Soon Should You Get a New Pet?
by Moira Anderson Allen, M.Ed.
When your pet dies, how soon should you get a new
one? Until recently, the standard answer has been "right away!" That may not
always be the best advice, however: Obtaining a new pet before you have had
time to work through your grief can cause problems for both you and the pet. So
when is the right time? There is no single answer to that question, because
everyone experiences grief in their own way.
For some, the loneliness
of an empty house makes grieving more difficult, and a new pet can help the
process. Others, however, may feel resentful toward a pet obtained too soon.
The time to obtain a new pet is when you have worked through your grief
sufficiently to be confident that you can look forward to new relationships,
rather than backward at your loss. For some people, that might be a matter of
days or weeks; for others, it might be months or years.
when you choose to obtain a new pet, however, the following suggestions can
help you ease the transition and make the new relationship more rewarding for
you, your family, and the pet.
Tips on Choosing a New Pet
Don't make a
hasty decision. Give yourself time to think. Don't let anyone rush you into a
decision or pressure you into making a choice that isn't right for you. (If it
isn't right for you, it won't be right for the pet either!) Also, don't let a
well-meaning friend or relative force the decision on you by getting you a new
pet before you are ready.
Don't think of the new pet as a "replacement"
for your previous pet. You don't replace relationships; you build new ones.
Your new pet will be a companion with whom you build an entirely new set of
memories and experiences. Do look for a pet that is in some way different from
your previous pet. If possible, select a different breed or sex. Avoid
obtaining a "lookalike" pet, because if your new pet looks like your previous
pet, it is easy to be disappointed when it doesn't act like that pet. Consider
a pet with different colorings or markings from your previous pet. Do research
your choice carefully. Shelters are deluged with pets who were selected
unwisely and subsequently "dumped." Make certain the breed, size, sex,
behavior, and needs of your new pet are appropriate for your lifestyle. Avoid
the temptation to adopt the first animal you see to "fill the void."
involve all family members in the decision to obtain a new pet. In particular,
consider the needs and feelings of your children. Children build strong
attachments to pets, and may feel that giving their love to a new pet is
"disloyal" to the previous pet. Make certain all members of the family have had
a chance to work through their individual grieving process. Involve everyone in
discussions of what sort of pet to obtain. If possible, let your children help
you select a new pet. Don't give your new pet the same name (or nickname) as
your previous pet.
Don't expect your new pet to be just like the one
you lost. Don't expect the new pet to do the same things your previous pet did,
respond in the same ways, or have the same characteristics. Instead, enjoy your
new pet's individual behaviors, responses, and characteristics as they develop.
Don't compare your new pet to your previous pet. After many happy years with an
animal companion, it is easy to forget that, when it was a puppy or kitten, it,
too, was destructive, disobedient, noisy, or unhousetrained. Your new pet will
soon grow out of its "difficult" phase.
Do consider the needs of your
surviving pets. Will they welcome or resent a newcomer? Some pets seem to
genuinely mourn the loss of a companion, and you may find that you need to
introduce a new pet simply to comfort the survivor. Remember, however, that
most cats and dogs are territorial by nature, and that it will take them time
to adapt to a new pet. Once you have introduced a new pet into the household,
make sure your existing pets receive lots of attention. Do consider obtaining a
new pet before the loss of your previous pet. If your pet is growing old, or is
ill, consider introducing a new pet into your home now. In many cases, the
presence of a young and active pet has revitalized an older animal. More
importantly, this avoids the problem of attempting to build a relationship with
a new pet while you are still grieving for the previous pet.
If your pet died of a contagious illness, make
certain your home is thoroughly cleaned before a new pet is brought in. Dispose
of items that might carry the illness, such as bedding, rugs, or toys. Give
some thought to the disposition of your pet's belongings. Some people enjoy
passing a pet's things to a new pet; others, however, feel that such items
should not be transferred. If you prefer to dispose of your pet's possessions,
consider whether a shelter might benefit from those that are in good condition.
If you're not certain whether you're ready for a new pet, but you need
to cuddle something furry and warm, consider volunteering as a "pet cuddler" or
even a foster parent to help socialize adoptable animals at your local shelter.
You'll be able to give love and receive comfort without making a commitment.
And who knows? You may discover the perfect companion to share your life!
When a pet dies, grief is a normal and natural response. Never let
anyone tell you that you are crazy or silly to grieve over "just an animal."
The loss of a relationship brings pain-so do what you need to do to work
through that pain. Cry, grieve, pound a pillow, talk to a friend or support
group, conduct a memorial service that will help you pay tribute to your pet
while saying good-bye. Then, when the time is right for you, you'll be able to
share your love with a new, well-chosen animal companion.
© 2001 by Moira Allen.
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