PET BEREAVEMENT SUPPORT ACTIVITIES IN 2021 Angela Garner (Jan 2022)
It was a busy and I must admit, at times stressful, year with having two new books published and doing a flurry of interviews on the radio, podcasts or video! The interviews are available on my Updates & Events page but here is one of my favourites – I was a speaker at the April 2021: Animal Communicator and Healer Summit (just over 30 mins long): https://youtu.be/M40WZVz-BH8
It has been heartening to create new pathways out into the world to help people and their pets through the difficulties that invariably surround the end of a companion animal’s life. Those of us who have been through it know what a roller-coaster it is. We need support, we need to be understood, we need to be heard and we need sensitive guidance to help us do our best for the beloved pet who has shared our lives – all the while nursing a broken heart and facing uncertainty.
Both of the new books:
- ‘When It’s Time to Say Goodbye – Preparing for the Transition of Your Beloved Pet’ (for guardians)
- ‘Companion Animal Bereavement – A One Health Workbook for Veterinary Professionals’ (for vet and animal welfare staff)
…include a strong focus on the welfare of companion animals during anticipated loss. Here’s a snippet from a professional review written about the veterinary book which highlights the importance of this aspect:
“One of the essential elements of this book, and perhaps the most refreshing and important, is the complete focus it has on the mental landscapes and lives of our companion animals themselves. Animals are always mutual partners in this journey, never playing second-fiddle to the bereavement process of humans, but always placed firmly on the same footing when it comes to the decisions made about end-of-life planning.” Andrew Perry – Animal Behaviour and Welfare (BSc), Anthrozoology (MSc)
As an example of protecting the animal’s welfare, I’m sharing a brief extract about an issue that can arise when caring for an elderly pet. This is from one of the downloadable resources available to vet teams to hand out to guardians in ‘Companion Animal Bereavement – A One Health Workbook for Veterinary Professionals’ (Ch 3, p 24):
“If you are caring for an elderly pet, you may notice symptoms which you assume are due to old age. However, it is important not to dismiss these because, even if they are related to ageing, they most likely will indicate a medical condition which requires diagnosis and treatment by your vet.”
It can be incredibly stressful for guardians as they navigate many unknown factors and face the inevitable death of their much loved pet. As it says in ‘When It’s Time to Say Goodbye – Preparing for the Transition of Your Beloved’ (Ch 6, p 42):
“Try to be aware of your stress levels, and remember that, as the carer, you also need to receive care. If you have friends or family who understand that you’re going through a difficult time, allow yourself to accept their love, support, and, where appropriate, practical assistance. If you aren’t able to draw upon others in this way, there are some excellent organisations that offer a listening ear, understanding and support to people before and after loss. No-one has to go through this alone.”
In addition to the available publications and recordings on this site, there is also a wide range of resources available to download from the EASE website: https://ease-animals.org.uk/pet-loss-support/
‘WHEN A DOG DIES, HOW SOON IS TOO SOON TO GET ANOTHER?’ Angela Garner (Oct 2021)
“Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.”
(Quote courtesy of: 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 long 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.