Monday, September 12, 2016

Pet Loss: At My Age, Is It Selfish to Get Another Dog?

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[Reviewed and updated October 24, 2017]

Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.  ~ Leroy "Satchel" Paige

A reader writes: My husband and I are both 74 and we have no children. So our pets become surrogate kids. My husband loved our dog but he seems to cope much better with her loss. He has health problems so much of her care fell on me. She was my friend! It has been three weeks now and I still feel sick when I think of her. I would like to get another dog but I am not sure what would be best. I am fairly active for my age and walked my golden retriever every day. Plus there is a park across from where I live where she was able to run. I am considering a sheltie. I just hope I am not being selfish getting another dog at my age.

My response: I'm not sure what leads you to think that getting another dog at your age is selfish, but I will offer my thoughts.

Sometimes people worry that getting another dog so 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. 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? Some folks are so full of love that they can always find another chamber in their hearts to accommodate another precious animal. Others could never do that -- and still others discover that it's not so much that they go looking for another animal, but another animal just seems to find them. There is no right or wrong answer here, and so I suggest that you talk it over with your husband and let your hearts guide you both.

The other concern you probably have as you consider getting another dog is whether your new dog will outlive you. Frankly, I wish that everyone who has a dog would worry more about this possibility, because the truth is that none of us knows whether we will outlive our companion animals, no matter what their age, or our own! How often do we leave our pets home alone, never stopping to consider what would happen to them if something unexpected happened to us? For a thorough discussion of this matter, see my article, Providing for Pet Care in Your Absence. See also Do I Need Estate Planning for My Pet? and Estate Planning Considerations for Our Pets.

You say that you're fairly active and you enjoyed walking your dog every day, and certainly that is one of the great benefits of having a dog at "your age." Attachments between older people and their pets are significant and enduring, and good for you too, as they meet a whole range of physical and emotional needs. As you already know, 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 pet 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 pet. For all these reasons, I support completely your wanting to get another dog, and I hope you will think of it as a way of honoring the one you have lost. I'm reminded of a lovely piece posted on the Comfort for Grieving Animal Lovers page of my Grief Healing website:
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
Finally, my dear, don't be too surprised that your husband is reacting to this loss differently from how you are, because we all have our own ways of coping. Just because his ways may be different from yours does not mean that he isn't hurting, too. See, for example, How We Mourn: Understanding Our Differences.

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.
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