Monday, May 13, 2013

Widow Considers Adopting A Second Dog

[Reviewed and updated June 27, 2024]

I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source. ~ Doris Day

A reader writes: I love dogs, and since my husband died, only my beautiful little Cockapoo saves me from living alone. I couldn't survive without her. I know how many dogs in shelters need homes, and one great no‑kill shelter near me may have to shut down for lack of funds. So I've been thinking a lot about adopting a second dog. But I don't know if it's a good time to bring a new pet into my life. I still hurt so much from losing my husband that the thought of opening up my heart again, even to a dog, is scary. And I've been a human companion to many dogs, so I know what to expect: Bringing a new one home would probably mean some bad behavior, an "accident" or two, maybe some chewing and (I hope not) fighting. If these were normal times, no problem. But with the limited control of emotions I have now, I worry that both the dog and I might be too stressed.
          I'm tempted to wait a while longer before looking for a dog, but so many need help now—the right pet for me might be out there right now, but might not be around if I wait till I feel more settled. It's hard to know what to do.

My response: As a fellow animal lover, I can certainly understand why you're considering whether to bring another dog into your life right now. I also think you are wise to be raising whatever questions and doubts you may have now, ahead of time, as you think about and weigh all sides of this important decision.

It's certainly true that there are some great benefits in having an animal companion. As I'm sure you already know from your own experience with your darling Cockapoo, loving and caring for a dog enables you 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 your dog depends on you for food, water, exercise and medical care; and to be motivated toward better care of yourself, out of a sense of responsibility for your animal friend. These are very real benefits for anyone, and most especially for one who is mourning the death of her spouse!

Select carefully. If you do decide to bring a new dog into your life, you'll want to do all you can to make certain that the dog you select will be a loving, well adjusted companion, and that he or she gets along with your other dog. Fortunately there are many books, articles and websites to guide you in this process. See, for example,

The Ultimate Guide to Pet Adoption

The Health Benefits of Having a Dog

Use your own good judgment. You say that you have limited control over your emotions right now, and you are tempted to wait a while longer before looking for another dog. While I appreciate your concern for all the dogs in shelters in need of homes and people who will love them, I also think it's important to listen to your heart and feel okay about putting your own needs first. On the other hand, if you take your time, do your homework and have a good idea of the type and temperament of the dog you're looking for, and if you make your selection carefully, this may be the perfect time to bring a new companion into your life.

Whatever you decide, please know that I am thinking of you and wishing you all the best.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here

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© by Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT, BC-TMH


  1. Thanks for this article, Marty. I adopted a second dog about 8 months after my husband died, wanting to fall in love with life again. The dog was in a shelter and had not been fostered. The people caring for the dog assured me she was sweet and dependable. I took my older dog to spend time with her as well as my son. All seemed fine. But when I got the dog home and began teaching her about living out of a cage, she was violent--extremely alarmingly violent, turning on my other dog and bloodying her many times. I worked with the best animal behaviorists, trainers, and my vets and gave the dog all the time and love I could for 3 months, but she was too damaged. My vet impressed on me that the dog would kill a child or other dogs if she got loose--and she wanted to escape. But he could not manage world out of a cage, so that's probably where she'd been raised and probably abused or trained to fight when out of the cage. The only way was to cage the dog for life or euthanize her as the dog was not adoptable or trainable and might turn on me.

    I waited a while, hoping for a little sign that I could save her, but finally agreed that she was ruining my life and terrorizing my older dog. So I agreed to have her put down. I felt like a total failure. A few months later, I adopted an 8 week old Lab. I'd always had Lab pups and knew I could count on her temperament. My old dog Daisy accepted the new pup and young Willow became the light of my life, especially after Daisy's death. I learned a hard lesson about my own emotions and sentimentality, so will never again adopt a dog that hasn't been fostered first. I didn't do some of the wild things we do when we're grieving, but I am still sad about this naive mistake. I'm also glad I made the hard choice. And glad I then chose to think first about my own needs rather than the many dogs that need rescuing.

  2. Elaine, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to share your experience with all of us. Animal lover that you are, I can only imagine how difficult this decision must have been for you, especially at a time when you were coping with the recent death of your husband and needing peace in your home. Sometimes the hardest choices in life are the most painful ~ but good for you for having the wisdom and the courage to recognize the importance of attending to your own needs first ~ most especially when you were in the freshest throes of grief.

  3. Thanks for your reply, Marty. Looking back on this experience of four years ago, I see the violent dog as an expression of my own wild uncontrolled grief--not that I caused her to be violent or she caused my grief, but that her presence in my life made me face something hard and unsettling about myself.

  4. I so admire your willingness to find meaning in this experience, Elaine, and to see it as an opportunity for awareness, learning and growth. Clearly you are leading a self-examined life, and for that, you have my deepest admiration and respect. ♥


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