I will never forget the day that my very first pet passed away. Her name was Precious. She was the most beautiful Guinea Pig that I had ever seen. I loved her to the moon and back.
My parents and I went out on a Saturday evening. As usual, I had fallen asleep on the ride home. When we arrived, my mom went inside first while I was still in the car with dad. All of a sudden, she came racing back to the car and told dad that he needed to come inside quickly.
Precious had passed away while we were gone. We didn’t even know that she was sick. And maybe she wasn’t. She was quite old for a Guinea Pig. Still, I was beyond upset. I couldn’t understand why she had passed. And I did even get to say goodbye.
Thankfully, we still had Spots, our Border Collie. But, his passing was even more traumatic than Precious’ had been. We discovered too late that he had a form of canine leukemia. He passed the very same day that we took him to the vet.
My dad became very angry with me and my mom when we spoke of getting another dog four months later. Dad was outraged. How could we be over Spots’ passing? Why were we trying to replace him? The pain of losing Spots had crippled dad’s desire to save another pet’s life.
Matt and I watched Hallmark’s “A Dog Named Christmas” movie yesterday and it dealt with the exact same issue. Todd’s father did not want the family to get a dog because he was still grieving for two dogs that he had lost earlier in his life. I have found that many people feel this way.
One of my former bosses lost a dog and refused to ever get another one. Similarly, one of my current co-workers lost her beloved pooch two years ago and she still cannot bare to even look at other dogs. Both women just kept saying, “I can’t go through that again.”
No one understands pet grief more than I do. But, people should not let their grief hold them back from loving again. When we adopted Theo, we were not trying to replace Spots. And we certainly were not “over” his passing. However, mom and I had dealt with our grief. We understood that Spots had given us the best years of his life and that we had done everything we could to save him. We also knew that Spots would want us to help other animals in the same way that we helped him.
What we saw was an opportunity to save another animal’s life. And in adopting Theo, we did just that. He was moments away from being euthanized due to his “vicious; unadoptable” label. At first, dad wanted nothing to do with Theo. He wouldn’t even look in the dog’s direction. But, slowly, Theo won dad over with the respect that he had for his master. All dad had to do was a point a finger at Theo and he would instantly drop to the ground and roll over on his back in an “I surrender,” pose. Dad simply adores Theo now and always tells me that he can come “back home” for visits.
While it sounds cold to say, loss is a part of life. Of course I wish that everyone’s pets could live forever. That would be fantastic! And it is truly gut wrenching when they cross the Rainbow Bridge. But, if we let loss hold us back, we aren’t truly living our best life. We should not look at loss as an excuse to close ourselves off from the world.
And we certainly should never let loss make us not want to love. In fact, pet loss provides us with an opportunity to share our love with another animal. Of course, I am not suggesting that you run out to a shelter the day after your pet has passed to adopt another one. What I am saying is that it is okay to grieve. In fact, we need to. But, don’t let your grief become debilitating.
When you feel ready to re-introduce yourself to animals, perhaps you could begin by volunteering at an animal shelter. You would be providing a much needed service in helping to socialize the animals as well as keep them clean and well fed. Plus, you would be able to give these animals the love that they have been deprived of all of their lives without rushing yourself through the grieving process.
Perfectly healthy and loving animals are euthanized at shelters all across the nation every day. These creatures would (literally) jump at the chance to be a part of a loving home. And when you adopt an animal from a local shelter, you save not one life, but two: the animal that you adopted and the one that can now be rescued in your animal’s place.
Watching our fur babies cross the Rainbow Bridge is never easy. But, we must always remember the most important lesson that our pets teach us: Always love unconditionally and never stop.