Only you as an individual can decide if the time is right to get another dog, says Carol Price.
There is no doubt that dogs become a massive part of our lives — so much so that when we lose one, the shock can be utterly overwhelming, and leave lasting emotional pain or scars.
Once the initial trauma and grief have eased a bit, however, our thoughts often turn to the question of when — or even if — we should get another dog, and how soon we will really be ready to make that kind of commitment again.
What if a new canine companion is totally different to the one you had before? If you are older, what happens if your next dog outlives you? If you already have an existing dog, or dogs, what if a new dog does not get on with them? Finally, what if the emotional shock of losing your last dog was so great that you don’t think you could ever face a similar loss again?
A very personal decision
These are questions grieving owners will agonise about again and again. They may also revolve around many more personal factors, from your own life situation or age to the manner in which your last dog was lost (for instance in more traumatic circumstances, or at a far younger age). Sometimes people leap into getting a ‘rebound’ new dog too soon, and it works out less well for all concerned. At other times their greatest fears or reservations about getting a new dog may be overcome with better advice, thought, research, or planning.
Fears about loss and change
The thing about human beings is that we are all so very different, not just in the level of emotional attachment we invest in a dog, but in how willing or ready we will be after losing one to start all over again — taking responsibility for a new dog who may be totally unlike the dog we had before.
Some people can take this step much sooner, if only because they simply cannot bear living a dogless life. But for others, it will be far harder. And if you include yourself in this group, it may well be worth thinking a lot harder about what is really holding you back.
First, there are the emotional obstacles, including the fear of change or losing again something you love. Every dog is unique, as is the bond we build with them. So many people let fear of change, or memory of the pain of past loss, deprive them of the joy a new dog could bring to their lives. You cannot go back in time, or ever have back again the dog you have lost, but you can go forward into the future choosing to make another dog’s life happy. That should be your first and only goal with a new dog, until one day you finally realise how much better and richer your life has become with him, and how precious a place he holds in your heart.
Fears about age
Another common obstacle to many people getting a new dog is simply age. In other words, they are getting on in years and fear any new dog they get might outlive them. But there are many older dogs in rescue for whom older owners are ideal. They will be past all their more exuberant and demanding life stages, and ready for a quieter life.
I have seen dogs like these transform many older people’s lives, keeping them more active, and getting them out daily to make new friends. If you are older but not very active, you can still plan ahead and arrange for a good local dog walker to take your new dog out twice a day for you, as it is vital for all dogs to have this kind of outside exercise, social contact, and mental stimulation daily.
Fear of history repeating itself
Sometimes the manner of a dog’s loss is so traumatic, and leaves such scars, that people live in dread of history repeating itself with any new dog they get. I find this is particularly true with dogs who have had to be euthanised as a result of uncontrollable or dangerous aggression, or those who have died very young from illness, or in sudden and shocking accidents.
Once again you have to consider the true probability of such events occurring again with a new dog. Ultimately you have to weigh up whether the fear of a repeated history, which may never occur, is really worth denying yourself the pleasure of a new dog — and only you can decide that.
Fear that they won’t get on
Another really common fear people have is that any new dog they acquire might not get on with their existing dog or dogs. It is actually a pretty sensible consideration, given that putting the wrong mix of dog characters together can be a recipe for ongoing stress in any household.
The worst combination can be a very pushy new dog who sets about harassing and bullying existing older dogs, to the point where it makes their lives a misery. So, if you have older and gentler dogs like these, go for a much more submissive and gentler new dog, too. Also try to ensure your existing dogs get a good chance to meet and interact with any potential new dog
before you get him, so you can watch the developing dynamics between them, and ensure the signals remain relaxed and benign.
As a rule, however, dogs can be much better at working out a way to live together than many owners give them credit for, even if it takes a bit of time. I cannot tell you how often people worry about their existing dog not tolerating another dog in the house, only to find the same dog, a few weeks later, happily sharing a bed with his new canine best friend.
In general, getting that next and new dog — as our case histories illustrate — is a step very few owners seem to regret, once they are fully ready to take it.
Are you really ready?
Take this test and find out.
Before making any more final decision about getting a next dog, try asking yourself these questions:
● Months after you lost your last dog, are you still having daily flashbacks about his final moments and being overwhelmed with grief and tears?
● Do you still regularly dream about him?
● Do you feel unable to put away things like his collar and lead, or bed, or remove his hair from furnishings or inside the car?
● Do you feel that no dog in the world could ever be as perfect for you as the one you lost?
● Do you find it hard, if not near impossible, to imagine owning a dog quite different to the one you lost?
● When out, do you still find it unbearable to see people with dogs who remind you of the one you lost?
Although feelings about lost dogs can continue to change over time, the more of these questions you are still saying yes to, the less likely it is that you are ready yet for a new canine companion.
What happens to your new dog should anything happen to you is something all of us should think about, because anything can happen to any of us, at any time, and not just in older age. Discuss in advance, with your most trusted relatives or friends, who would take on your new dog if anything happened to you, so that worry is removed from the future. If this is not an option, there are also excellent charities, like The Cinnamon Trust, that take on the bereaved pets of many older owners providing arrangements have been made for this in advance. The Trust even keeps a register of care homes that will allow people to take their dogs in with them should they need to take this step.
● To find out more about The Cinnamon Trust, visit www.cinnamon.org.uk, or call 01736 757900.