“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.”
(Agnes Sligh Turnbull. AZQuotes.com, Wind and Fly LTD, 2021. https://www.azquotes.com/author/39426-Agnes_Sligh_Turnbull, accessed September 15, 2021.)
The loss of a pet can be tough. So, what happens when a beloved dog dies? Suddenly the owner faces a chasm of emptiness in the home – the unused bed, redundant toys, vacant space where the food and water bowls were. The list is endless, the grief overwhelming. Having so much love to offer and no recipient is incredibly difficult.
It’s no surprise that some people can’t bear it, and are desperate to ‘fill the gap’ as soon as possible. Alf Wight, famously known as James Herriot, advocated getting another dog without delay:
But how wise is this? I’ve known it to work for some, but for others getting a new dog too soon can cause problems. This invariably impacts on the animal, who is trying to adjust to a completely new circumstance. Should the despairing owner seek a new companion straight away or should they take time to work through their grief before considering such a commitment? Let’s look at some pros and cons:
- Having a new dog to love and cherish can prevent loneliness. This is particularly poignant for someone living alone who has just lost their sole companion.
- A dog can bring a purpose and structure to the owner’s day and even to their life – something which is very much missed after a loss.
- There are increasing numbers of dogs needing experienced new homes, which could be offered by a bereaved owner. UK shelters are concerned about the number of ‘lockdown puppies’ being abandoned as owners return to work or struggle with the challenges in behaviour that adolescence can bring, or separation anxiety as the youngsters haven’t adapted to being at home alone: https://www.rspca.org.uk/-/blog-meet-the-unwanted-lockdown-puppies
- The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a rise in mental health issues. Grief may exacerbate such conditions, and adopting a new dog can bring benefits to its new owner: (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/mood-boosting-power-of-dogs.htm
- Grief can lower one’s tolerances, energy levels and resilience. Suddenly having a new ‘bundle of joy’ after years of the comfortable familiarity of caring for an elderly dog can be a shock. It’s easy to forget how much time and effort it takes to look after a puppy.
- Similarly, adopting a rescue dog can be rewarding, but again, it is likely to need a lot of time, attention and understanding, especially if it has behavioural issues.
- The owner might find it difficult to bond with a new pet. Moving from years of comfortable companionship, in which both owner and canine knew and understood each other’s many little ways, into new and unchartered territory, is likely to be challenging and stressful.
- As a canine behaviourist explained to me recently, if the owner is still deeply grieving they might shower the new dog with love and affection and not focus on giving the necessary basic training that the animal needs. This can lead to behavioural issues which will affect both the owner and the dog.
- Rushing into adopting or buying a pet means they might not give themselves time to ‘find the one’ – a special dog that feels right.
“How long should I wait after the loss of a pet?”
There is no straightforward and easy answer to how long an owner should wait after the death of their dog. Each situation is unique. However, the following ideas and suggestions could help a grieving owner to think things through:
- Would the owner benefit from taking time out from caring for a dog? There may be things they need or want to do which they weren’t able to before, such as travelling or taking a long awaited holiday.
- Have their personal circumstances changed over recent years making it more difficult to meet the needs of caring for a dog? (Time, money, personal health and current commitments, for example.)
- Is the owner likely to move home or have work done inside the house in the near future? Clearly, it would be far safer and kinder to bring a new pet into a calm and safe environment.
- Is a dog still the best type of pet for the owner’s lifestyle, age and stage in life?
- Would the owner prefer to offer long or short-term fostering for dogs through a supportive charitable organisation? This would bring the benefits of caring for a dog with the option to permanently adopt later on.
- Is everyone in the family agreed that they are ready and want to commit to another dog?
- Does the owner have other animals to consider before taking on a new dog? For example, their previous dog may not have presented a threat to small ‘furries’ or birds, but a new one might view them as prey.
- Does the owner honestly feel emotionally ready for the ‘settling-in’ period that any new dog will need?
There is no definitive answer as to how soon an owner should or shouldn’t wait before getting a new dog after a loss. However, it is clear that thinking things through in a considered way, rather than deciding on the back of an emotional reaction, will benefit both person and any new companion who they take into their heart and home.
Angela Garner, Animal Bereavement Specialist and Author