This is a question we always ask ourselves. And it seems as if nearly everyone has an opinion on it. But only that of the potential owner should matter. There are so many good people whose personalities are ideal for owning a pet. The relationship they create with their companion animals is one of great mutual love and trust.
Pets and humans lead an enhanced, happy life together in a marvelous, symbiotic relationship. Each partner gives and gets in deeply personal ways that are amazingly beneficial. Such a bonding can be enriching beyond description. Unfortunately, many of those who are not pet lovers don’t seem to understand this and are ready to offer unsolicited or even unwanted advice.
There will be a time during the bereavement period when pet people start thinking about getting another one. It is almost a sure thing that they will do that some day. But when? Although this may not normally be a major problem, sometimes there are circumstances that make acting on the decision very difficult.
ARE YOU READY?
Timing is everything when considering whether to get another pet. You must be ready for the new relationship, or both you and that pet may suffer because of some underlying resentment or unresolved issues. At this time, we may feel willing but are hesitant or even fearful. Too often, this could easily feel like betrayal to the deceased pet, even though it really isn’t. Indeed, resentment or even rejection of the new pet may follow if the replacement is made too soon.
Most people need to be alone for a while with their memories. We all need to mourn in our own, very personal, and private ways. And remember that children are people, too. If they are not too young, let them in on the underlying thinking and this decision-making process as well. But the bottom line here is that the potential new owner must have healed enough from the loss of the last pet before getting another one. Only that person can or should decide this.
A new pet can stimulate a healthy improvement of your now altered lifestyle. But you have to be ready. After a period of bereavement and depression, a new start can be very beneficial. A side benefit is that this new pet opens a means to meeting new people and getting out of the rut we have been in during the bereavement. We become exposed to new social situations when walking a dog, buying pet food in the store, attending membership meetings at a pet club, and so on. Regular walks with dogs also provide us with much-needed exercise. We get out of the house and break the grip of isolation and depression. However, being forced prematurely into a new pet relationship is another problem and one that can be very upsetting. This is almost always the result of doing what others say you should do before your own gut reaction tells you that you are ready.
Advice is cheap, easy to get, and usually well-intended. But in the emotionally charged subject of resolving your personal bereavement, no one else can really know your feelings about bringing a new companion animal into your life at this time. Even you may not be sure of your own readiness. It is important that you never let anyone try to talk you into getting another pet. The decision has to come from deep within yourself and the timing has to feel right to you. But it is important to note that sometimes people who have lost their pets may be more ready emotionally than they had at first realized. The following four-step exercise will help you to make your own decision on this issue. It will offer an objective demonstration of whether you are ready to have a new pet.
- Visit an animal shelter. Do this just to look around but not to adopt atthis time! You must be firm with yourself about that resolve. Watch out,
though. Temptation will be strong for the moment and very hard to resist.
Hasty, impulsive decisions may be very much regretted later. Be strong,
regardless of how appealing a specific new pet may be.
- Write down your feelings after this visit and read them again at anothertime. Share them with a trusted friend. What new thoughts are you beginning to have now after the visit? Did you retain a strong memory of any particular one?. Sometimes, being exposed to these needy souls, we
unconsciously help ourselves break out of the most maudlin part of be-
Feeling pity and love for homeless, lovable animals in this kind
of situation can stimulate a quicker resolution to our bereavement. It can
change our perspectives in a positive way, without pain or argument. And
it is not betrayal. But we tend to forget the difficulties in rearing a pet. Do you remember how long it takes for one to adjust to its new home? And do you recall how long it took for you to adapt, with all the work, frustration, annoyance, anger, time, and expense involved? If you are really ready, your previous experience might well make the training period easier. You will find out soon enough.
- Write down some more notes. Our deceased pets are now out of pain.
Most people believe they are now on a higher plane, where they have be-
come one again with the cosmos or, if you prefer, with God. There is only
wisdom and love there. With this in mind, write down what your beloved pet must be thinking, concerning how bad you feel. Write down some of the things that come to mind. Include what you feel he/she would now tell you about getting another companion to love you. Our beloved deceased pets are our personal “angels” now. They want the best for us.
- Then, if you are still strongly drawn to go back to a special pet you met
at the shelter, do so. If you and that animal still seem right for each other,
open up your heart again, and bring it home with you. This whole process
could take as few as two days.
Children who want an “immediate replacement” should have it explained to them that there is no such thing. Each animal is unique, especially in personality. A pet is not a toy, and a new one cannot be used as a substitute. If they are above the age of four or five, children should experience some mourning first. Don’t try to protect
them from this, because doing so may later cause unnoticed emotional damage that can last them through the rest of their own lives.
Bereaved pet owners feel that their loved one could never be replaced. This is correct. We really don’t want a replacement. That pet was uniquely important and beloved. Its remembrance becomes a symbolic link to the past and our own ongoing evolution. To many people, the thought of getting another companion animal at this time may at first feel like disloyalty, but it really isn’t. During the earlier stages of bereavement, before resolution, that feeling can be especially strong.
However, this does change later, and the pain eases as well.
Getting another pet would mean special companionship again. This new addition would love to be your new friend, and it would be “someone” for you to care for. Being responsible for a dependent animal’s life again is a good experience. Death should not scare us away from new life. But keep in mind that any new pet will have its own personality. Although your new relationship with it may turn out to be wonderful, it will be different from before. It has to be. Some people get new pets and then try to train them to be copies of the one who died. That is always a big mistake. First of all, it can’t be done. And it is actually disrespectful to that pet as well as to your relationship with it. Also, that would impair your being able to reach resolution from the loss.
It is very important to realize that a beloved companion animal can’t be “re-
placed.” Some mistaken people try this with others of the same breed, sex, and markings, and it never works out the way they planned. That is just sheer foolishness. Appearance does not make the pet, and it can never substitute for individuality. The very special relationship and bonding that existed with the old pet was so unique that its loving memory lives on within us. There can be no replacement of that as well.
Sometimes we may fantasize about cloning our beloved deceased pets. Unfortunately, there are too many misconceptions about what cloning really is and what it can achieve. Most people don’t know that it does not produce perfect or even identical living specimens. Superficial appearances can appear to be the same, but that is all. Although, in time, this process will surely improve to some degree, the actual rate of seemingly healthy cloned animal babies is astonishingly low. We are also beginning to discover that those few surviving laboratory specimens are too often flawed and short-lived. And at best, the successful clone is only a physical replica.
In no way could this process reproduce personality or temperament. Each is unique. And as you may already know, even identical twins can have completely different personalities. One could always search for and find an almost identical physical copy of our deceased pet. But as mentioned above, that is very inadvisable.
This is looking for a substitute and does not allow for full acceptance and respect of the pet’s death. And as suggested previously, it will also hinder successful healing from the loss.
When I conducted group support sessions, I usually allowed my dog to be
present. She sensed the grief and went around the circle of the bereaved, stopping to love and be loved by each one in turn, for a few minutes. It was amazing and gratifying to see the therapy that that little loving animal could give to people in deep mourning for their own pets. She has been hugged, kissed, whispered to, and cried over. Almost without exception, I have been told by patients how helpful that exposure was in easing their grief and assisting them to determine their levels of readiness for a new pet.
As indicated previously, we can touch and caress our pets. This is so good for us for many reasons. It decreases loneliness and depression and has been proven to be wonderful medicine. Our general health improves by being with them and interacting as we do. They lower blood pressure, relax our bodies and minds, help improve our resistance to disease, and give us companionship, love, loyalty, amusement, and other pleasures. It has been clinically proven that pets can even lengthen the duration of one’s life by improving its quality.
Most of us at first have a strong fear of having to go through another pet’s death and mourning experience. We now need to reach deep inside ourselves and ask if we would really be able to handle such a loss and bereavement again. But this is all about love, and the answer is probably yes. But you should not opt for bringing another one into your life until you have worked through your present grief and early
phases of mourning. Keep in mind that no one else can tell you when you are ready. If you feel indecisive about getting another pet, don’t do it yet!
You can be ready only when and if this ambivalence is replaced by more-positive feelings about yourself and having a new loving animal companion. Only you will be able to sense when the time is right. Stay with your “gut feelings.” Trust your instincts; they have much truth underlying them.