"Do you think it's too soon?" That's the question Aly sent in the other day. Her story brought tears to my eyes, and I wanted to share it - and my answer - with you. Here's Aly's email:
My name is Aly and i am 16 years old. My Family recently had a house fire and we lost our dog. He was really close to us becuse as long as i can remember he's been around. We had gotten him out of the house but we think he went back in to look for my mom and older brother who were not home that night. But anyways more to the point of this, every one else in my family seems to think that we have to get another dog right away. Do you think its to soon?? I mean we only lost our dog (Duke) a month ago and they are acting like it never really happended. I guess i wouldn't really mind if we got a new dog right away but the fact that we have to get the exact same dog as before because my dad said that it was the same dog or no dog at all. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks, Aly
My response is here: Dear Aly, Thank you for writing. Your questions are big ones, and I'll do my best to answer from the heart. First of all, I'm really sorry that Duke died. He sounds like an amazing dog, to go back in to a burning house to look for your mother and brother. It's obvious that he really cared about you all, or he would not have risked his life like that. And you are a really good dog owner to think so carefully and deeply about what to do next. Everyone grieves in very different ways. Some people cry for a long time, and really focus on the pain of losing their loved one. Others clam up about it, saving their tears for private moments. Others pretend that nothing happened, that it was all not a big deal. There are as many ways to express grief as there are people. So I'm not surprised that you are feeling differently than other family members seem to. All of you are going to react a little differently, it's totally natural. It doesn't mean that any one of you cares more or less than the others, either, it just means that you process the grief differently. The bottom line answer to your question
"Do you think it's too soon?" is
I don't know. There is no rule set in stone about how soon to get a new dog. It is such a personal decision to make, I can't possibly tell for sure. No dog will ever replace Duke. Duke has his own special place in your hearts, and no dog will ever act, look, feel, or be Duke. It's impossible. My new puppy, Kanga, is a Maltese, just like my wonderful Maui was. But even though she looks a LOT like Maui did at her age, she is a completely different dog! I couldn't replace Maui if I tried, and you will never be able to replace Duke. Since you are not the decision maker (it sounds like Dad is), I would give you this advice during this time:
1. Don't make any rules for yourself about when or what kind of dog to get. Your new dog will be the PERFECT new dog for you, somehow, no matter what. Since you don't have full control over which dog or when to get it, just try to relax about it. If Dad insists on getting the same kind of dog, be as supportive as you can. He is dealing with his own grief his own way, and any dog will be lucky to be with you all. It doesn't matter whether the dog looks like Duke or not, it will be its own dog and you will love it for itself (and likely, so will your Dad).
2. Say everything you need to say to Duke so that you can focus on and take joy in your new dog. One of the best things I did when I was first dealing with Maui's death was to go over her whole life, out loud, on video. I talked about the first day I saw her, funny things she did, what she loved to eat. I told the whole story of her life right up until that day. It was so moving to go over all of it, and I felt so close to her. It really helped me to see why I cared so much and missed her so much. It helped me to grieve fully. You can still do this with Duke, just talk to him as if he is with you. Record it or videotape it so if you need to you can play it back.
3. Go easy on yourself. You have suffered a major loss - and a fire can be very scary. Don't expect yourself to just "be OK", and don't expect others in your family to react in certain ways, either. There are no rules on how to deal with loss, or how to move on. So I just encourage you to relax, be honest with yourself and others about what you want, and let things flow as naturally as possible. I guarantee that you and everyone else will know when it is the right time to get another dog. And you will also "know" your new dog when you meet him or her. It will be obvious to all of you. In the meantime take care of yourself and your family. Thanks again for writing, James

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Comment by Judy Black on May 4, 2009 at 3:03pm
Never try to "replace" an animal (in my case a dog) just try to wait a little while and then start looking for for another dog that you can bond with. It will soften the loss (a little) but it will always hurt. I still cry when I think of a German Sheppard that we had to let go in 1975, so it never goes away, but you have to think of the "pleasant memories" and move on. Animals are "our best friends". Judy, Paso Robles, Ca.
Comment by RaeAnn on May 4, 2009 at 2:58pm
I lost my precious Sindle (a schipperke) on March 12th. I watched her basically die for 4 days; it was horrible!! I miss her each and every day as she was a part of my family for 11 1/2 yrs. The grief that my family went through was different for each person. I, myself, cried for those 4 days and the next day after she died. The other dog that we have, Buddy (a pomeranian) went into a deep depression. Several days after Sindle died, we went to the pet store and found another dog, only a different breed. Instead of my little 12lb Sindle, I now have a 25lb 4 month old Siberian Husky, named Misty. She has many traits that my Sindle did and I am thankful for that as it keeps my Sindle girl alive. Misty will NEVER be able to replace Sindle, but it eased some of the pain and the love that Misty shares with our family already is very comforting.
Comment by Ruth Housman on May 4, 2009 at 2:56pm
Wow. This is so deep. I think James gave you advice from the heart and I would probably say these same words, that are all about feeling and how we experience loss. it's a deeply personal thing, from person to person. Many feel they need to wait a while, to imbibe the loss and honor THAT particular love, but there is surely no one way to grieve. We do it differently, each in our own way. I sense YOUR love and I also feel, whatever dog comes into your household, well that dog will be meant for you all, and that dog will be different, with a personality and life you will love. One does not replace the other and we have big hearts to include all that we love. I think love never dies and so in deep ways Duke will live forever, for you.

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