New Mexico's Pet ResourceSUMMER 2003


BEHAVIOR Q&A

HOW LONG SHOULD I WAIT TO GET ANOTHER DOG?

by Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D.

Q. My twelve-year-old Lab died four weeks ago. I miss him terribly. I have been thinking of getting another dog, but just canít make the move. How long should I wait to get another dog?

A. There is no standard answer to this question. The loss of a beloved dog is as soul wrenching and sorrow filled as the death of any close friend. This is true for cats, horses or any companion animals who have shared our lives. Many times people around us who do not have animals do not realize the pain that the loss of a pet creates. They may even trivialize our grief. Turn a deaf ear to such people, and mourn the loss of your dog in the manner that best meets your own feelings and needs. Many humane organizations recognize the depths of feelings created by the loss of a pet, and now offer grief counseling programs. The fact that you are not able to act on finding a new companion suggests that the time is not yet right for you. If a person acts too soon, the new dog may suffer from unfair comparisons to the departed dog. On the other end of the timeline, waiting too long may prolong the sense of emptiness unnecessarily.

From my experience in greyhound rescue, I have come upon many ways that people deal with their grief and decide when to open their hearts to a new dog. You do need to let yourself grieve for your canine friend. It is not silly or stupid to mourn. A small thing like the sight of the dogís bed still in the corner, or the leash hanging by the front door may send you into torrents of tears. That is a natural reaction to your loss. But the day will come when you remember with smiles the time he peed on the Christmas tree or she stole the stick of butter from the kitchen counter.

Whenever Iíve lost one of my cherished dogs, I have found myself seeking active ways to deal with my loss, which I have come to think of as active mourning. Taking any of several active options helps me deal with my sadness. Perhaps trying one of these may help you with your grief and ease the transition to your next dog.

If you are not yet ready to invite another dog into your life, you can volunteer at an animal shelter or similar organization. You can help clean kennels, foster dogs waiting for homes, do outreach and education programs, and many other chores that most nonprofit organizations rely on volunteers to do. This is extremely rewarding work.

Whether as a memorial for my own dog or when a friend has lost a pet, I make a monetary donation to an animal organization. It is tremendously healing to know that I have helped make the lives of other animals better in honor of my departed pet. Most animal rescues, animal advocacy or humane organizations have memorial programs. A lovely and sensitive note will be sent to the person who has lost the pet, saying that a donation in the animalís memory has been made.

In the age of the Internet, there are some new ways that people have created to deal with the loss of their pets. If you have not been to web sites like the Rainbow Bridge (rainbowsbridge.com), you may want to check some out. These are sites where those mourning the loss of their companion animals can post thoughts and memories, and share their grief unabashedly with other grieving animal lovers. A word of warning, make sure you have a box of tissues near your computer.

One way that I and many other people have dealt with our losses, is to post a memory page about our pets on the Internet. These pages are not just memorials to a life now over, but are full of warmth, funny stores and wonderful photos. I invite you to visit the memory page that I set up for my special pal GingerBear. (memorial.html)

No matter how long we have our canine companions, it is never long enough. Yet the love and friendship that we receive unconditionally from our dogs make every journey worthwhile, and are the reasons we continue to make dogs part of our lives. That fact that you are thinking about another dog is a testament to your love for your lab. It is an honor to his memory that you will provide a loving home to another dog when the time is right.

Note (8/26/03): Deborah's greyhound Jake recently passed away. To view his memorial, click here: www.greycanine.com/greyunion/Jake/JakeMemorial.htm

Deborah Schildkraut, Ph.D. is an animal behaviorist and educator who worked at the Boston Zoos for 15 years. She lives in Cerrillos with her husband, six rescued dogs (four greyhounds, two terriers) and three horses.


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