A reader writes: How much time is enough to grieve between losing one pet and getting another?
My response: Many people worry that getting another pet too soon after losing the one they loved so much is somehow an act of disloyalty to the one who died – but like everything else in grief, that is a very individual matter and varies widely from one person to the next.
Some people are so full of love that they can always find another chamber in their hearts to accommodate another precious animal. My own father was such a person – whenever one of our beloved family pets died, he was the first one to suggest that we find another animal right away, to help heal our broken hearts.
Some people discover that it's not so much that they go looking for another animal, but another animal just seems to find them.
Still others find that it takes a very long time before they feel ready to adopt another animal. Grieving is hard work, and pets, especially young ones like puppies and kittens, take an enormous amount of energy, time, training and commitment.
I suggest to bereaved animal lovers that, before they decide to bring another animal into their lives, they need to make sure that they are finished with whatever grief work they have left to do in mourning the loss of this pet who has died. Obviously any new pet deserves to be loved for itself, as a separate individual with its own unique personality, and not as a replacement for the one who was lost.
There really is no right or wrong answer here, and so I suggest that family members talk it over with one another and do their best to consider everyone's viewpoints and concerns.
Once all of that has been considered, it's important to recognize that there are some great benefits in deciding to get another pet. Loving and caring for an animal enables us to feel productive, useful and needed; to have someone to talk to and communicate with; to feel companionship and closeness with another, thereby feeling secure, protected, supported and not alone; to feel touched, both physically and emotionally; to engage more actively in life, as our animal depends on us for food, water, exercise and medical care; and to be motivated toward better care of ourselves, out of a sense of responsibility for our pet.
I also believe very strongly that one of the most endearing things about our animals is that they just want us to be happy. If death takes them away from us, once we've expressed and worked through our sorrow over losing them, wouldn't they want us to be happy once again, and to open our hearts to other animals in need of all our love?
We might think of getting another pet as a way of honoring the one we have lost. I'm reminded of a lovely piece I have posted on the Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers page of my Grief Healing Web site:
Not only is there always another good animal
in need of a good home,
but we must remember to be thankful
for the time and love our animals give us
while they are here.
Take time to enjoy them and learn from them.
As painful as it is to lose them,
they teach us to love unselfishly,
they teach us to live each day to the fullest,
they teach us to grow old gracefully,
and they teach us to die with dignity.
We do them disrespect
to focus only on the sorrow of their death
when they have given us so much joy through their life.
If we wish to honor them,
take what they have given us,
all that love,
and give it back to another animal
in need of help.
~ Kent C. Greenough
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- Replacing A Pet Who Has Died: When Is It Time?
- After A Loss: When Is The Right Time For a New Dog?
- How Soon Should You Adopt A New Pet?
- Memorializing A Cherished Pet