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When Is the Right Time to Get Another Pet?

This article was written by Pet Community Center Board of Directors member and Marketing Committee Volunteer, Maryglenn Warnock. You can learn more about the author at the end of the post.

In counseling bereaved pet owners, one topic that almost always comes up is when (or if) to get another pet. When is the right time?

Fortunately—or unfortunately, depending on one’s perspective—there is no right or wrong time. The decision to bring another pet into one’s life is a huge decision. And it’s a decision that must—must—be made by the owner.

The decision to get another pet has to come from deep within and the timing has to feel right for the owner. There is no set time frame or timetable for when one “should” be ready. Each person is different and what feels right to you might not feel right at all for someone else. For that reason, it is important to trust your instincts and decide for yourself when you feel ready. Trying to introduce a new pet too soon can be fraught with difficulty for both the pet and the owner. Looking to get another pet as a Band-Aid for grief is not a good idea, as doing so can disrupt the grieving process in an unhealthy way.

Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer about when to start thinking about another pet.

I know people who’ve waited for years—and I know people who have brought in new pets only shortly after losing another pet. Sadly, I’ve also known people who felt so despondent and grief-stricken that they swear they will never be able to own another pet. (As an aside, one of the reasons I become a pet bereavement counselor is to do everything in my power to ensure that grieving pet owners find a way to get through the grief and at least open themselves up to the possibility of loving another pet.)

There are so many factors involved in making the decision. A few things to consider:

  • Time: Do you currently have the time to devote to another pet? Your new pet may require training (and patience) and lots of exercise. Also, young pets—puppies, especially—can be quite energetic and downright destructive.

  • Acceptance: Are you still grieving to the point that you feel you might have problems accepting a new pet? If so, it might be prudent to revisit getting another pet at a later time.

  • Distraction: Are you looking for a new pet as a way to distract yourself from the sadness of the loss? Please allow yourself time to grieve and work through your feelings. When the time comes to form a new bond with a new pet, you will be ready to fully love, accept and cherish the new pet. Trying to do so prematurely is not good for you or the pet.

  • Replacement: Are you looking for a replacement for the pet you lost? Typically, this signals that the grief is fresh and the timing may be a bit premature. Of course there will never be a replacement for the pet and the longing is just a part of the grieving process.

  • Beware the well-intentioned friends/family: People who love you and can’t stand to see you hurting may try to intervene by offering suggestions about getting a new pet (or, in some extreme instances trying to gift a bereaved owner with a new pet.) Please do not feel guilty about saying no, or ignoring those “helpful” suggestions. Keep in mind that getting another pet needs to be your decision—and you should not feel obligated to let anyone, no matter how well-intentioned they are, decide for you.

  • Family and pets: Are all of the members of my family onboard with the decision to bring in a new pet to the family? And if you have existing pets, please consider how they may react to the addition of a new pet. Grief can distort clear thinking, so it’s important that your decision feel right for you, but take into account such practical matters as other members of the family—both the human and pet varieties.

  • Look-alike: Are you trying to find a pet that looks exactly like the pet you lost, with similar markings and a similar personality? Or are you fantasizing about cloning the pet? It is completely normal to wish for what is familiar—especially while in the throes of grief. But it’s crucial to realize that the new pet will have its own personality, and would never, nor could never, be an exact replica of what is lost. Rather than put yourself through the emotional upheaval of disappointment, consider waiting until you’ve taken time to work through the grief.

  • Guilt: Do you feel guilty about even considering another pet? That’s often also a signal that you’re still working through grief. I felt tremendously bad about even considering another pet after I lost my Old English Sheepdog, Garcia. It just seemed wrong—like I was somehow dishonoring Garcia’s memory by thinking of another pet. Wanting to hold on to something (guilt, for instance) as a substitute for what is lost is a normal reaction to grief, but in retrospect, it wasn’t a healthy one. Moreover, it wasn’t accurate. I think one of the greatest tributes to the love one has shared with a pet is finding the strength and courage to love another pet. I believe that is what our late pets would want for us.

As with most things, I believe you’ll know when the time is right. I did.

Garcia had been gone for about two months before I realized how lonely I was—and how much I missed the pitter patter of paws in the house. Major made his grand arrival almost three months after Garcia’s passing. I was still grieving deeply and remember that it took some time to feel like I had a bond with Major.

I also recall telling my husband—and probably anyone else who would listen—that I was certain I could never love another dog after Garcia. Now if there were degrees to being wrong, that would’ve certainly been the wrong-est/most wrong I’d ever been. I don’t even have words to describe how much I love Major. No words! And I love him more every single day.

The topic of pets after loss has been on my mind a lot lately. In the past several weeks, I have watched as three of my counseling clients opened their hearts to new pets. What a beautiful thing to behold—meeting someone in their absolute darkest hour, walking alongside them in their grief, and watching as that grief gives way to hope. It just doesn’t get much better than that.

In closing, I’m reminded of the wise words of my instructor, the late Dr. Wallace Sife. On the topic of getting another pet, Dr. Sife wrote: “Death should not scare us away from new life.”

It’s so true. May we remember that the joy of owning a pet will always exceed the sorrow of losing one.

It’s so true. May we remember that the joy of owning a pet will always exceed the sorrow of losing one.

About the Author: Maryglenn Warnock

(Photo Credit: Lacey Maloch, Strays to Baes)

Maryglenn Warnock is the founder of Paws to Remember and is a certified pet bereavement counselor. She is also a pet funeral officiant/pet chaplain who is ordained through the Universalist church.

A lifelong animal advocate, Maryglenn serves on Pet Community Center's Board of Directors and volunteers for their Marketing Committee. Additionally, she has served on the executive board of the Nashville Humane Association and volunteered in animal rescue for 20 years. Maryglenn graduated from Vanderbilt University with a BA in English.

Maryglenn is a native of Munfordville, Kentucky who lives in Nashville with her husband Tim and their Old English Sheepdog, Major.

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