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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

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Meet Mitchell.
Meet Mitchell.

Taking the risk

"I’d like to have an animal, but I don’t want to be sad when it dies." I hear this more often than you might imagine.

When they talk to me, people often start sentences with, "I’d love to have an animal, but ..." I listen closely to what comes next. To save a lot of homeless animals’ lives, we need to inspire a lot of people to have animals. Every time I hear, "I travel," "I’m allergic," "My cat wouldn’t like it," and so on, it helps us plan better ways to find families who can make a place for a homeless animal.

I understand what people mean when they say, "I don’t want to be sad." Loving an animal, like loving a person, opens you to pain. Most people are shocked when they realize for the first time how much it hurts to lose an animal friend. They’re shocked again when they realize it doesn’t get much easier the second time, or the third, or ever. That quiet cat who used to finish your cereal milk leaves an even quieter gap when she’s gone. When my old dog died, I kept taking our night walk – without him – for weeks.

When someone looks at me and says, "I couldn’t go through that again," I understand.

It’s easy to offer a different point of view; in fact, many people end up reframing the obstacle themselves. Losing an animal is so painful because loving an animal is so wonderful. The only way to avoid the pain is to miss the wonderful part. After some time passes, "I don’t want to be sad" often turns into "I’m ready for a friend." When that happens, when the person is ready, there’s a homeless animal waiting at a nearby shelter to be that friend.

For me personally, there’s a second answer to "I don’t want to be sad." Over the years, I’ve found myself grateful not only for the good times with our animals, but actually grateful for the grief we’ve experienced when they passed away. Looking back, I know that grieving for animals has made me more ready for other kinds of grief when it has come our way. Especially as a parent, I feel glad that my teenager had experienced the loss of an animal before it was time to lose a grandparent, or the parent of a friend.

Steady strength through sad times is a learned skill. It’s a little amazing that, in addition to everything else that animals give us, in the end they even give us some of that critical learning.

On behalf of animals in shelters everywhere today, I hope you take the risk of loving an animal. It’s a risk that comes with the best reward: unconditional love back to you.

(If you’ve recently lost an animal, the Wisconsin Humane Society’s Pet Loss Support group/seminar might be helpful. It meets on the first Thursday of the month in the evening – details on our website. And if you’re ready to open your heart to a new friend, think about Mitchell, at our Ozaukee Campus! He’s in the picture, and you can learn more about him here.

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