old boy in the story just sounds like a normal 7-year-old boy to me.
Psychopaths are generally a combination of “born” and “made”. They can have a fairly normal upbringing but those unfortunate experiences we’ve all had as children affect psychopaths differently, and feed into their lack of empathy, so more extreme upbringings really build into that. Psychopathy is actually not particularly rare and we all know more than a few of them but are (mostly) unaware, since charm is natural for a psychopath and thus we are easily fooled.
High Functioning Autism (HFA) does not indicate a lack of empathy at all, just a difficulty accessing that empathy. People with HFA also tend to show honest emotions at any time, even when it’s inappropriate. That might describe Cat’s brother’s behaviour at certain times but, if he was HFA, he should also feel sad at the loss of his parent, enough to show it at other times, which Cat has indicated he has not. Doesn’t sound like HFA to me.
And, yes, the boy’s behaviour in this story sounds quite typical, not HFA or psychopathic at all. Of course, all children are technically insane, if they were assessed as adults are, and it’s in their maturing that they (hopefully) gradually become sane. That’s why we don’t worry or get upset too much when children express hallucinatory thoughts (imaginary friends), extreme selfishness, theft (stealing a chocolate bar from the corner store), or blurt out whatever’s on their minds (expressing excitement at seeing the death of a creature), whereas these behaviours are utterly unacceptable in adults, whether HFA, psychopath, or whatever.
Cat has made it clear in numerous posts that her brother is a stone cold sociopath. He didn’t care about his mother’s suffering, he cared about her spending HIS INHERITANCE. He beat up Cat all through her childhood. I think he also threatened Cat and her father with a gun. He refused to change his vacation plans when their father was dying, refused to leave any contact information or call to check in because he didn’t want his vacation interrupted by having to come home for the funeral and later complained to relatives about how she didn’t “let him” come to his father’s funeral. Cat had to remind them she’d postponed the funeral for a week hoping he’d call. He also conned their Dad into putting his name on the bank accounts so he could “pay for the funeral”, then pocketed all the money and stuck Cat with the funeral bill. When Cat was in college, he showed up at her apartment and demanded a list of women she knew who were on birth control, because, “If they’re _______ their boyfriends, they can _____ me too.” Cat told him to get out.
Yeah that’s. …*not* autism. That’s stone cold sociopathy.
I can’t imagine living with someone like that.
The 7yo was being a 7yo. My dd would never have behaved like that by my ds would’ve at that age. And I’d have corrected him.
I understood he did take the snake away, but either the child still saw (because kids often go where they shouldn’t, and I wouldn’t be surprised if these kids have no idea what any kind of boundary is) or overhead the owner say something, etc. Since we don’t know, it’s not fair to blame the shop owner.
OP, I am very sorry. Under the circumstances, I think your reaction was understandable. In the future, I hope when these particular customers come into the store that your friend makes a point of keeping an eye on them an, if needed, asking the father not to bring the children in any more. He might lose business from them…but could lose more from their insensitivity.
I think possibly the little boy was somewhat traumatized by what he had just seen and spoke without thinking (as children do). I agree the shop owner should have taken the snake in the back of the store beyond prying eyes and take care of it. Yes, the father should be talking to the boys about the situation and helping them to understand and empathize with the grieving snake owner.
As a mother myself I would have been horrified if this played out in front of my children during an innocent visit to a pet store. The boy’s response was rude, however steps should have been taken to avoid having this played out in front of other customers. It easily could have played out differently with the child being extremely traumatized. I know my boys would have been beside themselves if they witnessed the death of an animal.
I was assuming that the kids found out the snake was going to die because they overheard the conversation between the owner and the pet store employee. OP mentions that people came to see the snake and watched the employee examine her. I really do hope that the snake’s neck wasn’t broken in full view of everyone. 🙁
I’m so sorry for your loss.
The moderators response would have been very appropriate. The child was young, making a simple factual statement, and was probably looking to OP for help in understand what was going on. Dad was probably mortified, and many men tend to become very uncomfortable around crying women. My advice, don’t read too much into the situation. It was simply awkward and uncomfortable for everyone. People are not perfect.
I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine how hard it must have been to deal with the death of a beloved pet and an insensitive remark like that.
And I don’t mean to be rude but I disagree with the admin about how the situation should’ve been handled. In our society today I would never presume to try to teach somebody else’s child anything. For one thing, it’s not my responsibility to create teachable moments for them. Plus, as I’ve seen here on Etiquette Hell many times, you never know how the parent is going to react. I think what you said and how you quickly got out of the situation were both justified and appropriate.
Every polite reaction you have with people is a teachable moment. Kids are not exempt from teachable moments.
This honestly sounds like it was all done within hearing distance of the family?
Could it not have waited even a few minutes or been done in a back room?
I don’t know if that would have altered the rest of the situation in any way, but holy heck I don’t know if I’d want to shop at any store where the owner was doing that apparently within sight/earshot of other customers.
he’s 7. I don’t think his comment remarkable for a child his age. some kids learn early on how to express empathy. most kids don’t understand the concept of death or its permanency until much later on.
if your reaction was immediate, when did the father have time to intervene? you said you snarled then fled. if someone snarled at my child after making a comment like that, I would probably be stunned and do damage control after the interaction. out of earshot. “yes, it wasn’t okay for her to talk like that but let’s look at what you said and how it could be hurtful to someone.” I agree with the teachable moment. and even the shopkeeper stated he’d never heard the kids make such a callous comment before.
you also said the kid stated this excitedly. I know when my kids are upset, they look ‘excited’ because they are still learning appropriate expression of their emotions. while I’m sorry for you loss, I think some grace to be extended in this situation.
I don’t see why it was not ok for the OP to snarl. She was upset at losing her pet. If it were my child, I wouldn’t hold it against the snarler at all, but I’d say to my child “I know you were excited about the snake, but that lady was upset about losing her pet, which is why she acted that way. I know you didn’t mean to upset her. But next time just think about how you would feel if we lost Fluffy. That is how that lady felt. It’s not your fault, you just didn’t know. Come on, let’s go now.”
As a child I can remember getting snarled at by adults I didn’t know when I was misbehaving (example being a friend and I riding bikes on some random person’s lawn, or reaching through the fence to get blackberries, stuff like that). The adult snarled, I stopped the behaviour, it was a bit humbling or perhaps even upsetting, but I survived and didn’t grow up traumatized by it or anything.
I do think the OP is overreacting. Not to the loss of her pet (I get it, I have lost pets and it really hurts) and not even the snarling (in the moment when you are emotional you react in ways you might not normally). But she is obviously still focused on the child’s “rudeness” when really, that was just a child that didn’t know any better, and yeah, the father should perhaps had said something then and there, but I don’t think this one incident necessarily means the kid will grow up without empathy.
I always take my kids to the exotic animal store to see animals euthanized… not. Goodness gracious! What was that “friend” and storeowner doing breaking the neck of a snake in front of children!
Instead of treating this as a very sad and private moment, he obviously opened it up to complete strangers. I don’t know how you can expect children to understand that it’s a mournful moment if it’s treated so casually.
And also, that the friend and storeowner says that these children often say rude things. Well, then why of all the strangers he could have shared this with did he share it with them?!
Also, I’m not sure why he thought that breaking the snake’s neck was an appropriate way to euthanize it. I can’t really fathom an actual vet student doing something like this.
There are a lot of well meaning people who think they know how to handle exotics but are not really trained to do so.
My husband and I had a very loved pet–a leopard gecko named Lazarus. We had already brought him back from the dead twice: Once, when we rescued him from a bad owner and a second time when he stopped eating for a long time–we had to hand feed him and finally got him to hunt again.
Sadly, his second renaissance did not last. I took him to the vet one last time and they said his condition was very grave and that he was suffering and had less than a 50/50 chance of surviving. They immediately administered pain meds to relieve his suffering and then from there used medicines to euthanize him.
He was a wonderful lizard and he deserved the gentlest treatment and he got it from a real vet.
On the internet, well meaning people suggest freezing herps to euthanize them but this is very painful for them. And this advice does not come from a vet.
So, in this story, I have to ask, if someone has to be labeled a sociopath, I would pin that label on the friend and store owner who used a strange method to dispatch the snake and shared the moment with individuals who were too young and known to not be understanding or caring.
I’m very sorry the OP had to go through this. I cried like a baby when they told me my little Lazarus was not going to make it. And it brings tears to my eyes now to remember the amazing compassion and sympathy that the veterinarians and nurses showed for my pet and for me.
They even sent us a small clay ornament with his feet and tail impressions on and his name stamped as a remembrance.
If you know what you are doing and practiced at it, breaking the neck is more humane than freezing or gassing herps. It’s an acceptable option, even for non-herps, depending on the circumstances (for example, in a cancer study in which gassing would interfere with results, the animals have their necks broken or are guillotined).
For herps, freezing, breaking their necks, or cutting their head off is not humane. Vets do not practice any of these “methods.”
The goal is to be humane, not “more humane” by comparison.
You’re right. It’s not humane. Breaking a snake’s neck can cause it to suffer and die slowly, over minutes or even hours.
I’m so sorry for the loss of your special friend. I wanted to add to what everyone seems to be commenting, because I think it’s very important– you were under no obligation in that moment of extreme agony and loss to take it upon yourself to educate that kid. Other teachable moments will come– in that moment, your own emotional needs were the most important.
That was my question as well — did the store owner kill the snake then and there, in front of customers, including children? Surely not?
The father should have apologized for the child’s remark to OP, and made the child apologize as well, at any rate.
It never even occurred to me that this might have occurred deliberately in front of the child. I presumed that either it was done in back, and the kid wandered, or it was being done quickly and inappropriately in front but there was nobody there at the time and the kid walked in.
The loss of a pet can be very traumatic and can cause intense grief, for this I am very sorry for you OP.
I think you a putting more maturity on a small child (maybe 7) on a concept that many adults still don’t grasp well, expressing empathy or condolences. If this child saw the snake being put down, that might be a new experience for that child. The family may not have yet had a discussion about what death and dying are, depending on the child’s emotional development. The fact that you fled the store and your husband followed didnt really give time for the father to respond to his inconsiderate son. This may have been a shock to him that his child may have witnessed an animal’s neck being broken in a pet store they frequent often. Over time the rawness of your emotions during this unfortunate situation will be replaced with fond memories of your pet.
Sorry for your loss, OP.
I’d tend to put the onus on the pet store owner too. Euthanizing an animal in a public setting , esp. an animal that had been a beloved pet, isn’t a professional or considerate way to handle such a delicate matter. (I’ll point out the the owner KNEW this was your much-loved pet but the child & father did not). The OP was conscientious enough to place a warning at the heading of the post – and that’s just reading about it! Seems when the owner ACTUALLY did this, he should have had more sense than to do it in front of people. That’s fairly callous, IMO.
To play Devil’s Advocate – I’ll add that some young kids will take a direct parental criticism or rebuke in situations like this as if they’re being accused of ‘lying’ or ‘making things up’ & will make matters worse by going on & on to ‘prove’ their observations are real & truthful to the adults who are present. When I was little, (this still makes me cringe to this day), I loudly pointed out a man with very big ears to my Dad – “Daddy!!! Look at the man with the big ears! LooklooklooklookLOOK!!!” My Dad was tried to shut me up/tell me what I was saying was rude but the more he did, the more I insisted, “But Daddy, his ears ARE big!!!! I’m not lying!!! It’s NOT rude to tell the truth! They’re like Dumbo’s!!!” (I was really into that film as a child so from my ‘kid perspective’, it was actually a weird compliment). The poor man I was talking about turned fire-engine-red from mortification & maybe he was wrong, but my father felt that approaching him to apologize would only serve to compound the man’s embarrassment & bring attention to him. My parents learned when I would say something like this in public, distracting me solved the immediate problem (i.e. shut my mouth). Then afterwards, at a time when I would listen & absorb the lesson, they’d explain that it’s not polite to exclaim things out loud like that about other people, EVEN when it’s the truth. 🙂 I caught on quickly & it was a short phase but there’s a good chance that this boy’s father was employing the same method. Laying the blame on the kid & a ‘lack’ of parental discipline on the part of the father smacks of the owner trying to cover his butt instead of admitting he really should have taken care of your snake more discreetly (which if he had, the whole issue would have been avoided altogether). Saying something to his son at that moment may have caused the boy to distress you even more with further comments. The father really was between a rock & a hard place. Seeing you were very upset, he perhaps felt approaching you to apologize would exacerbate an already-awkward & sad circumstance. It’s very possible that father & son had a productive chat on the way home about what is & isn’t OK to say to a someone who’s just had to put their pet down.
Or maybe father & son ARE rude, thoughtless jerks – but even still, I think the owner is ultimately responsible for creating this unnecessary & disquieting situation for you. Personally, I’d be much more upset with him.
Raising children to be polite, functioning members of society that pick up on social cues is not a program parents can download into their brains. It’s a teaching/learning process & unfortunately, sometimes there’s collateral damage because kids will say the most unbelievable, unexpected things & usually at the WORST possible moment. Try as they might, parents can’t realistically prepare for every word that could tumble out of their child’s mouth. It sucks when you’re the innocent by-stander with the big ears or the deceased pet but – these things happen & I like to believe we all received some benefit of the doubt when we were rug-rats that spouted inappropriate talk with abandon before we knew better. 🙂
MzLiz – You behaved pretty normally for a kid, which is to say that you said what you were thinking, and I think most mature adults understand that and don’t take undue offense. It’s uncomfortable for the parents, the object of the kid’s attention, and the kid him/herself (maybe not at first but more so later on) and it’s part of typical interactions with kids. Frankly, I think kids who speak out of turn a lot when younger often function better as adults than kids who are overly meek and compliant. They don’t make the parents look good but that’s not their job, is it?
Oh yeah – I think most kids go through that stage of ‘Self-Appointed Town Crier’; Commenting out-loud & making observations. And we all had to learn the different concepts that go into deciding to say something; whether or not it’s polite, if the situation calls for speaking, when it’s better to stay silent, your tone, the timing, your relationship to the people around you, etc. That’s a lot to figure out – it takes a certain amount of time & growth to learn this, even the most polite adults can slip every now & again.
When you’re a kid, you want ALL adults to think you’re good & clever (because kids look up to grown-ups) & one way children usually get praise is by showing-off their awareness, which I think is what this boy was doing. Learning what’s OK to say & what’s not comes from experience. The same day I embarrassed one man, I made another’s day by telling him he looked like the Prince from my book. That observation was cute & flattering. The other caused the person to feel extremely uncomfortable. I had to ask my Dad why one was welcome & the other was not, since both my comments were meant to be positive. I didn’t understand the difference but through experience, I cottoned on. I feel bad that the poor man with the big ears had to suffer but as I said, unfortunate collateral damage while leaning life-skills.
I also remember the Earth-shaking revelation when I realized that adults actually had FEELINGS! FEELINGS like kids have! FEELINGS that could be HURT!!!! When you’re a child, you really believe grown-ups are these stoic, know-everything, have-it-all-sorted-out, unflappable, completely confidant beings. They’re so important with their jobs & money & credit cards. They can drive & have seemingly unlimited freedom. They decide bed-times & what’s for dinner & they know the spelling of so many words. They are IN CHARGE. When you have all of that, it’s foreign to many children that they could possibly do or say anything that would upset an adult. It’s one of the more odd societal phenomenons – The higher up the ladder someone is, the less ‘human’ they seem. Who ever feels protective of the feelings of the very rich, the very famous or the very powerful? Who looks at say, Kim Kardashian when she gets roasted & thinks, “Ah, poor thing, these mean jokes probably make her feel terrible. She’s just making a living. They should leave her alone” ? Not many, I’d wager.
you need to pre-emptively “Teach” your kids to avoid situations like that.
“See that lady? She’s really fat, right? But we would never say anything like that to her, because it might make her sad, and she would cry…” (obviously said so only your child can hear)
lather, rinse, repeat.
“What’s wrong with being fat, Mum/Dad? Is it bad to be fat? Is that why we don’t say anything to fat people? Cos being fat is bad???? Why is having long hair ‘pretty’ & you can say that but when a man is fat like Santa, who is good, you can’t say anything????? Don’t they already know they’re fat???? Questions, questions, questions, more questions…..”
Aaaaand….lather, rinse, repeat for many young children. You cannot preemptively bestow experience on a person. It doesn’t work like that. Maybe it did for you/your children/children you know, but it won’t work for every kid. Adults shouldn’t be so hyper-sensitive to a child who’s navigating their way in the world. We all did it once, and in fact, we all still are.
If you have the ability to read your kids’ minds and know what they are going to do/say then you are free to use your generous gift to pre-emptively teach them. For mere mortals, such as myself, there is quite enough to do with reacting to the behaviour either at the moment or later on. My kids were quite immature for a long time, saying and doing things that required a lot of teaching, discipline and damage control, well after their peers had stopped doing those things. They are now mature, well-behaved adults who are regularly complimented on their manners. Anyone who brags about how well-behaved their kids were as children is not exhibiting themselves as a shining example of parenting as much as they are, inadvertently, admitting they were blessed with “easy” children, the kind you have to try really hard to screw up. The kind I wished for but am now quite glad I didn’t get.
OP, I do not cast you into etiquette hell or even purgatory for the way you reacted. You were grieving and in shock. You didn’t call the kid a name, you didn’t personally attack him – you just snarled out a factual answer.
The kid could have made the remark to his dad or brother, but instead he chose to run over and make it to a crying stranger?! Who he knew had come into the store with the snake? If I were the boys’ parent and I realized that there was no happy ending for the little snake and saw the OP and her husband really upset, I would have scooted them away with me to another area of the store – I would have explained that the other adults were very sad that they lost their pet and that we should give them some privacy. But no – oblivious dad didn’t parent. Instead it is suggested that the OP should have given the kid some perspective … while she is crying and grieving. Yeah … alright. And getting snapped at for saying something crappy? I think that is also a lesson for this teachable moment – if you say something insensitive, you may get snapped at.
OP, I am so sorry for your loss and so sorry that the kid’s comment made the day harder. Last year was a VERY bad year for beloved pets in my family, you have my empathy and sympathy – I was really fortunate that I had privacy during the hardest moments. (one vet even let me hang around for a little while in her private office until I could regain composure – I was hurting over the pet, but in a panic that someone in the waiting room with a sick pet would see me all cried up and worry even more and I just could not cope with my bad day making anyone else’s day worse.) It seemed from your letter like everything was happening so fast in your situation that no one thought of privacy in the moment. I’m sorry for that, too.
Oh, pets. When they pass away, it hurts as big as you loved them. I am so sorry, OP.
OP, so sorry for your loss.
I think your reaction was perfect. The words don’t sound accusatory, just factual in a way that would make the little boy think about your feelings. I notice no one is reacting badly to your words, just your statement that you “snarled.” It probably felt like a snarl to you, but I doubt that it really was–I don’t think it’s really possible to snarl while you’re crying.
Could I just say that “non-graphic” appears to be a personal opinion.
I read on as I was promised a non-graphic death. I really did not expect to read that an animal was killed by a person breaking it’s neck. That’s pretty graphic in my books.
I do wonder what on earth a ‘graphic’ death would have been. A horror scene?
Yeah, I feel the same. And I have to wonder why anyone would take a poorly animal to a pet shop instead of a vet, and why they would allow someone to snap its neck instead of having a vet euthanise it. It would have been so easy for that neck snap to go wrong and increase the snake’s suffering.
I kept waiting for somebody to point this out because I wanted to comment on it, but didn’t know if it might be a regional thing.
OP here; we took the snake to the shop because it was right down the road from our house, while the nearest exotic animal veterinarian was a half-hour away on the subway and ten minute walk. And we agreed to have her euthanised there for the same reason; she was suffering, and we thought that dragging her off on a long trip on a noisy train and down a city street would just prolong her pain and stress her out even further. We thought it was better to have it done as quickly as possible. And the store owner, as mentioned before, is a veterinary student and knew how to perform the procedure properly and painlessly.
Actually, snapping the neck, if done properly, is quicker and less painful for the animal than any other form of Euthanizing. The trouble with this method, as Kristen pointed out, is that not many people are experienced enough to do it (and I’ll leave it at that).
But as the OP mentioned, their friend is a vet student, and I hope that he knows what he is doing in these cases.
That’s not true! Breaking anything’s neck is not euthanasia.
First time in college I did workstudy in a research lab, and was trained how to quickly kill small rodents (I will not go into details) in a way considered quite humane. I am sure that procedure would work on a smaller lizard or snake as well. I had to be supervised until they were confident I could do it correctly every time. It is not ‘breaking the neck’. I would assume a veterinary student would be taught the same and be able to perform it properly.
The emphasis here was on the fact that the pet needed to be euthanized and the story lacked elements of violence or abuse directed at the pet. So “not graphic” sounds like a good descriptive for this narrative. Death is an uncomfortable topic. The story was related factually and an explanation for the method of the snake’s death was provided. Since the pet had to be euthanized in order to prevent it from suffering, I don’t think that the experience OP related would have made very much sense without her having related that somewhat unpleasant (but not, in my view, graphic,) “backstory”.
Very sorry for your loss, OP.
There are a lot of particulars we don’t know about this story. Did the store owner actually kill the snake in front of the children? I can’t believe a veterinary student would do something like that.
More than likely, the father overheard the conversation between the storekeeper, OP and her husband and told the boys that the snake was going to be put down. And he had no way of knowing that the younger boy was going to say something to OP.
Seven-year-olds don’t have a fully developed brain-to-mouth filter or empathy impulse. To a boy that age, snakes are cool, death is mysterious, and the opportunity to excitedly vent to a stranger overrides the fact that said stranger loved the snake and is upset by the death.
For all we know, the father did correct or discipline the boy, but we don’t know this from OP’s account because she fled the store. I do know that as a child, I got my share of “that was tactless” lectures from my mom after the fact.
On an e-hell rudeness scale of 1 to 10, I would give the kid a 3 (because he didn’t know any better), OP a 2, OP’s husband a 6 for the bad parent comment (but bumped down to 4 because grieving), and dad a ? because we don’t know whether he corrected the boy after the fact.
I’m with you. I don’t see the child as a budding sociopath. He’s in the perfect stage to learn some empathy and some boundaries. LW’s husband seems to have missed that stage himself.
I continued reading this because it specifically said it reference the “non-graphic” death of a pet. I really don’t consider snapping a pet’s neck to be non-graphic.
I think we need more information. If the snake was euthanized where the child could see or detect somehow that this was going on, perhaps by the OP or pet shop owner’s behavior, than this was not handled by one or both correctly. The pet shop owner shouldn’t have even shared that the pet was now dead if the child asked. A child could have reacted like he did-which to me sounds like the matter of fact way 7 year olds react to something interesting or new to them-or he could have been seriously upset when confronted by the info that an animal he just saw alive is now dead. I would be concerned as a parent if I took them to a pet store for a nice outing and had to deal with a traumatized kiddo because of poor choices others made, not unforeseen circumstances. I understand that the OP was grieving but I’m not sure bringing a suffering animal into a retail space with children present was the best way to resolve this. No parent is expecting euthanasia to happen at a pet store nor that they will have to deal with someone’s grief. A sick animal is more appropriately treated at a vet or at least not in a public place. There are lots of teaching moments out there but I’m not sure the OP should expect a parent, taken off guard, in a completely unanticipated circumstance to know how to deal with it at that moment. And the little boy sounds completely normal. In fact, it is probably indicative that he has empathy as he reacted with interest and excitement. Sometime excitement is a way children have of voicing concern or nervousness. Kids grow into empathy.
OP, first of all I’m so sorry for your loss. The whole situation sounds horrible and I’m sorry you experienced it. I’ve been in a similar situation, but it was my father who’d died. The day my Dad died we all corralled together at my Mom’s house. Several neighbors were popping in and out, offering food, assistance and just general condolences. One such neighbor had a child who was around 7 years old. He was very fond of my Dad because he would do fun things at Halloween and my parents would watch him sometimes. His Mom chose being at my Mom’s house to let him know that my Dad (S) had died and that’s why everyone was sad. I’m not sure why she wouldn’t have done it at her own house before bringing him over (or if it was appropriate that he be there given how new the situation was). He promptly dissolved into tears and my Mom was left to console him. When he finally settled down he marched into the kitchen where my younger siblings and I were talking and said “You know S? He died!!” All I could respond with was that yes he had and he was our Dad, pointing to my siblings and I, and that we were all very sad. After he left to peruse the food table, all I could do was shake my head. Kids will be kids and I know they don’t have a filter, but I feel were definitely some parenting issues involved.
Yowza. I feel this is a great example of our society, where we often feel more empathy towards pets than we do other human beings sometimes.
The 7 year old boy’s reaction was completely normal. Especially if the snake was killed right in front of him?? And for an adult to snarl at him for being curious is beyond immature. As for the Dad? He may not have heard the boy, given proximity perhaps the dad thought he was talking to the employee, maybe the dad didn’t even think that the OP was the snake owner (maybe the boy didn’t either). But honestly, I do not chide my child for making observations. And maybe the dad talked to him later about it?
How do we know the father didn’t say anything? Because he didn’t say it in front of the OP?
There were times my child inadvertently did or said something she shouldn’t have, not out of malice or lack of kindness but just because she didn’t know better yet. I corrected her privately-me disciplining my child is not a sideshow for others.
OP here; when we came back to the shop later to talk to our friend, he told us that the father had said nothing to the children or to him even after my husband and I had left.
Just because the you/your husband/owner didn’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen though. Some kids don’t respond well to being disciplined in public & some parents don’t feel comfortable chastising their children in front of others.
Pardon my asking, OP but I really have to wonder why you would agree to something like the breaking of your pet’s neck in a relatively public place like a pet shop, since you were aware of the possibility your snake couldn’t be saved & knew that would affect you very deeply? I’ve had to put down a pet & there’s no way I’d have opted to have it done anywhere near strangers. I’m not unsympathetic & I understand that grief can make for curious choices but tbh, I think you & your husband bear some responsibility for how this boy’s comments made you feel – The boy & his father came to a pet store to look at live animals, they weren’t expecting to be around the euthanization of one. To an outsider, it may have looked like you & the owner were treating it casually since it was a pet shop & not a vet’s office.
As I mentioned above, we took the snake to the shop because it was right down the road from our house, while the nearest exotic animal veterinarian was a half-hour away on the subway and ten minute walk. And we agreed to have her euthanised there for the same reason; she was suffering, and we thought that dragging her off on a long trip on a noisy train and down a city street would just prolong her pain and stress her out even further. We thought it was better to have it done as quickly as possible rather than put her through that. And honestly, we weren’t aware there was a chance she couldn’t be saved; we thought she might have something caught in her throat, not that she had such a serious injury.
Also, I doubt it looked like we were treating it casually since my husband and I were in floods of tears and the store owner was hugging and consoling us.
Fair enough. I’m not condoning the kid & his father & I honestly DO feel badly that you had to go through this. At the end of the day though, I just feel that you can’t control anyone else’s reactions or behaviour so when it’s a situation where the outcome could possibly be very personal & affecting, privacy would be a concern for me. If I chose not to take the private option, I’d understand there might be consequences to my decision – like having to deal with strangers milling around who didn’t comprehend/weren’t sympathetic to my feelings.
People can act very strangely around death; any kind of death. When my Dad died, the amount of weird-to-downright-inappropriate things people said to me was mind-boggling. And most of the inappropriate stuff was said by adults who were obviously suffering from nerves & verbal diarrhea. But it was better to assume they meant well, forgive ’em & move on rather than dwell on dumb, ill-timed/thought-out comments. I couldn’t control what they said but I could control my own reaction & how their words affected me by not letting them affect me at all. There’s an odd comfort to that. 🙂
Again, I am sorry for your loss.
Why should this take place in front of your friend either?
Maybe he said that just to placate you.
To me, in all this, the pet store owner is the one with issues. The story makes it sound as though he euthanised the snake right there and then! Even if he didn’t, he had no place or right to tell a child that he’d killed the snake, or that it was dead. HE is the one that sounds as though he has no empathy or tact. The child was just being a child.
Yes, it was a teachable moment. And the OP taught. The OP taught the kid that if you say thoughtless things in front of people, their feelings are going to be hurt, and they might well snarl at you. That is a valuable lesson to learn. It might not have been conveyed if the OP somehow had the wherewithal to be gentler!
For the people who are scolding the OP for snarling at a seven year-old- seven is definitely old enough to start having responsibilities that affect the family and the classroom and thus to have to connect actions to consequences. Connecting actions to consequences won’t happen if the consequences for bad actions aren’t aversive enough. Also, honestly, can we have a reality check here- what planet do you live on where seven-year-olds don’t experience “snarling” or worse on a regular basis from parents, teachers, and the other adults around them?
Also, the store owner said that the boys often make careless/thoughtless remarks. That seems to back up OP’s husband’s comment that the kids sure aren’t learning manners at home. Kids who don’t learn polite behavior from their parents often learn it the hard way when they’re called out for their rude behavior by others.
Just because they experience that, doesn’t make the adults in this situation right.
Young kids are pretty matter-of-fact about death, especially dead animals. I’m sorry this happened to you.
I apologize sincerely for this hijack, OP, but if this ever comes up again, please take your pet to a veterinarian, a licensed DVM. There are not a ton of vets who see exotic animals, but there are some. Only a veterinarian is qualified to diagnose or treat illness (and, in fact, a non DVM who is doing so is practicing veterinary medicine without a license. This is illegal, not that anyone would prosecute it). A feed store owner or vet student, however well-meaning, is not even close to the same thing. I’m posting this partly for anyone else who finds themselves in this situation. I am so sorry for your loss.
OP here; trust me, usually we do take our pets to the vet, and in fact we had an exotic animal vet in the city where we normally took our reptiles and parrot. In this case, however, that vet was a half-hour train ride and ten-minute walk away, while the store (whose owner was, again, a veterinary student) was just down the street from our house. We could see that our little snake was in pain, and we wanted to get her seen as quickly as possible; had there been any hope of treating her, or had the store owner not know what was wrong with her, the next step would have been the vet’s office. But since there was no hope, and we knew our friend had the knowledge and skills to make her end as quick and painless as possible, we thought it best for her suffering to end there rather than put her through the trauma of a long journey while she was still in pain.
Believe me, we are very, very strong advocates of getting your animals to proper vets, and making sure there is a license exotic animal vet in the area is one of the first things one should consider before purchasing a reptile/bird/etc!
The OP, the husband, and the shop owner are all adults. All of them could have behaved better or differently in this situation. The child was being a child.
I hope you don’t blame children for your own problems in other situations, too. You and your husband, no matter how broken up your were over the death of your snake….you could have behaved much better. Come on.
It looks to me like the boy and the OP were both responding with little-to-no filter. OP was due to the nature of the situation– sure she should have known better, but was traumatized. I give the OP a pass because of that. The kid was 7, so his behavior was pretty normal.
If I were the dad, I would not have engaged with OP & husband (under the idea of “don’t engage the crazy” after her outburst). I would have had a discussion with my kid later, in private, probably at home or in the car. Just because nobody saw this happen doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It would have started with trying to explain OP’s behavior because that was the not-normal behavior in this situation. Then we could have moved into how to act around crying strangers, or how to talk about death, or whatever.
I think the one who comes out worst here is the OP’s husband. The kid and the OP were both acting and speaking impulsively in the moment. The husband’s words were more thought-out, and intended to ‘punish’ the dad (OK, maybe it was some twisted form of comfort for the OP, but then why not use actual words of comfort for her, rather than words of hate toward a stranger?)
Agree 100% PJ. I really dislike passive aggressiveness like what the husband did. If he felt that the kid was way out of line, and it was something the father needed to address, why not approach him directly? And if he felt it was not his place to say anything, or didn’t want to get into a confrontation, why say anything AT ALL? Because he wanted the dad to feel shamed, but didn’t have the guts to confront him directly, so he makes it a parting shot as he walks away, thus depriving the dad of a retort or chance to defend himself and his parenting (if he wanted to, I don’t generally engage with people like that, maybe Dad doesn’t either). It’s a childish and cowardly method of confrontation.
Firstly, condolences on your loss OP. Mourning a beloved pet is never easy.
Secondly, I agree with PJ. I would not have had a conversation with my child at the shop, because this is a ‘large’ subject that would need to be addressed in length. I have two almost-7 year olds and yes, I can imagine both of them saying something like this. Not because they lack empathy, but because they wouldn’t put two and two together in the same way an adult would (and because they would not see a snake as a pet). If the child acted badly, then so did the OP, and both have good ‘reasons’ (the child’s natural development and the OP’s grief) but the husband just wanted to get a dig in, and that was just a bit petty.
Bellini. Thank you.
I think it would be more appropriate for the father to have a quiet talk with the child alone than in front of OP, her husband, and the vet student. I think OP and her husband over reacted to the excited utterance of a young child. I realize they were saddened by the death of their pet snake, but honestly, snarling at a 7 year old was over the top.