"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.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Anne Reed
Published Oct. 8, 2013
My family is fostering a shelter kitten named Teddy. Talk about a win-win.
Published May 14, 2013
I worked in a Downtown office building for many years. Times would come - I never kept track of the time of year - when we would find beautiful little birds dead on the sidewalk every day for a few weeks. I always wondered what was happening, but kept forgetting to look it up. What were those birds?
Published April 8, 2013
Ever heard of Wisconsin's Conservation Congress? If not, you're not alone. But you can make a difference for dogs if you attend a Conservation Congress meeting tonight, April 8, in your county.
Published March 29, 2013
Puppies. They sure are cute. But one major reason people get a puppy is completely mistaken. I said it once. You might have said it. You have friends who have said it. "I want a puppy so I can raise it to be exactly the dog I want."
Published March 20, 2013
Some dogs are fine when people and other dogs walk, or run, up to them. Some dogs are fine ... as long as they're left alone. The "Yellow Dog Project" is an effort to help those dogs.
Published March 4, 2013
Sometimes new ideas spread quickly. Sometimes they take forever. Here's one I'd like to speed up. For decades, the accepted approach to training dogs was "dominance theory." But negative training doesn't work for most people; it always makes dogs sad and often makes behavior worse; and it ruins the friendship that was the reason you got a dog in the first place.
Published Feb. 25, 2013
"Boy, I hate people." I hear that all the time from people who work in animal welfare. I disagree. I understand why they feel that way. When you do this work, you hear stories all the time that make you angry. Abuse and neglect. Domestic violence. Well-meaning stupidity. Even the simple failure to stick with commitments: "I'm moving out of town, so I need to surrender my 12-year-old dog." These stories would make anyone mad, let alone someone who cares enough about animals to have chosen shelter work over other, almost certainly better-paying, options.
Published Feb. 18, 2013
In animal sheltering work, it's easy to think of each adoption as a "happy ending" to that animal's story. That's one way to think about it - but it's just as true to think of it as a "happy beginning." The love that begins between a person and an animal when they leave our shelter often lasts for many years. It doesn't just save the animal's life; it shapes the person's life, forever.
Published Feb. 11, 2013
Hello and welcome to a new blog! I've been the executive director of the Wisconsin Humane Society for just over three years, and I'm excited to share stories and reports of our work here.