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After Your Pet Dies: Are you ready for a new animal in your life?

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After your beloved pet passes away, when are you ready for a new animal in your life? Is there a "right" or "wrong" time?

"Listen to your heart,'' advises Dr. Susan Cohen, Director of Counseling at the Animal Medical Center of New York. "Everyone is on a different timeline when it comes to grieving.''

Some people need to talk about their memories, some want to cry and be left alone. In all cases, it is normal to feel anger, denial, guilt and profound depression in the aftermath of your pet's death. Too often, friends and colleagues dismiss the fact that you have lost a very real and emotionally charged relationship. In their desire to help you, they might give inappropriate advice such as "why not just get another pet?'' which can make grieving pet owners feel much worse.

Conflicting emotions

However, most pet owners genuinely love the company of animals and will eventually want to invite another pet into their life. When this desire starts to arise, it can be confusing. Some people even feel guilt and disloyalty to the deceased.

It's important to recognize that you'll never forget your pet, who after all, greeted you with their tail wagging every day for years, or snuggled on your lap on the couch every night after dinner. The finality of a pet's physical and emotional absence can be extremely painful, so be gentle with yourself.

"The whole business of closure is nonsense...you will move on, but you never truly get over it,'' Cohen said.

Here are a few things NOT to do after the loss of a pet:

  • Don't chastise yourself. Respect how you feel, not the opinions or well-meaning advice of others.
  • Don't rush or surprise your family with another pet - adopting a pet should always be a careful, and in the case of couples and families, collaborative decision
  • Don't ignore your instincts -- is there a little voice inside telling you not to get a new pet right away? Listen to it.

Keeping in contact with animals

Despite your very real grieving process, there are many good reasons to keep in contact with animals.

Connecting with animals has been shown to reduce stress and even lower blood pressure in people, so their presence is good for you, both emotionally and physically. However, if you are not quite sure whether you are ready (or ever will be) for the full-time commitment of another pet, there are many other ways you can bring animals into your life.

  • Help a neighbor with a pet. Cohen related the story of a night-duty nurse whose cat had died of an infection. Not long thereafter, her neighbor adopted a new puppy, which the nurse offered to take care of during the day. Not only did the puppy receive lots of much-needed attention, but the nurse basked in her new companionship, while still grieving her loss.
  • Visit or volunteer at an animal shelter. You might quickly realize that you are not ready for another pet while surrounded by animals at a shelter.
  • Pet-sitting is an excellent option when you want to gauge your feelings about bringing another animal into your life. By feeding, walking and caring for all the other needs of the animal, you'll derive satisfaction, fun and companionship without the full-time commitment and responsibility. "It's kind of like being a grandparent,'' laughs Cohen.
  • Seek contact with wildlife. If nothing else, you can always feed the squirrels or put out a birdfeeder.

By allowing yourself to enjoy the company of other animals, you may find yourself increasingly open to the possibility that another animal awaits you in the future. According to Cohen, this can be a soothing thought to many. Most of all, trust yourself. Some people adopt new pets within weeks after the death of a pet, while others cannot bring themselves to do so for years. Only you will know when the time is right for you to bring a new companion into your life.

Credit: Reviewed by Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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