Q: We had to make the terrible decision to put our 14-year-old dog to sleep three months ago. I know this was the right decision, but I am still dealing with her loss. We have always had dogs in our lives but are struggling when is the right time for us to get a new dog?
A: Being a specialty and emergency practice, all of our patients have major problems or they would not need to come to us. Unfortunately, for many of these dogs and cats, the illnesses are terminal. So your question is a common one for us to be asked but not easy to answer.
The first advice I (Perry Jameson) always give is you should never get a pet to replace the one you lost. This is an impossible task as each pet is so different. If you have been fortunate enough to have had multiple pets, you know that each one has its own personality. They will each interact with you and your family differently. Some are more playful, while others like to cuddle. Some like to run, while others want to be carried. The differences are endless.
I can remember when my family was expecting our second child. I loved Haley, my first daughter, so much I worried there was no love left for my son Luke. However, when Luke was born, I found I did not split my feelings between the two but somehow my heart expanded to love them both.
I feel our emotions toward pets are the same way. Each pet finds a new place in our hearts but never replaces the feelings we had for the pet that was lost.
Several years ago, I received a poem from the parents of a pet I had euthanized. Usually it is the other way around; I am sending them a condolence card. I guess they must have seen that I was impacted, too, by their pet’s passing.
The card contained a poem that I have unfortunately lost but I still remember its message. Basically it spoke of how when we bring a pet into our lives, we subconsciously know we will probably outlive them. This means that we know we will grieve their death at some point. It also means that we realize the many wonderful things they bring to our lives will outweigh the pain we feel saying good-bye.
So the second piece of advice I would give you is to wait until the positive feelings about your lost pet outweigh the sorrow you are presently feeling. At some point during the grieving process, you will begin to remember all of the wonderful aspects of having your dog in your life. There will always be that sense of loss, but your memories will eventually outweigh the pain you felt at the end. When that happens, that is a sign you are getting ready for another dog.
Even if you are ready, you need to make sure the other human members of your home are ready, too. Each person will go through the grieving process at a different rate. Have an open discussion about where everyone is emotionally before making this big decision.
You also need to consider the other pets in the home. I do feel that dogs and cats grieve from the loss of their companions. You might note subtle changes in activity, attitude and appetite. Wait until they seem back to normal before bringing a new pet into their home.
Also consider your remaining pet’s physical condition and temperament. Many older dogs will not do well with a young puppy jumping on their arthritic joints. You may have another pet with major health issues that needs your full attention now.
Your cat may have gotten along well with the one who passed but not tolerate a new feline family member. If you decide on getting a new cat, the introduction should be slow to prevent fighting and marking behavior.
It also is not selfish to consider your personal needs. Before getting the new pet, this is the best time to perform that home renovation or take that long vacation you have had to put off.
The new pet will never replace the one you lost, but they will create their own place in your home and heart.