Please help us move on...
July 30, 2006 7:51 PM   Subscribe

How can we move on from the loss of our pet? How do we know when we're ready to find a new dog? Is our experience common amongst dog owners?

The responses to this post led us to buy an adorable shih tzu puppy. The suggestion was a terrific one. Not only was the puppy very good with our other animals, people, and dogs of all shapes and sizes, he had a really special (to us) temperant. As first time dog owners, we spent all of our free time focusing on the new addition to our family. It really was love at first bark.

Tragically, he passed away this past Friday at the age of 11 weeks. I took him to the vet so he could receive his third parvo/distemper booster and he had a violent allergic reaction. He went into shock and the vets were unable to save his life. My husband and I are heartbroken, and we wonder how often this is experienced by other dog owners. We never thought to be worried about this particular issue, being so busy making sure he didn't swallow anything or run into the street. Now, I feel terrified at the thought of vaccinating any future dog, or even possible future children I might have.

Our house feels very empty now, and we're not sure what to do. We both know that we want another dog eventually, and the possibility of the vaccination company replacing the dog was broached by our vet. They sent out some samples to an independent testing company, probably to make sure the vet wasn't at fault. Although, of course, it is too soon to begin this process, we wonder how long most people wait to find a new pet after a sudden loss, or the loss of a very young pet. My mother claims she read an article that said it's best in this situation to find a new pet sooner rather than later. Are there any other opinions on this? Any words of wisdom to help us get through this? Thanks.
posted by theantikitty to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We lost our first puppy after having him for about a month. He wasn't even 5 months old when he became very ill with congenital kidney disease and we lost him. That was about three years ago, and even though he was with us for only a short time, we still miss him.

That being said, we started looking at shelters for a new pup about two months after he died, and we found our match about a month after we started looking. We're both aware that we've coddled and pampered Keebler more than any dog deserves, but especially at the beginning, we were giving him two puppies' worth of love. Every little thing about puppy rearing ("is housebreaking difficult? We missed that sign with the other, if we'd caught it, it might have been treatable," the shots, the chewing stuff he shouldn't, the neighbors' taking care of their yards) became a Big Deal to us, and we're definitely guilty of acting like overprotective parents. I think some of that has worn off, but not completely - I don't think it ever will.

I guess as far as words of wisdom... you're going to miss the little guy. You probably always will. You'll know when you're ready, and it will never be replacing your pup, it'll just be welcoming someone new into your home. And don't let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn't be mourning, or that it's "just a dog." Take your time, and do what feels right.
posted by ferociouskitty at 8:08 PM on July 30, 2006

My parents lost a loved dog of 13 years recently and they were very very down about it - thinking it was a sign that their own time was up (they are in their seventies). I flew them over here and introduced them to our new puppy who is full of life and very responsive to people's feelings. My mother said the experience of interacting with another dog that was full of affection was very therapeutic for her. It is unlikely they will get another dog now because of their age but I concluded the best way to cure yourself of the loss is to interact with someone else's puppy, or go to a shelter and see all the sad, lonely doggies whose lives would be far better off with you in them. Having said that I would recommend going for a purebred dog with verifiable quality breeding so you reduce the chances of going through the same experience again.
posted by vizsla at 8:18 PM on July 30, 2006

I'm so sorry. He looks like a really sweet puppy.

I think it's okay to start looking for another dog pretty soon. Just take your time and make sure it's one you fall in love with.
posted by thirteenkiller at 8:21 PM on July 30, 2006

Seconding ferocious kitty. How long you wait, how long you mourn is up to you. It's whatever seems to work for you, and it gets easier at its own rate (or yours, rather). I was mourning my first ferret for six months or so (but I had a couple of others, too).

To derail a little: vaccination reactions are a constant concern for ferrets. I've had several minor ones and one horrifying major case of anaphylactic shock (fortunately recovered). What ferret owners (should) do is to get all vaccinations separately, and get the pet pre-treated with a benadryl injection a few minutes before the actual vaccination, then wait around at the vet's office for about half an hour to watch for anything unusual. I've done this ever since the anaphylaxis incident. I assume this would work for a dog as well, and you can check with your vet - if it's the same one, of course they'll understand why you're gun-shy.
posted by dilettante at 8:27 PM on July 30, 2006

I'm so sorry for your loss. I think, in this situation, as in so many others, that it's important to trust your own instincts. Don't worry about what other people do - worry about what you want to do. Does getting another dog quickly feel right? Wrong? Only you can answer that question. If you think you're ready for another dog, I will take a moment to proselytize for the pound over a purebred - but that's just me. Seriously, ignore everyone else. You know if you want another dog or not. Other people don't.

As for being terrified all the time, I can totally understand it. But remember that what happened to you was a terrible, rare, strange, crazy, freak thing. I used to cling to my children in terror, sure that they would never make it - but look around. The world is full of adults, and dogs - most of them do grow up. Loss makes the world stop, but you can't stay stopped forever - eventually, we all just have to close our eyes, hold our noses and leap, hoping for the best. Chances are your next dog will be fine for many years: peeing on the couch, eating the remote and making you chase him through the park with no problems whatsoever.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:31 PM on July 30, 2006

Nobody can tell you when it's time for a new pup. You won't be callous or weirdos or denying your grief if you get a new one Real Soon, and you won't be mopey sad-sacks if you wait a year or more.

If the dog was purebred, you should contact the breeder. If the breeder is not a terrible person, (s)he'll want to know about it as information about that particular crossing.

Also, and on a more boring, pragmatic note, if you bought the dog from a decent breeder you should have a guarantee of health on the pup. Getting your money back for the dog won't make you a terrible person.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:57 PM on July 30, 2006

We lost our first puppy at about five months old. We'd been very naive and bought a runt from a breeder (and learned a huge, huge lesson in the process -- believe me). He was a wonderful, special dog whom we were lucky to have for even a few months, and had about every congential abnormality under the sun. We had to have him put down, and it was so hard...

Ultimately, we started thinking about another puppy within a couple of months, making sure to do a much better job of being critical and careful. We would up bringing home our new dog about eight months later, and while he'll never replace the first he has an equally special place in our hearts.

For us, the big thing was taking that emotional risk again -- bringing another dog home, bonding, and then wondering what if there was something wrong with him, too. At one point when we hadn't had him very long I totally freaked out and started reading way too much into the fact he had sort of a reserved behavior. Deep down, I was convinced there was something terribly wrong with him. I really had to work to be rational and trust that he'd be OK -- and he was, and is.

With pets, there are no guarantees. But if you can give a dog a good home, it's a wonderful thing. I'm really glad we have our second dog.
posted by handful of rain at 9:28 PM on July 30, 2006

Oh man I'm all teary. Your little guy looked just like Al did as a baby. You have every right to be heartbroken. I am going to freak out when Al passes away and he is already 12 and has lived a long life. I don't know what I would have done if his life had been cut short.

Basically I think everyone has summed it up well above. Only you and your husband can decide when it's time to get a new dog. Ignore the naysayers who tell you you're morning too long/not getting over it quickly enough/or whatever. It's your family, your feelings, your life. No dog is going to replace Gizmo, and you are entitled to mourn as long as you need to. On the flipside of thatm there is nothing wrong with wanting another furball in your life. Whenever you feel the time is right to get another dog, by all means go for it.

And as for being overly paranoid, well, that's normal. To anyone who has experienced something rare but detrimental, you're naturally going to be terrified of it happening again.

I agree that getting money back from the breeder and/or compensation from the vet and/or vaccine company doesn't make you a bad person. The reality is that pets cost money and now you are out that amount of money and heartbroken. You can either keep the money to get a new dog when are ready, or if you want donate it in his memory to a charity like your local Humane Society. I've done that a couple times when animals have passed and although this sounds cheezy, it made me feel good to know that their memory will live on.
posted by radioamy at 10:26 PM on July 30, 2006

Our first dog was an adopted long-haired chihuahua that was originally rescued from a puppy farm. He was old, had lost most his teeth from gnawing on the really small cage in which he was kept most of his life, and he loved no one but us.

About 9 months after we got him, he broke his back leg jumping off the bed (the vet said he already had some pretty bad arthritis) and was in an awful lot of effectively untreatable pain. I finally had to take him to the vet and just hand him over, as there was no way we could live with him suffering like that any more.

I still have a picture of him. In an uncharacteristic moment on our honeymoon, he became playful, and I was rolling around on the grass with him. At one point, he was just looking across the lake, with the wind blowing through his hair, and I snapped the pic. It sits down in our basement now, and even though it's been 14 years, my wife still gets teared up when she sees it in its little frame.

It took us about 7 years before we were comfortable getting another dog. Before we even started looking, I sat my wife down and we talked through how we'd find the dog we were seeking. We had kids now, so we wanted to make sure that something like what we experienced wouldn't happen to them as well. However, we didn't want to shy away from rescue operations, as we knew personally that for all of Little Bear's life, the last months of it that he spent with us supplied him with more love and attention than he'd ever received.

So, we compromised, and found a rescue that was teamed with a breeder that specialized in dogs that were given up to the pound. There happened to be a fair that weekend of such types of rescue, and at one point, while walking around, a large Chow-German Shepard mix put her paws up on my wife's shoulders and sniffed her on the face. We've had our dog now since 1999.

Your feelings of loss are normal. You'll come around to needing another pet when it's time. I know that's no real help in how you feel right now, but I think you have to accept that there's no forcing the situation, and right now you have to work through your sadness.
posted by thanotopsis at 6:26 AM on July 31, 2006

What everyone else said. You will feel better eventually, and you'll start feeling more ready eventually as well. That's when it's a good time to start looking.

When you do start looking for a new dog, don't be surprised if it's more bittersweet than you expected. I had a lot of re-run grief when we brought our newest dog home in April after losing my old guy, who'd been through just about everything with me, in January. I worried for a while that I just wouldn't be able to love her as much as Howie, or even as much as our other young dog that we'd gotten before Howie died (even though GIR was an absolute beast of a willful little hellhound until the day Roxy came home and he suddenly grew up). And I still get all misty talking about Howie, but it turned out that I could love Roxy plenty.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:30 AM on July 31, 2006

Get a new dog right away.

1. If you get a dog from a shelter, you save a life if nobody else was going to adopt that dog in time; I don't know what is typical, but some shelters put a dog to sleep if it has been there more than a week. You might feel better about the death, if you save a life right away.

2. Most people say they don't think they are ready for a new pet after theirs dies, but when they finally do get a new pet (whenever that is) inevitably (I have never heard of a contrary case) they are glad they did. Possible explanations: (a) new animals are time-consumming, which distracts from the grief; (b) they a lovable, too, which encourages positive emotion rather than grief. You will still feel bad about the one that died, but a new, lovable pet softens the blow.

3. On a more personal note, Fozzie (the best dog ever) died and we buried him in his hometown. The next day, as we were just about to drive away, a puppy was standing on his grave. It turned out the puppy needed a home and probably would have been shot otherwise (very small town in North Dakota, where there are no animal shelters and people don't want wild dogs running around), so we took (saved) him and it helped the grieving process immensely.

4. You seem like good parents. It would be a shame if your care-giving skill went to waste, given all the dogs that need good homes.
posted by Eiwalker at 8:30 AM on July 31, 2006

Just this weekend I was visiting this place with a friend whose older cat has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It is quiet and dreamy and the perfect place to visit the memory of loved ones. The tombstones have sayings like "Kilfeather: Just the Greatest Dog in the entire world," or "Here my best friend waits for me to join her." Its quite touching and I am certain that my friend will get to spend beautiful moments visiting his cat long after she has moved on and he has gotten another cat.

Might you have a pet cemetary in your neck of the woods?
posted by iurodivii at 8:46 AM on July 31, 2006

Response by poster: I really appreciate all the thoughts and advice in this thread. I was kind of avoiding updating it the whole day, even though I have been reading your comments. I think I have really just been in shock about the whole situation. I was hoping that someone else out there had actually experienced the loss of a pet due to vaccination. It feels so twisted to me that I could bring in a completely healthy pet (confirmed by vet) for vaccination so that it WOULDN'T get sick, and have that be the reason for his death. I keep saying that I wish it had been some kind of serious defect rather than this, because at least he would have passed no matter what. We know it's not our fault. I don't think it's really anyone's fault. But I can't get over the fact that he would have been perfectly fine if he didn't get vaccinated.

I will speak with the breeder about this. If nothing else, she should know about the medical situation in terms of her other dogs. I'm not sure if our health guarantee covers this situation. It states that there is a "one year genetic guarantee. This covers all major life threatening genetic illnesses." I have no idea if this is considered a genetic illness or not.

I feel very torn about getting a new dog. One one hand, this house feels extremely empty to me, and I miss having the presence of the dog immensely. I keep wondering if having another puppy in the house will make me feel better about that need. On the other hand, there's a nagging part of me that says it's disrespectful to our puppy to even consider thinking about getting another one in the near future. I don't want to "replace" him. He's not a piece of furniture or some kind of "object" that can be replaced, and I am afraid I will feel that's what i'm doing even though that isn't how I feel. I'm aware that doesn't really make sense. Also, I worry that i will judge the new dog by his old standards. To us, the little guy was near perfect. I think a pet cemetary is actually a good idea, as my husband and I have no clue what to do with his remains when they come back to us. I will see if there is one in the area.

Again, I'm grateful for all your responses so far.
posted by theantikitty at 12:04 PM on July 31, 2006

this just *almost* happened to myself and my girlfriend. We took her pug in a week ago for a full array of shots, (rabies, distemper and parvo -- all of which she's had before as a puppy), and she 1) initially had a reaction to the shots, requiring an extra four hour stay at the vet, and 2) this last weekend, came down with pneumonia, which meant a trip to the emergency pet hospital.

After spending $800 on what should've been a $80 vet visit, we feel very very lucky that she's still alive -- I don't want to think about what would have happened if she imaginedidn't pull through. She's still recovering from the pneumonia, but she seems pretty ok. I think in the future, we will be avoiding any non-essential vaccinations (we got the parvo this time because we've been taking her to a dog park), and possibly even rabies (what's the odds of her getting that?). Additionally, whether or not the vet who provided the vaccine was at fault, we won't be returning (as they didn't bother to ask whether we wanted to check for something *other* than kennel cough after making a diagnosis nor recommended antibiotics, necessitating the later emergency visit after her symptoms worsened later -- thanks a fucking lot, Alameda Pet Hospital).

I can't address your situation, but yeah, frantic googling during this weekend revealed that this is something that isn't totally uncommon. If we lost our pug, I think it'd be at least six months before we could handle getting another one, but in the end, it'd really be up to how my girlfriend felt about it (she's had the dog since it was six weeks old).

If you can post any more information about getting compensation from the vaccine company, that would be great. I wouldn't feel at all bad about taking it if someone was at fault.
posted by fishfucker at 1:02 PM on July 31, 2006

Also, I worry that i will judge the new dog by his old standards. To us, the little guy was near perfect.

When I eventually really thought about getting another ferret after the one I mentioned earlier had died, that was my way of judging whether I was ready or not - whether I'd be comparing them all to the little girl I'd lost, or piling expectations on them from how she had been. Had to figure out whether I wanted a third ferret again, or whether I just wanted Lucy. It was probably about 10 months before I started looking, and then - while officially just thinking about it - immediately found an emergency that just *had* to come home to be safe. It may work the same way with you. When you feel like you can have another dog, you'll find one.
posted by dilettante at 1:20 PM on July 31, 2006

« Older It just works, right?   |   Dental tourism in India? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.