Coping with Losing a Pet

Last month I wrote about losing a pet, and the heartbreak and sometimes loneliness that can happen after our beloved dog, cat, rabbit, hamster, horse, bird (you get the point) passes away. We all cope differently with great loss. Some stay pet-less while others immediately move on to bringing in another animal into their lives. There is no right way; there’s just your way, and if waiting or not waiting is what seems right for you, then that is what is right for you too!

I sometimes hear stories about how the new pet is very different from the old one. Many even use the word “replace.” It took me some time to realize that even though it sounds like an inanimate object, many grieving pet owners do not mean it like that. In the book “Coping with Sorrow on the Loss of Your Pet” by Moira Anderson Allen, the author actually advises pet owners to open up their hearts again to a new pet and points out that everyone is different in how long it takes for them to do so.

It’s natural for us to feel a bit guilty, as if we are not honoring the loss of the previous pet. But what the book points out is that it’s very important to grieve the loss and then, when ready, be open to bringing in a new pet as soon as you are able. I know I don’t have to convince you of all the positives of having a pet in your life! We’ve all heard the studies on how they affect our moods and health. I think what is very important to realize, however, is that the new pet is unique. They have their own personalities and can never actually replace anyone who previously had your heart! I think this is a very good thing. Who wants every friend to be identical to the other? Every human family member to have the same personality?

I see it all the time, longtime customers who love a specific breed of dog and the second dog of the same breed is very different from the first one. Sometimes this is a nice surprise, but it often comes as a minor shock to the pet owner. It shouldn’t! I see pets as our teachers, and with every one, we are learning new ways to communicate and new skills to help us grow as people.

Laura and Willa.
Laura and Willa.

I learned this with my current dog Willa. My previous dog, Niki, was the sweetest dog to everyone except other dogs. She also had the absolute worst case of separation anxiety that I have ever heard of. After Niki passed away of old age, and I was ready (it took me five years), I said out loud that I wanted a dog that was “opposite of Niki.” In my mind, I thought that meant a dog that loved other dogs and didn’t suffer from separation anxiety. Enter Willa. When I saw her cute 7-week-old puppy face and crazy bat ears, I was done for. Willa came with an intense personality and indeed was opposite of Niki in every single way! I adopted a dog that was scared of everyone and absolutely loved being home so much that she often opted to stay home than come along, thus no separation issues at all. Her nervous nature has made her difficult for me to take to public places, but at home, she’s a complete dream. Funny, smart, happy, and content. It took me a couple of years to stop trying to make Willa a dog that she wasn’t and be happy for the dog that she is, and once I learned that, everything seemed great! What I have learned by having Willa could fill a book, but in a word, it’s love. I absolutely, without a doubt, love her with all my heart. I’m confident this is how you all feel about your pets too!