“Frieda” (not her real name) came to visit us today with her new dog, Serena (also not her real name).
Serena came from the Humane Society of South Mississippi and Frieda has had her for less than a week. As I examined Serena, Frieda and I chatted.
“I’m not sure I’m going to keep her. I might take her back to the shelter,” Frieda confided.
“Oh? Has there been a problem with Serena?” I inquired.
“No, it’s just that we’re not bonding. She’s a good dog, and loving and likes attention. But I just lost another dog about 2 ½ months ago and she’s so much different than Kilo. He was the same breed as her, but he wasn’t so needy. I’m still not over him, and I feel guilty about how I feel for Serena. She’s a sweet dog and she doesn’t deserve to be taken back, but she deserves a good home where she will be loved, too.”
We finished our examination of Serena and she checked out fine. Holly gave her back to Frieda, and I asked if she had some time to talk further. She did.
“Do you feel you’ve grieved adequately for Kilo?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think I have. I’m still not over him, and sometimes I feel I’m not being fair to him by loving Serena. Plus, I was in an impossible place with his passing. He had injuries that couldn’t be fixed, and I had to make the decision to let him go. I still have guilt about that.”
We talked at length about Kilo’s situation, and I assured her she made the only decision that could be made, as hard as it was. There was no way Kilo could have lived with the aftermath of his injuries.
“There is another factor, too,” Frieda continued. “In my community, people don’t seem to feel the same about pets as I do,” she said. “The people I work with and the people at church just tell me to get over it. ‘It’s just a dog,’ they say. I really don’t have anyone to talk to about how I feel.”
“You’ve come to the right place,” I said. “We understand. There is a difference between ‘having pets’ and ‘having animals.’ The people who don’t understand how you and I feel don’t have pets. There are simply animals who occupy the same address as them, and they never will understand.
“And, the feeling isn’t limited to any one community. It’s mostly how we were raised to feel about animals. We see that attitude in a wide range of ages, ethnicities and socio-economic groups, too.
“Furthermore, there are ranges of feelings about animals from one extreme to the other. Opinions go from ‘a dog is a tool I use for handling my cattle’ to ‘this cat is the only baby I’ve ever had.’
“You, Frieda, have a good balance. I think you have a lot of unresolved issues about Kilo, and I think this reprint of an article I wrote about grief will help. I also think that Serena can be a lot of help in your healing process, if you let her. She is the same breed as Kilo, but she still has her own personality. Only you can decide whether keeping Serena is the right thing for you. She’s sweet and she’s healthy. I hope it works out that you can be together.”
See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.