"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.
Anne Reed became the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Humane Society in January of 2010. Before joining WHS, Anne spent almost three decades as a corporate litigator at the Milwaukee law firm of Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren SC.
At the Wisconsin Humane Society (WHS), Anne stepped into the leadership of Wisconsin's oldest, largest and most recognized animal welfare organization. For more than 130 years, WHS has been saving the lives of animals in need, and carrying out its mission to build a community where people value animals and treat them with respect and kindness. WHS helped to pioneer the idea that every animal available for adoption in a shelter could be free of time limits, taking as long as needed to be adopted. WHS operates shelters in Milwaukee, Saukville and Racine.
Anne serves on the board of directors of the National Federation of Humane Societies (NFHS), Wisconsin Federated Humane Societies, and Shelter Animals Count, a national database initiative. She also chairs NFHS's 2020 Vision Initiative. Anne also served as president of Meta House's board of directors from 2005 to 2007 and served on the board from 2001 to 2010. As a lawyer, she was named one of the Wisconsin Law Journal's "Women In The Law;" was named to the list of "Wisconsin Superlawyers," and authored a law blog which was twice named one of the 100 best in the country by the American Bar Association's ABA Journal.