From time to time I find myself counseling those that have recently lost a beloved pet. Some I barely know. Some old friends. Some new friends through social media. I can’t even recall how each contact has been made but each time the same sentiment has been expressed with heartbreaking sorrow. Whether it was the grieving owner of Kitty or Pongo or Hazel…each were overwhelmed in their losses in ways that I understand too well. The thought of ever replacing them inconceivable. Life without them unimaginable. The hole left beyind too massive to fill.
When someone shares such a loss with me, my response is pretty much always the same. “You need to get another.” They’re not a replacement as I realize this is truly impossible. And yet I do believe it is the best way to overcome some of the heaviness of heart that weighs upon you when you lose a pet you love. I certainly don’t want to place the immense burden on a new pet to assume the place of the old. How could they? But there is so much healing in not only bringing new life into your home but the mere distraction of a new pet can divert some of the focus away from the pain. The new pet will bring with them wants and needs that can’t be denied. Especially animals from a shelter where the feeling of helping another animal in need, one that is homeless has incredible healing in it. Let alone the new personality that brings with it energy, entertainment and unconditional love to offer.
When my great dog of all time Tag was nearing his last days, I knew that hole he would leave behind would be immense. Even with six other dogs, Tag’s passing would overwhelm me in ways that I could not put into words and still cannot. Weeks before his passing, I brought a new dog home. Not always the wisest move for some, but for Tag who we accustomed to a steady stream of fosters, it was no big deal. For me, Oliver, my new addition would be the distraction that would help me get past some of my pain. And he was a big help to me. Granted for his first weeks with me, he received little of my focused attention as Tag was still the center of every waking moment. After I lost Tag, Oliver stepped into to give me a renewed focus as he needed my help to get over some issues of his own. He was a blessing at a time of great distress. And yet, he’ll never be Tag. I would never levy that on him but Ollie is a loyal, loving being that adds joy to my life every day and I’m so grateful for his coming into my life at a time where I needed him as much as he needed me.
Certainly comparisons with the lost pet are bound to happen and as unfair as that can be at times, there is no guilt in their presence.
There was Kitty who lived 20 years and left her owner feeling uncertain about every getting another but didn’t shut the door entirely on the idea. Just too soon to consider. Understanding the sense of hesitance and uncertainty, I tried not to push. Sharing my best and routine advice and leaving it to her to know when the time was right, I’ll admit I was ecstatic when not long after she’d message me asking about a cat she saw on our site. And as we chatted about her, I could feel her excitement building to meet her in person. A few days later Milo would go home to soak up some of the love Kitty had left behind. And when the time was right, they’d add another cat, Lilly to their family as if it would take two to fill that hole.
In the case of Hazel, who I knew well, any attempt to replace the “perfect dog” that she was….her goodness and kindness would be impossible. And yet, her family knew quickly that a home without a dog would not be a real home. Life would not be complete. And thus, Vicki joined their family. She may not have filled Hazel’s shoes, but she has filled their hearts with joy and their focus with purpose so that the pain has less room to flourish. And okay, so she filled the bed with rolls in the pillows and enough cuddles for everyone!
Pongo, who I knew briefly in our shelter and through stories shared via Facebook, it would be a stretch to call him the “perfect dog” for anyone other than his family. I know from these stories that such a reference with Pongo’s name would take years to attain. He was not the easiest dog to have. He had his fair share of challenges but the patience and adoration of his family, made him the perfect dog for them. And his loss nonetheless immense. But then would come Summit, soon to be Jack. A mixed breed brown dog with one eye missing, leaving him with a persistent winking expression. I met him one night during a busy dog walking session and fell in love with him immediately. So when Pongo’s mom posted she too had felt his specialness upon taking a similar walk with him, my hopes were high, yet restrained. Kim would soon share along with this picture…”when you interact with the dog that should be yours you just know it. We knew the minute we opened the kennel and he came over and immediately wanted to snuggle. “
But it was Dad that would have to feel it too. The loss of his best buddy Pongo enormous, not just any dog was going to creep into his lap and life. I still cry when I read his words soon after they met.
“I don’t take this lightly, I have been hurting pretty bad since we lost Pongo. And who knows how long it would take me on my own to be ready for another dog. The other day when Kim sent me his picture as I looked at it as I came over the hill and there was a beautiful rainbow. I felt like Pongo was smiling and giving me his blessing.”
I know for me part of the healing is not only in trying to fill some of the hole in my heart but the sensation that comes through helping to save a dog or cat from homelessness. It all reminds me so of one of the best poems ever written on this topic.
“To a poor and lonely stray, I’d give my happy home, my bowl, cozy bed and all my toys, the lap which I loved so much and the tender loving touch.
Also the hand that stroked my fur and the sweet voice, which called my name.
I’d will to the sad, scared shelter animal, the place I had in my human’s loving heart of which there seemed no bounds.
So, when I die, please do not say,
‘I will never have a pet again, for the loss and the pain are more than I can stand.’
Instead, go find an unloved animal, one whose life holds no hope or joy and give my place to him.
This is the only thing that I can give … the love I left behind.”
Susan Boyd Dickinson
Categories: Shelter Facts