Feeling guilty about getting a new dog?

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So many of us have gone through the death of a beloved dog or other pet. Many people say that the grief they feel from that loss is somehow more amplified than the grief felt after the loss of a human relative, friend or acquaintance. There could be many reasons for this, and based on my own experience I have to say that it could be because our dogs (and cats) spend so much more time with us, are so loyal and ever-present, unconditional and faithful in all cases. “The house is so quiet without [dog], I can’t stand going home at night, the house is so empty.” is a sentiment expressed by many.

About a year before Timba died, she was super-senior at 16 years old, and very feeble. I decided it would be a good idea to get another dog before she died, figuring maybe, just maybe I would not want to get another dog afterwards. I ended up doing both! Hobie and Timba shared exactly a year together, and then TImba died. Five months later, we adopted Hector who I always said seemed like “Timba reincarnated” — they were so much alike in temperament.

Several years ago, a friend had to euthanize her male Collie who was very ill and elderly. She was devastated, but said the house was so empty when she came home at night, it was nearly unbearable. Her daughter worked at a kennel, and there were Bernese Mountain Dog puppies there.  Every time my friend picked up her daughter from work, she would lock eyes with one of the Bernese pups, a female.  She’d mention her to me every day, but was afraid at the price tag of $800.  I weighed in with my opinion that the $800 will be well worth it, since she had already obviously made a huge spiritual connection with this dog.  She said she felt guilty getting another dog so soon after her Collie died.  I persuaded her to get the Berner in his honor, and she did.  The two are a match made in heaven and are having a wonderful time.

Another friend lost her Yellow Lab to cancer a while back.  A few days later, I got a text message picture on my cell phone.  “Here’s the dog we’re adopting!”  I called my friend immediately.  She said she felt guilty, getting a dog so soon after the loss of her 11 year old Lab, her best friend in the world.  Again, I said, don’t feel guilty, do it in his honor — he would want you to!  She said, “I’m not doing it to replace him, I’m doing it to fill up this huge hole in my heart.”  I can still hear her saying those words today, and it chokes me up just remembering it, because I knew exactly how she felt.  Shortly after, mixed-breed Amber became the light of her life, and is all she ever talks about on our long-distance phone calls.

Yet a third friend, who has always owned Coonhounds, went through the tragic loss of two hounds within a 5-year period.  Each time, she began looking for a Coonhound to rescue pretty much immediately after the loss of the first.  Each time, she said “I feel so guilty, but I can’t stand coming home and having no one greeting me at the door.”  We talked, and again, I found myself saying, “You’re doing it in his [her] honor and memory.”  I enjoy hearing all about her Coonhound whenever we talk.  We compare notes, since my two pups are part Coonhound, and Hector was too.  Hounds are very special.

Hector died in 2011.  Hobie is old and infirm at 13.  Last year, I adopted two puppies.  We are going through the terrible twos right now, and I have to keep reminding myself that Hobie and Hector were exactly like this when they were puppies.  I survived that, I will survive this.  Hobie and Hector turned out to be the greatest dogs in the whole world.  Do I feel bad that I adopted Charlie Brown so soon (5 months) after Hector died?  Yes, I question my decision every time he eats a piece of furniture or jumps the fence!  Do I feel guilty that Hobie is being subjected to The Terrible Twos (Times Two) during his golden years? Do I wish, often, that I could be all alone with Hobie during his last years with our family?  You bet I do, I feel bad about it on a daily basis.  But I’m glad that he is here to help train them — because that’s what the previous dog is able to do.  Timba trained Hobie, and now Hobie is paying it forward by helping to train Charlie and Cooper.  Often, Cooper and Charlie will go off and play, and Hobie will sit on my lap or lie by my side and cuddle with me — it’s our “alone time” and it’s very special.

I personally feel I made the right decision, each time, to fill up the house with love and laughter, companionship and noise, loyalty and fun; in honor and memory of every dog we have loved before.

K.S. Mueller is a travel executive living in Massachusetts who writes essays about dogs, cats and other topics in her spare time. Check out her websites: ksmueller.comk2k9.com; and fibroworks.com. Follow K.S.Mueller on Facebook and Twitter.

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