Love after loss: when is the right time to adopt another pet?

A woman holds a black kitten

At some point in our lives, we will all face the unbearable heartbreak that comes from losing a beloved pet. Pets are family – offering us love, companionship, joy, and comfort. So how do we navigate the loss of a pet and how will we know we’re ready to accept a new pet into our lives? 

Hear from Shanna Haugland, Senior Marketing Services Strategist at Animal Humane Society, about her journey with grief and welcoming a pet after loss.  

Grief has no timeline 

Grief is a normal, unavoidable, and emotional reaction to the loss of a treasured loved one. The devastating loss of a pet is highly personal and there’s no set timeframe for how long you will grieve.  

We all process loss and begin to heal at our own pace, and it’s certainly not linear. There will be good days and bad days; times where you can reflect on the beautiful memories the two of you created, laugh at photos and videos of your pet, or share a story of your adventures together and smile. There are other times when the sight of their favorite toy will bring a flood of tears.  

While no two people will experience the same journey with grief, it’s important to surround yourself with compassionate people who understand the significance of your loss. And remember to be patient and kind to yourself during this difficult time.  

“I was so excited to rescue my first dog, Harley. She was 5 years old at the time and a great companion. She loved going to work with me, participating in the Walk for Animals, and taking long car rides to visit my family in Iowa. She even tolerated being dressed up every Halloween. But after two years together, she started suffering from medical issues – including diabetes and pancreatitis.  

We managed it quite well with daily shots of insulin and enzymes for her food, but when she passed at the age of 10, I was at a complete loss. The loneliness and loss of routine was overwhelming. Two weeks later the opportunity presented itself for me to get a puppy. I didn’t know a thing about puppies and was completely unprepared. I even purchased the book, “Puppies for Dummies.” I was a little apprehensive and felt I would be judged for “moving on” so quickly after the loss of Harley. I always felt I had to justify my decision to get Addyson aka “Addy-tude,” but I also knew I had a lot of love to give and no one to share that with until Addy came along.” 

What I learned while grieving my pet 

  1. There is NO judgement 

Grant yourself permission to heal and to open your heart to a new pet when YOU feel ready. For some that may be days, weeks, months, or even years. Many feel overwhelmed by the emptiness and long to fill the void. You are not required to defend or rationalize your decision.  

I still grieved the loss of sweet Harley and there were many tears, but Addy provided an outlet for the other emotions I was feeling – a strong sense to love and care for another pet, to laugh again, and to find peace.” 

  1. Your new pet is not a replacement or replica of your late pet  

We all know that when acquiring a new pet – even if they are a similar breed, age, size, or general temperament of your late pet – you aren’t trying to replace your best friend.  

It’s important to understand the relationship you build with your new pet will be different – and that means cherishing their new quirks and personality rather than holding them to a standard set by your late pet.  

“I learned early on that Addy was nothing like Harley. Sure they were both female, terriers, and small in stature, but Addy rules the roost. She’s sweet, but that sassy and larger than life personality earned her that nickname for a reason.” 

  1. Ask yourself if you feel ready for the responsibilities of a new pet  

Like with any big change, there are things you should consider before adding a pet to your household after a lossyour age, health and activity level, living situation, finances, and members of the household (both human and animal).  

“Despite begging for a dog growing up, my parents waited until my sister and I were out of the house and only my younger brother was at home before welcoming sweet Zoey to the family (don’t worry, I made frequent 6-hour trips back to Iowa to visit!). 

Zoey was an absolute sweetheart, but at just 2 ½ -years old, she succumbed to a brain tumor. It happened so quickly and the loss crushed us all. About a year and a half later, my parents considered opening their hearts to another puppy. Izzie was truly my dad’s best friend. They were inseparable: going for walks in our small town, trips to Menards, and catching the latest game on TV between naps.   

She lived 11 wonderful, memory-filled years. After that, my parents took an extended break from pet ownership. They needed time to grieve such a huge loss and were in the process of becoming first-time grandparents. 

Years later they found themselves missing the bubbly greeting when they arrived home, snuggling on the couch during Hallmark movies, and the routine of a morning and evening walk before bed. Once again, they decided to bring home a puppy.  

My parents were active, but the thought of a new puppy had me a little worried. It had been nearly 15 years since they owned a puppy. Did they remember all it entails? Potty training? Classes to learn basic skills? Early wake-up calls? Don’t get me wrong – when they got Ella she immediately bulldozed her way into our hearts, but four months later my father unexpectedly passed away. Was my mom ready to assume all the responsibilities of having a puppy (and at her age)?  

While Ella has proven at times to be more work than I’m certain my mom can handle – or had planned to take on herself – she's also been the greatest comfort, companion, and bed hog since we lost my dad. I’ve learned that sometimes we need a pet to take care of us, just as much as we take care of them.”  

4. Find a meaningful way to memorialize your pet  

Honoring your pet’s memory can be a helpful way to work through your grief. There are many great ways to memorialize your pet that feel true to them and their personality, including: 

  • Scatter their ashes in a place that was special to you and your pet. 
  • Keep their urn in a special place and put a favorite photo of them and any other special items (collar, ID tag, toy) nearby. 
  • Have a professional portrait or sketch made to honor your pet or make a scrapbook of beloved photos of your pet. 
  • Write a letter to your pet, sharing your emotions with them and anything you felt was left unsaid. 
  • Put your pet’s ID tag in a special place – your wallet, keychain, etc. so you will always be carrying the memory of your best friend with you. 

5. Don’t be afraid to reach out for support  

Take advantage of available resources – whether that be family and friends, in-person or virtual pet loss support groups, hotlines, books, or grief counselors. 

Heidi Brenegan, Chief Marketing Officer at Animal Emergency & Referral Center of Minnesota, along with her colleague Colleen, a licensed social worker, offer many outlets to help support individuals on their journey with pet loss. 

They oversee a Pet Loss Support Group that meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month via Zoom. This casual, peer-supported, drop-in group is open to anyone navigating the loss of a pet and provides an outlet for grieving pet parents to communicate and connect with others, and receive tools to help them cope with their loss.  

They also offer an active, private Facebook group for grieving members to support one another, an Experiencing Grief & Loss weekly email series you can sign up for, and quarterly in-person events for those who wish to meet others in person. 

Whatever path of support you choose, there are many options so it’s important to find an outlet that works for your needs.  

6. Look for other ways to connect with pets

There are more ways to incorporate the companionship of an animal without taking on the emotional and physical responsibility of adopting a new pet. Have you ever considered volunteering in-shelter or fostering through Animal Humane Society 

You can get your “fix” of puppy kisses, purrs, and belly rubs by providing support to the animals waiting for new, loving homes.  

Hear from other pet parents

Zoey and Felix

“I hadn’t meant to adopt another animal so soon after the loss of my others, but I began looking at the adoption pages on Animal Humane Society’s website as a way to remind myself that my next kitty would be waiting for me when I was ready. 

I saw Felix pop up on a Friday night, a sweet little 3-month-old orange tabby. It had been over 15 years since I’d had a kitten!  

I sobbed in the car on the way to go meet him. It had been three months since my last cat passed away. I felt guilty for moving on, and anxious that I would miss this chance at the same time.  Now two months later, I know more every day that I made the right choice. He’s the sweetest little man in the world, and I feel better having him by my side.”  

An orange cat sleeping
Sarah, Matt, and Kylo

“We weren’t sure we would ever be able to open our hearts up to another dog after we lost two of our best friends in the same year. Luckily, our sweet cat, Poppy, was there to comfort us with endless cuddles.  

After a couple months passed, we were really struggling with how quiet the house was without our dogs. We had at least one dog in our home for the last 14 years and had never lived in a house as a couple without one. So, we started to casually look at puppies online at Animal Humane Society’s website. Our hearts started to open up to the idea that maybe we could share our love with a dog again, but we were concerned about how we would introduce a dog to Poppy.  

We arrived at the Golden Valley location shortly after they opened on New Year’s Eve and quickly made our way back to the puppy suites. We visited with [another puppy] for a while, but the connection wasn’t really there. My husband left the room to find a volunteer because he wanted to switch puppies. Not long after switching, we knew something was different. This one, Kylo, felt right.  

We weren’t attached to the name Kylo, so we thought about changing it to Peanut. Later that evening, out of curiosity, I looked up “Kylo meaning.” What popped up at the top of my search was “Sky; Heavenly” and we instantly knew we had to keep the name. I am a true believer that everything happens for a reason, whether we see it right away or not, and it felt like this was a sign that he had been sent to us by our fur-babies who crossed the rainbow bridge earlier in the year.”  

A white dog stands outside on grass

Whether you’re ready to adopt or not, AHS is here for you 

We know your heart is hurting – so let yourself feel whatever emotion you may be experiencing without embarrassment or judgment. It’s okay to scream, cry, laugh, or find moments of joy as you remember your beloved pet. Your best friend will always hold a special place in your heart.  

If you find yourself ready to welcome a new pet into your home, this will be your decision and you will know when you are ready. And if the enjoyment of your new pet causes a twinge of guilt, realize that your happiness is not a betrayal of your late pet, but rather a tribute.  

Above all, give yourself time. You will come to think of your late pet without pain. Sorrow, perhaps, but the hurt will be softened and replaced by happy images of your life together. Remember them, with love and adoration.