The Guilt of an Unready Heart

I was talking to my dad recently. He is one of the biggest animal lovers I know. He has had animals his entire life. But he and my mom don’t currently have any pets at all. Our family dog Maddy passed away in 2011, leaving our kitty Mabel. Then Mabel unexpectedly died in 2018. They haven’t had another pet since.

In the years after Maddy died, I had asked him about perhaps getting another dog. Mabel seemed lonely, and I thought another dog may bring joy to my parents. But there was always the same answer “Oh, ya know. It might be too much for Mabel to handle. And I don’t know if I am ready.” I never pushed. I understand the deep and lasting grief from losing a pet. After all, Maddy was my girl, too.

But since our precious Mabel passed, their home has been empty. As long as I have been on this earth, my parents have never had a petless home. Recently, I gently asked him again, “Do you think you guys will get another kitty? Or maybe even a dog again?” This time my dad got quiet. He said “I…I don’t know. You know, when Maddy died, I didn’t think I would ever be able to have another dog. She was our family. She can never be replaced. And then when Mabel died….I just really don’t know. It is like my heart can’t take it. I feel like Maddy and Mabel were my heart. It belongs to them. I also feel like if I were to let myself move on, it would be like I were forgetting them.”


I have a friend who says that the day her dog dies, she will go out and get another one. She said this would never ever be a replacement for her dog. Her dog is her entire world- she loves her with all her heart. But she knows that for her specific grieving process, it will help aid her healing to immediately have another sweet doggy to love and care for. She views it as a tribute to her passed pet, as a way to beautifully serve her memory.


Everyone copes with grief differently. Some, like my friend, are ready to open their hearts immediately. But others, like my dad, are left with a hole in their heart that they don’t want to try to fill. It might feel like they don’t begin to heal for a long, long time. They might wonder if they ever can.

It is easy for us (especially those of us who fancy ourselves “animal advocates”) to quickly say, “but there are so many pets who need a home!” I am guilty of saying this to my own dad. And it is true- there are so many amazing, beautiful souls waiting for their forever home. But we must remember that the pets we have lost are family members, and we do not simply “move on” from that. If someone were to lose a child, we would never say “well, just get another one!” We must remember that the loss of a loved one involves a significant and complex grieving process that is different for everyone. It may not make sense to us, but we must respect everyone’s individual healing process, no matter what it may look like.

Sometimes those who could never imagine getting another pet find themselves in a shelter weeks later, walking out with a new joyful little bundle of fur- sometimes we don’t understand even our own grief, and we surprise ourselves!

But it is important to have grace, patience, and compassion for each other as we face the difficult journey after saying goodbye to a beloved pet.

I do hope that one day my parents choose to let another precious animal into their lives. It would be one lucky pet! But it is not up to me to decide if or when that happens.

If you find yourself feeling like you just can’t fathom ever having another pet, please do not feel guilty. Be kind to yourself, be forgiving. Grief looks different for every heart, and no one can tell your heart what to feel.

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