Winter 2013 Magazine

"Is It Time for Me to Get Another Pet?"

By Ann Beyke

It's likely that most of you who are reading this have grieved the loss of an animal companion, perhaps many, during the course of your lifetime. And there also comes a time when you may begin thinking about adding a new animal companion to your home. When is the right time?

Our relationship with each of our pets is different, and given their unique personalities, this is certainly understandable. It may come as a great surprise that we grieve so deeply. Or we may move through the mourning period without profound regrets, guilt or sadness. Our grief upon losing a pet will take on its own tone.

People often indicate that with the loss of their first pet they are taken aback by the range of emotions. If we've never experienced the loss of a pet we simply have no idea how we might react. Our emotions may be startling and we may feel sad, forlorn and adrift.

As a pet loss and bereavement counselor, I have found that the way we respond to the loss depends on our connection to our pet, how long they have been with us, or what life changes we have experienced during that time. Our reaction to our pet's loss may be a result of its big or little personality, how they behaved, their quirks, tricks and eccentricities. Providing end-of-life care or the specific circumstances of the death also determine how we may feel.

If you have spent considerable time and financial resources caring for an ill pet, you may be emotionally and physically exhausted. The constant care may have lasted for weeks, months or even years. Your pet's death, while incredibly difficult, may be a relief, a great weight off your shoulders. Many pet owners might then feel guilty for experiencing that relief, complicating the healing process. It's important to be gentle with yourself during this time.

Giving yourself time to heal and work through the loss, is the healthiest thing to do. We owe it to ourselves and a new animal companion to assure that we are ready to provide a loving and permanent home. Being in a good place emotionally, physically and financially is essential.

The sea of anguished emotions is normal, a part of the roller coaster ride that we will experience. It may seem unimaginable that our animal pal is no longer with us. What do we do now? Is it time for another pet?

It's rare that I work with people who are absolutely sure they are ready to bring a pet into the household immediately after a loss. I support those who are confident in making that decision but for many people, recovery time is especially therapeutic.

Of course each situation is unique, but I have found that time for healing, working through the loss, and careful thought are healthy investments when it comes to making such a life-changing commitment. After all, this is a forever friend.

Many people contemplate getting the same breed of dog or cat, or finding one that looks very similar. The danger of this is that the new pet will not be the same. There is simply not another pet like the beloved companion that just died. Each animal has its own distinct personality and a new pet may not live up to your expectations. You owe it to yourself and your new animal companion to be sure you are ready to provide a loving and permanent home.

Often sorrowful pet owners vow, "I will never get another pet again. This is just too hard." Or friends and family members, trying to be helpful, will urge them to get another pet immediately in order to "get over the loss." These are normal reactions too. The experience with the lost pet has generally been so positive that the person probably will bring another pet into the household. But it's very likely that the human companion needs time to do some of the things that were not possible when a pet was in the home such as traveling, having days that are not so regimented, being able to replenish the "pet emergency fund, and devoting time and attention to themselves, family or other pets.

When clients asks me, "Do you think it's time for me to get another pet?" the chances are it's not quite time. And if you are questioning your readiness and there is any doubt, it is better to wait. There is no harm in allowing yourself more time to heal. If you have been a caregiver for an ailing pet, I strongly encourage you to give yourself even more time before making a decision to get another pet. It's essential to regain a sense of self and be open to the excitement, challenges, fun and love a new animal companion will bring.

Ann Beyke, M.A., LPC provides pet loss and bereavement counseling to those who have lost or anticipate the loss of a companion animal, as well as pet loss groups. She can be reached at;

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