Not a topic anyone wants to have to read or deal with. But whenever we own a dog, of any kind, we’ll inevitably have to go through this. I personally have gone through losing a dog three times in my life between childhood and adulthood. It’s never easy.
There is no “right” time to get a new dog after you lose a dog to an illness or he passed on for any number of reasons. It is important to allow yourself to grieve however you need to. If you have any family members, they too should be allowed to grieve the loss of a dog. Immediately adopting a new dog after your dog dies is not something I would recommend you rush into.
After the loss of anything, there is, in most cases a grieving period. Whether it's the loss of your pet or the loss of a relationship with a human - most people need a time out or a break to heal and reflect.
Thinking back on my last two experiences when I lost my Labrador in 2004, there wasn’t an initial “hurry up I need to fill the void” feeling. That dog had gone through a lot with me, and my husband, and I felt it was good for me and my family to take a year and just acknowledge her passing.
Something about that waiting period does help. For one, you avoid impulsively jumping in and just adopting anything that needs a home, which can be a disastrous situation. Secondly, it also allows you and your family to take some time to reflect and pause. We do live in a society of just hoping online and ordering something - food, cosmetics, a date, appliances, whatever. Taking some time to hit the pause button to reflect and just wait, I think, would allow you some healing and recall of some of the really good memories you had with that dog.
We lost our Weimaraner in 2015. As I write this in June of 2019, we are finally looking to adopt our next dog. We didn’t purposely want to wait four years, but there were other life changing things that occurred during that time that a new dog would have not appreciated such as selling our home and moving out of state, renting an apartment for a year, then moving into a new home. Rather than being selfish, we could have waited a year, then adopted a new dog, but we knew we were going to move, then rent. Neither of which would have allowed the dog the time necessary to adjust and have proper training.
What or how does one grieve the loss of a dog? Since everyone is different, people do this in many different ways. Some create a video with all the images of the dog set to a favorite song. That might be time consuming or really more creative than some have the time for. Others post about it on Facebook and share all the good times they had with their dog.
I journaled. I wrote about everything I could about my dogs so that I would never forget as I grew older the things they would do or react to. As we age, our memories will tend to erase certain things. I’ve found it not only a good way to preserve my memory of my dogs but also to help my not-so-great memory as I get older. It’s also very cathartic to just write - as you cry, you write some more. As you write you also develop some good feelings about the time you had with your dog. The nicknames you gave your dog, the funny ways he would look at you - my Weim would smile when he was particularly stressed. He would also always sit by my bedside when I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed. You remember the sounds he makes when he walks across the wood floor and think, geez it's time to get his nails clipped.
We had our dogs cremated, but we never buried them because we knew we’d move then they’d be stuck in some stranger's backyard for eternity. So we have them sitting on a bookshelf in their respective boxes provided to us by the Veterinarian. Now that we live where we do, and plan on being here for beyond retirement - we might just find a nice place for them in the woods.
Here's a few things others do following the loss of a dog and hoping that sharing these with you, and also find some relief.
Validation - This is a great loss you and your family just suffered. Own it. This is a big deal. No it’s not your grandmother, but this pet was a family member, and it’s more than OK to live it.
Collect Family Photos - Having a set of photos that include your dog is a great way to keep hold of the memory. If you have photos of other family members dog, share those with them. They will appreciate you taking the time out to share a memory of their dog that they may not have seen before.
Send Flowers - It’s a loss - if you have a friend or family member and they have lost a beloved pet, do what you would if they lost a human. Send a nice bouquet of flowers, or something thoughtful to help them along.
Memorialize the pet with art - have a portrait or painting of your dog. It's a beautiful way to say we’ll never forget you.
Pet IDs + Keychain - use their ID tags and add them to your keychain. They’ll be with you wherever you go. My husband has done this, and I always thought it was such a nice way to always have something to remember them by.
Planting a special plant in the dog’s favorite spot out in the backyard - When I heard this idea, I thought, what a great and memorable thing to do!
From one pet owner to another, we understand the intense pain and emptiness that occurs after this loss. We should understand you can’t necessarily skip any of these or you may pass through them without even realizing.
If you’re looking for a great resource to help you move through the grief - check out this book from Amazon “Goodbye Friend: Healing Wisdom for Anyone Who Has Ever Lost a Pet” written by Reverend Gary Kowalski.
I found this to be a very good book, when such a loss is present. It helps heal the heart, one day at a time. Reading this, you immediately feel “normal” and that what you’re going through is real. He covers many thoughts and feelings that come up at this time.
Then this might not be the right time to adopt a new one. If you haven’t fully given yourself the time necessary, you just might not feel good about adopting a new pet and that might be a good sign to hold up and think about where you are in your life.
If you have fully healed you’ll know and guilt is not a feeling you will feel. You should also think about that dog who may be ready to adopt, but not ready to live with you because you haven’t fully moved through the stages of grief yourself. If you think your newly adopted dog won’t be able to tell, think again.
Being really ready to take on a new pet as your own will take some time. Give yourself the time necessary. Your newly adopted dog will thank you many times over. You’ll also feel much better and ready.
How can you avoid the "I need another dog NOW" tailspin? Moving through all the emotions you and your family feels is something of a process as we’ve discussed. But what the “right time” is a bit of a subjective topic. What’s right for one may not be right for another.
This is one of those you just can’t put a timeline against it. Anytime you deal with a set of emotions it has to take its course. This is not a project with a set of milestones. Many process the loss of a pet in many different ways and the time span occurs over whatever period is right for that person.
Here’s a list of life events that, if any have occurred in the past six months or you see them occurring in the next six months - this might help you realize, now is NOT the right time to adopt a new dog:
If you find you have 0-3 of those on the list - now is probably a reasonable time to go ahead and adopt. If however, you find you have more than 7 of those on the list, stop and evaluate. This might not be the best time for you to consider adoption.
If you discover now is not the right time to adopt a new dog, consider cleaning up those toys, or leashes or other items and offer to contribute them to a local shelter. You’re indirectly helping other dogs as you process and prepare to move on. If you absolutely miss having a dog to pet and be around, maybe volunteering at a local shelter or fostering a dog might be a good way to help you and other dogs. There can never be enough help offered at your local shelter and fosters are always needed.
So many people hear the following phrase after losing a pet…”so, when are you getting a new one?” Then on the other end of that conversation is “”I’ve never cried that hard when my grandfather died.” People may also feel, they will never get another pet. When you have no children of your own, they can start to feel like they’re your children. There are so many who ask when is the right time to wait before adopting or getting a new dog, but the answer is, there is no magic number.
When you know it’s not right. If you recently lost your dog, within the last 6-8 weeks, it still might not be the right time. If you find yourself perusing the Petfinder.com pages looking at dogs, but feeling a wee bit guilty, now is not the right time. If you’re someone who absolutely needs a timeline? Then Stop. Take a deep breath and give yourself at least six months.
Just know that a new animal is NOT a replacement for the old one. Just know that there is no “right time”. Some take a few days, some take several years. No matter what you do, make sure you feel good about the decision either way.
Good Luck. My condolences on your loss. My hope is that this article gave you some guidance and direction as you move through the process of grieving a pet and when to consider adopting a new one.
PS: The dog in the shot with me below and the one highlighted in this article, was our beloved Cosmo Kramer, who was the sweetest Weimaraner we ever knew.
I'm Janet, avid rescue dog fan, and parent of two rescues - training them to run, hike, and enjoy their new forever home
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