Healthy Grieving: Some things to consider before adopting a pet

I love dogs, and since my husband died, only my beautiful little poodle saves me from living alone. I couldn’t survive without her.

I know how many dogs in shelters need homes so I’ve been thinking a lot about adopting a second dog. But I don’t know if it’s a good time to bring a new pet into my life.

Those words, written by a woman recently widowed, are understandable. Over thousands of years, humans have found comfort and friendship with an animal companion. For that reason, grievers often consider bringing an animal companion into their lives after loss. While this is usually a positive step, there are some important considerations to make before adopting a pet.

1. Why do you want to adopt an animal? Be certain you’re not looking for a temporary quick fix to loneliness. Bringing a pet into your home and life should be viewed as a lifetime commitment to the pet. And, an animal could be with you for five, 10, 15 or more years.

2. Are you willing to make a lifetime commitment? Animal shelters are swamped with pets that are “owner returned.” While there might be a good reason an animal cannot be kept, too often they are returned because the pet has become inconvenient. Before you adopt, be sure you can make a real commitment to care for your pet for its entire life, no matter what that entails, just as you would with a child.

3. Can you afford an animal? Beyond the initial adoption costs, there will be ongoing expenses for food and medical care. Like humans, animals can become injured and ill. That will mean visits to a veterinarian. Consider your budgeting. Food, water, toys and medical care for a pet can range from $1,000 – $5,000 a year.

4. Are you prepared to deal with pet issues? There may be scratched-up furniture, accidents from animals who aren’t yet house trained, fleas, pet hair and unexpected medical emergencies. These are common aspects of pet ownership.

5. Is your lifestyle suitable for the animal you have in mind? Some dog breeds are very active and need regular exercise. Do you have a yard for it to run in? If not, do you have time to take the dog out of your apartment for a daily walk? Perhaps, adopting a cat would work better for your living arrangement. Carefully choose an animal that would best fit into your life style. Another consideration is your career. Does your work involve extensive travel? If so, that means paying out more money for boarding or hiring someone to pet sit while you’re away. Factor this into your pet adoption thinking.

6. Will you be a responsible pet owner? This means obeying community leash and licensing laws and keeping identification tags on your pets, along with being responsible for your pet in public, and keeping your pet safe at home.

7. How much time can you devote to the animal? An aquarium with a few fish requires less presence and time commitment than a dog or a cat. Dogs, cats and other animal companions cannot be ignored just because you’re too busy and too tired. They require food, water, exercise, care, and companionship every day of every year.

If, after considering pet ownership carefully, you wish to move forward, then begin looking for one at your local animal shelter rather than buying one from a commercial breeding facility. By making an informed decision combined with a lifetime commitment to your pet companion, you will experience the truth of this wisdom from actress Doris Day: “I have found that when you are deeply troubled, there are things you get from the silent devoted companionship of a dog that you can get from no other source.”

Victor M. Parachin, M. Div., is a bereavement educator and grief counselor.  He is the author of numerous books about grief including The Lord Is My Shepherd: A Psalm For The Grieving and Healing Grief.

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