Author Archives: TheRalphSite

Pet loss anger: How to cope when you can’t stop feeling angry

Anger is an emotion that often goes hand-in-hand with pet loss or, in fact, any bereavement. Even though it’s a common feeling, it’s also the one that’s the most difficult to discuss or process, possibly even above guilt.

But why?

In our society, anger is often viewed as a ‘bad’ or ‘destructive’ emotion that we should keep pushed down at all costs. When we think about anger, we perhaps think about it at its most destructive – rage, the emotion of uncontrolled, violent anger – rather than a normal, healthy emotion that we all have a right to express.

Pet loss anger can also be a tough emotion to deal with because it’s often directed towards someone you love or trust who was, in some way, involved in your pet’s passing. We’ll be talking about this more in a minute.

Anger is a natural emotion that keeps us safe

If you’re struggling with your anger, please remember that it’s a completely natural emotion that’s important for your wellbeing.

Psychologists believe that, at an instinctive level, anger is the emotion that helps us protect our homes and families, our food and possessions, or our relationships. We feel angry against perceived threats or when someone we love is at risk.

It’s a survival mechanism designed to protect you and the things and people necessary to your physical and emotional wellbeing.

In other words, it stops you from getting hurt.

Anger as a secondary emotion

There are other purposes to anger too.

It’s often described as a ‘secondary’ emotion that comes to the surface when we feel uncomfortable with the ‘primary’ emotion we’re actually feeling.

Feelings such as guilt, sadness and fear can all leave us vulnerable. In the case of pet loss, it’s common to be engulfed by anger because that might be preferable to expressing our deeper despair.

In this scenario, anger acts like a suit of armour or a shield. It keeps others away while we create some space to handle how we feel.

So, while experts generally agree that it’s too simplistic to break grief down into five stages, anger is most certainly a part of mourning for many of us.

Why do we feel angry after a pet bereavement?

The anger you feel following the loss of your pet may depend on the circumstances of their death or disappearance.

It’s a topic that comes up frequently in The Ralph Site’s private Facebook group.

People often struggle to come to terms with losing a pet when someone else has been involved, either directly or indirectly.

This could be the vet who treated the pet, a spouse who left the garden gate open, a neighbour who hit a beloved cat with their car, a trusted dog walker, or even a child.

In each case, there are a lot of conflicting emotions to deal with.

It’s very hard when the action – or inaction – of someone you love or trust has led to tragedy.

On the one hand, you will want to comfort your loved one and reassure them that they couldn’t have predicted what would happen but, on the other hand, you may be full of anger towards them.

Your thoughts may be stuck in a loop.
Why didn’t she check the gate?
Why did he suggest that medication?
Why did she throw that stick?
Why didn’t he realise there was a serious problem?

The questions you ask will be unique to your situation but the sentiment is usually the same, a sense of injustice and blame.

Even if there wasn’t someone else involved in your pet’s passing, the anger can still churn away inside of you.

Instead, you might feel angry at yourself for not getting a second opinion, taking your dog for a walk, letting your cat outside, not shutting your hamster’s cage properly – whatever applies in your case.

Even things you did out of love can take a dark turn when you’re angry.

Suddenly, you find yourself regretting that walk in the woods, letting your cat play outside, the large rabbit run in the garden or not clipping your love bird’s wings.

My good intentions killed my pet, you think, as you blame yourself for creating a good quality of life.

“Should” and “why” are anger’s favourite words.

You might also feel angry with your pet – how could you leave me? – or angry at how unfair it is that your pet has died when a friend’s older pet is still alive – why does she get a cat that lives to 20 and yet mine wasn’t even two when she passed away?

Anger doesn’t hold back.

When you’re angry with someone you love or trust

Although anger plays an important role in protecting you and helping you make sense of what has happened, it can become a problem if it turns into rage, bitterness or resentment.

These emotions can damage your relationships.

The problem with anger that’s directed to someone you love or trust is that you lose an important part of your support network. The person you’re angry at loses it too.

Your spouse, for example, may be the person you trust most in the world but if you can’t stop blaming them for what happened to your pet, you will struggle to talk to them about your grief.

Similarly, you might become short-tempered with your children for their role in your pet’s death at a time when they need you to comfort them and help them manage their own distress and guilt.

Tips to deal with your pet loss anger

It can be hard to manage your anger when you’re grieving. Emotions are running high and it may be that other people in your circle are angry too. This can make communication hard.

We’ve put together some tips to help you express and address your anger:

1. Rationalise your pet’s passing

Anger is an emotion of the heart – it’s about feelings and putting up all of your defences in the face of a threat. And what could be more threatening than the death of someone you love?

But the problem with this is that anger doesn’t leave much room for facts and forgiveness.

Although it’s a daunting task, try to break down the circumstances surrounding your pet’s passing. Challenge your angry thoughts with a more compassionate counter-argument.

Think about what you would say to your best friend to comfort them and talk to yourself in the same way.

For example, you could counter a thought like, “If he hadn’t left the gate open then the accident wouldn’t have happened” with a statement like, “He didn’t realise the gate was still open. It could have happened to any of us. He wasn’t to know that she would run out at the exact moment a car was passing.”

Or maybe challenge a thought like, “The vet should have known that things were more serious than they looked” with “The vet is human, like me. She used the information and experience available to her to recommend a course of action and order more tests. She is unable to see into the future and did everything she could at the time.”

This will take practice.

With anger, you usually know, rationally speaking, that accidents happen or that death comes to every living creature but knowing it and truly accepting it are two different things.

2. Gather information

You may find it helpful to gather as much information as you can about your pet’s passing, especially if they were under the care of a vet when they died.

If your pet was ill before they passed away, especially if things happened quickly, then you may feel a bit blurry about the advice and information you were given. You may want to arrange to speak to your vet about what happened to understand the chain of events.

Of course, it’s worth bearing in mind that this may not give you the answers you want but some people find it helpful.

3. Think before you speak

It’s easy to say hurtful things when you’re angry. While talking is crucial (see point 4), it’s best to avoid speaking in the heat of the moment. If you possibly can, try to take a moment to think about what you want to say.

4. Talk about your feelings with someone objective

We understand that talking can be really tough, especially if the person you would usually speak to was somehow involved with your pet’s death. Still, it is important to express how you feel.

If you don’t feel able to talk to your loved ones at the moment, you could always try reaching out to a pet bereavement counselling service or helpline.

You can find details of some fabulous resources here.

The great thing about talking to someone independent is that they’re completely objective. You can speak confidentially about your feelings.

Another option is to talk about your anger within the private Ralph Site group on Facebook. Lots of people have experienced the all-consuming anger and can lend a supportive ear.

5. Talk to your loved ones using “I” statements

Once you feel able to, talking to your loved ones about your feelings will help you all to heal and create a new normal without your pet.

Experts recommend using “I” statements such as “I feel angry that you didn’t check under the car that morning” instead of “You should have checked under the car before you got in it”.

Be respectful and specific, describing the situation and your feelings without criticising or placing the blame.

While you’re wrestling with anger, the person you’re angry with may be struggling with guilt and regret. Their part in your pet’s passing was not intentional – if they could turn back time, they would.

6. Recognise that being angry won’t bring your pet back

The sad truth is that you could be angry from now until the end of time but it won’t bring your pet back.

Although anger creates a helpful shield in the early days of bereavement, it can become a wall between you and the people and things that matter to you if you hang on to it.

Your pet wouldn’t want you to be angry. Animals don’t hold grudges and one of the things we love so much about them is their ability to live in the moment.

As impossible as it may feel right now, letting go of your anger will feel like a weight being lifted from your shoulders.

7. Redirect your energy

Anger is an energetic emotion so look for ways you can let it out or redirect it productively.

Some people find it helpful to go for a run or a swim when they’re feeling angry. Others take up a calming hobby, even if it’s listening to music or journaling.

If you feel that lessons learned from your pet’s death could save another animal’s life then you could channel your energy into this.

For example, if your dog died from cold water shock from jumping into a cold river on a boiling hot day, this is something you could share on social media.

If your guinea pig died from a respiratory infection, you could tell others what signs to look out for.

If your cat suffered organ failure after eating ingesting lily pollen, spread the word about what plants to include in a cat-safe garden or what flowers it’s safe to send to someone with cats.

Many people take part in fundraisers to commemorate a lost loved one. This is a great way to ensure something good comes out of your loss.

8. Know when to seek help

Anger can keep a bereavement so current that you relive your loss on a loop. The process of letting go of that anger is one of the first steps towards learning to live in a world where your pet is no longer physically present.

If you feel like your anger is out of control or just not easing then please reach out for help. Many people feel like they can’t talk about pet loss but support is available.

The Blue Cross is a wonderful organisation that offers pet bereavement support via phone, email or online.

Above all, please know that you’re not alone. Anger is a natural response to grief and most of us will experience it in our lifetimes.

Until next time,

Very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Pet Loss and Depression

Pet loss and depression often go hand in hand but when should you reach out for help?

As we’ve talked about in many blogs on The Ralph Site, the death of a pet can be devastating.

People often feel that they have to keep the true extent of their grief hidden because they’re mourning an animal, not a human. However, there is growing recognition that, when a pet dies, it can be as distressing as losing a human member of the family. It can even be more distressing.

After all, we share familial relationships with our pets.

It makes sense. Our pets share our homes with us; they’re at the centre of our daily routines. They love us through the good and the bad, unconditionally. We’re responsible for them in every way and have often either seen them grow from infancy or given them a new life through rescue.

Death may come after a period of illness or slow decline for a very elderly animal. It can also happen suddenly or traumatically. Every ‘type’ of death can be difficult to accept and process, even more so if you feel like you can’t share your feelings because people won’t understand.

Another layer to pet loss is the feelings associated with euthanasia. Was it the right decision? Was it too soon? Too late? Did my pet feel like I betrayed them at the end? These are all common questions that can be distressing and feed into feelings of guilt, blame, shame, regret and others.

It is understandable that many of these issues can make you feel low after a pet bereavement.

What is ‘normal’ grief?

When a pet dies, we can worry whether our grief is ‘normal’. Maybe it’s because pet loss is often played down.

Comments such as, “It was just a dog/cat/chinchilla/hamster”, “At least you can get another one” or “Are you still upset?” can make you feel like it’s wrong to be so heartbroken.

This is often when people feel like they should be moving through their grief faster. Or they worry that their extreme pain isn’t ‘normal’.

The truth is that there is no right way to grieve for a pet, any more than there is to grieve for a person. There is also no timeline or acceptable pain scale. Some people are able to feel ‘normal’ (whatever that is for them) in days or weeks but others can take years to adapt to their loss.

Grief doesn’t come with a blueprint. It is messy and certainly not a linear process. Some days, you may feel fine and then, other days, pain may come crashing down on you out of nowhere.

If anything about grief can be normal, it’s this – the sheer unpredictability of it.

It’s okay to grieve

Our point is that it’s okay to feel sad, heartbroken, low, bereft and more when a pet dies.

Bereavement experts tell us that these feelings are completely normal but that, with time and support, we can eventually begin to accept and make sense of our loss so that we can adjust to living a life where our loved one isn’t physically present.

This takes a different length of time for everyone. It isn’t that we reach a point of closure but, instead, we create a new normal that encompasses our loss but let’s in other feelings too.

However, sometimes grief and depression go hand in hand. It’s important to reach out for help if you feel you need it.

When you might need help for depression?

After a bereavement, it’s common to see changes in your sleeping or eating patterns, for example, and your concentration may be all over the place. But if this continues, these changes to your behaviour could be a sign of depression.

You may want to speak to a counsellor or your doctor for help if you feel that:

  • You’re not able to cope with your overwhelming emotions or daily life
  • Your intense emotions immediately after your bereavement are not easing or are getting worse
  • You’re not sleeping
  • Your eating patterns have changed
  • You’re struggling to function at work or home
  • Your relationships are suffering
  • You’re self-medicating using drugs or alcohol to cope

Complicated grief

Bereavement specialists refer to a term known as ‘complicated grief’, which we’ve written about in the past. This is defined as “an intense, consuming grief with symptoms lasting for more than six months”.

Complicated grief often includes feelings of anxiety and depression. Common signs include:

  • Continued disbelief that your pet has died or emotional numbness over the loss
  • An inability to accept the death
  • Constantly replaying your pet’s death in your mind
  • Intense sorrow or feelings of bitterness or anger
  • An inability to enjoy any good memories about your pet
  • Continuous longing and yearning for your loved one
  • Blaming yourself for your pet’s death
  • Wishing to die so you can be with your pet
  • No interest in anything, including the future
  • Feeling distrustful of anyone
  • Feeling that life has no meaning
  • Feeling like you’ve lost your identity or that part of you died with your pet

If you are wrestling with any of these feelings, it’s never too early to explore professional counselling or to speak to a dedicated pet bereavement counsellor.

In some cases, medication such as short-term antidepressants can help to make life more manageable. This is something you should discuss with your doctor.

Counselling for pet bereavement

Even without depression in the mix, grief can be debilitating and should be taken seriously. Many people find it is better to ask for support before they become depressed rather than waiting for their mood to ebb even further.

Sometimes, it’s enough to talk to the people around you about your loss. A healthy diet, good sleep, exercise and keeping to your routines can all be helpful too.

Above all, allow yourself to feel sad. When we lose someone we love, it hurts – you shouldn’t have to push down those feelings or pretend that you’re fine if you’re not.

But sometimes, more support is necessary.

If you’re at all worried that you’re experiencing anxiety or depression as a result of your pet loss, please ask for help.

You can find more information about pet bereavement support on the main Ralph Site.

You may also find it helpful to chat with other bereaved pet carers in The Ralph Site’s Facebook group.

Your doctor will also be able to advise you about medication or refer you to talking therapies available locally.

Please know that you are not alone.

As always, very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

With sympathy: Sending a card to a bereaved pet carer

We’ve talked on The Ralph Site blog many times about pet bereavement being a kind of disenfranchised grief. Within most societies, the death of a human is marked by expressions of sympathy, a funeral, the sharing of memories, etc. that can be painfully absent when a pet dies.
Bereaved pet carers often talk about being expected to get back to normal straight after the loss of a companion and many express the pain of feeling like no-one cares or will even mention their loss.

So, what can we do differently?

Send a sympathy card

One simple but powerful gesture is to send a sympathy card to someone who has lost a beloved pet. Yes, a phone call or visit can be great but a sympathy card is a lasting expression that you care.

Many people comment on how touched they feel to receive a card from their pet’s vet, for example. It serves to validate that the animal mattered and that the vet could recognise the bond between pet and carer. It also shows that the animal mattered to the vet, especially if the vet has been involved with end-of-life care.

But it’s not just vets who should send sympathy cards. If you know someone who has lost a pet, give them a card – it really will make a difference.

Knowing what to write

Sympathy cards are always hard to write. Maybe one reason we don’t typically send them when an animal dies is that we don’t know what to say. Maybe too, it’s because human and pet relationships feel exclusive and unique, untouched by the world beyond the family home.

Not everyone wants to have a pet or understands how the grief of losing one can be comparable to losing a human loved one. This might shape how some people respond to pet loss.

A human death is devastating but at least we have some societal clues and norms to follow to suggest what we should say (not that people always get that right!). The absence of this guidance for animals is maybe another reason that pet carers are often left feeling alone.

We can do better.

A sympathy card is a way of letting the bereaved person or family know that we care that they’re hurt and that we’ll be there for them.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re an animal lover or not. What matters is your relationship with the person who is grieving and how you are able to support them.

Try these sympathy card tips:

  • Name the pet who has died instead of saying “I was sorry to hear about your dog/cat/rabbit, etc.”
  • Share a memory of the pet if you have one. There is something so special about the sharing of memories; it tells the bereaved person that you remember their pet positively and that they will live on in some way with you as well as those closest to them.
  • Share any photos you have. Life is busy and pet carers often regret not taking more photos of their pet, especially in their prime. Many of us take countless photos when a pet first comes to live with us or as we become aware of their days being numbered but it’s the moments in between that can be the hardest to capture. If you have photos of the pet, pop a copy in your sympathy card – it will mean the world.
  • Acknowledge the loss. Pet carers often feel that people want to minimise their pain by dismissing the importance of the lost pet. There is nothing worse than hearing someone say, “It was just a cat” or “At least you can get another dog”. It’s okay for a pet carer to feel grief, pain, regret, sorrow – all those huge, sad feelings. Try a simple message like:
    • We are deeply saddened by your loss of (name) and hope that you will be able to take comfort from the amazing memories you made together – you gave him/her a wonderful life.
    • With deepest sympathy on the loss of your beloved friend, (name).
    • I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your beautiful boy/girl, (name). He/she was such a beautiful/fun/cheeky/gorgeous (species) and clearly a much-loved member of your family; I know he will be missed.
    • Words are inadequate to tell you how sorry we are about (name’s) passing. Is there anything you need? We’re here for you.
    • Losing a loyal and true friend isn’t easy. Please know that I’m thinking of you, and if you need to talk or share memories, please call me. I’m sorry for your loss.
    • Although others may not understand your grief, I do. Losing a pet like (name) can leave a hole in your heart and a void in your life. Know that I am thinking of you and offer my condolences.
    • (Name) was such a fun-loving and sweet (species). His/her passing has shocked us and I’m sure devastated you. I have such fond memories of him/her. Let’s get together soon and catch up on things.

Comforting concepts?

Some people find extraordinary comfort in believing that their pet has crossed over the Rainbow Bridge to wait for them or that there is another form of afterlife where they are safe and happy.

For others though, religious concepts don’t sit well with their own belief system. Being told you’ll see your pet again when you don’t believe this can be heart-breaking because it can feel like an attempt to minimise or undermine the sense of permanence you feel.

It’s important to tailor your message to what you know about the bereaved person.

If they are a religious or spiritual person they may appreciate a message that reflects the hope of eternity. However, it might be better to err on the side of caution – i.e. on a non-religious message – if you’re not sure of your loved one’s beliefs.

Conclusion

Ultimately, no-one finds it easy to know what to say in the face of a bereavement. We often worry that we’ll make things worse or hurt the bereaved person unintentionally. But sometimes silence is even more hurtful.

We don’t have to understand the nature of the loss. We don’t have to feel it ourselves. But expressing sympathy is a true kindness to someone we care about and that’s what matters.

So, the next time someone you love loses a pet that they love, send them a sympathy card. It will mean so much.

How to cope when you’re caring for a terminally ill pet

We’ve talked before on this blog about dealing with anticipatory grief when you have an elderly or terminally ill pet. Here, we’d like to delve into this topic a bit further by exploring ways you can look after yourself and stay as emotionally healthy as possible while you care for your animal friend.

1. Knowledge is power

When a pet is given a terminal diagnosis, it’s devastating. Your emotions may be all over the place, the weight of what lies ahead overwhelming.

What should you expect from the coming days, weeks or months?

Knowledge is power. It’s hard to cope when you’re dealing with the unknown so your vet should help to guide you through what to expect as much as possible.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions such as:

  • What illness does your pet have?
  • How does it typically progress?
  • How long does your pet have?
  • What symptoms can you expect your pet to experience at each stage of their illness?
  • What are the treatment options and what outcomes are these likely to have?
  • What are the potential side effects of the different treatment options?

Armed with this information, it’s also important to consider your pet’s age, their temperament, their quality of life and their routine before making any decisions about their care.

You will need to think about what level of care you can provide at home – will someone be able to give medication at the right times or sit with your pet if they need support, especially if the family is out at work or school during the day?

Unfortunately, most of us have to factor in the financial implications of caring for a pet with a terminal illness. While you would do everything in your power to protect your pet, it’s important to safeguard your own and your family’s wellbeing. This can be an upsetting consideration – of course, no-one wants their pet’s life to come down to money – but it can be helpful to have a frank discussion with your vet and your family about this.

2. Set goals and milestones

Although it’s important not to spend too much time with your pet dwelling on the future, it can be helpful to define the goals and milestones that may help you track your pet’s wellbeing.

Try making a list of all the things that your pet enjoys doing. It’s best to do this before their health declines so you have a good picture of what their happiest, healthiest days look like.

The idea is that this list can help you to define the point when your pet no longer has the quality of life that you feel they deserve. When once-loved activities begin to become hard or impossible, it may be time to say goodbye.

There are no hard and fast rules but some people find it helps to define what’s meant by quality of life before it diminishes. The reason being that, when you’re living with the new ‘normality’ of life with a terminal illness, you can lose sight of how much a pet has declined.

3. Focus on the moment

Steps one and two were about planning ahead but it’s essential to keep this balanced. By focusing on the future too much, you can miss out on the precious time you have with your pet in the here and now.

Animals are so special because they live in the moment – now is the time to take a leaf out of your pet’s book.

Sadly, they will be gone one day but, today, they’re with you so how can you celebrate that? What can you do to create memories?

If you find your thoughts drifting to the future, try to use your senses to pull you back to the present. Stroke your pet, talk to them, inhale the smell of their fur, play with them if they feel well enough.

4. Acknowledge that you cannot control your pet’s illness

It can be particularly distressing that your pet is unable to state their wishes concerning their illness and treatment. Therefore, every decision about the future rests with you.

If you’re wrestling with feelings of guilt, regret or anxiety, it’s completely understandable.

For your emotional wellbeing, try to recognise that it’s impossible to predict or prevent a terminal illness. If we could, no-one would die, animal or human. Our bodies are subject to illness, to cellular changes or genetic weaknesses. The same applies to our pets.

You have done everything in your power for your pet. If you could cure them, you would in an instant.

You can’t control your pet’s illness but you have and can continue to give them a wonderful life for as long as it lasts.

5. Express your feelings

One of the struggles of having a poorly pet or suffering a pet loss is that we often feel we can’t share our feelings with the wider world. Although more and more people recognise that pet loss can be as devastating as losing a fellow human, it can be hard to get support from people who don’t have a close affinity with animals.

Do look for ways to express your feelings. If you live with other family members or friends then they will be affected by your pet’s illness too and may find it helpful to talk.

You might also want to write a diary, paint, draw, sing or run to give your emotions some release.

There are also a number of fantastic support groups, counsellors and forums dedicated to helping pet carers deal with loss or illness. The Ralph Site’s Facebook group is full of understanding, like-minded people who understand what you’re going through.

6. Take time out

Caring for a terminally ill pet may be emotionally and physically exhausting. It’s important to take time out to relax and recharge whenever you can. Whether you need to meditate, go for a walk, have a long bath, read or see friends, do whatever works for you.

Just five to ten minutes of relaxation can help you to better support your pet throughout the rest of the day.

7. Start saying goodbye

Some people start to say goodbye after a pet’s terminal diagnosis. They might do this by taking more pictures, giving their pet his or her favourite meals, visiting their favourite places or people, taking time off to spend together.

It can be a great source of comfort to create happy memories after a terminal diagnosis. It helps to make life positive and celebratory even in the shadow of loss.

If this is an issue you’re struggling with right now, support and understanding are available via The Ralph Site. We have a number of people in our Facebook group who have or have had terminally ill pets and who understand the challenges you face.

You are not alone.

Until next time, very best wishes from Shailen and The Ralph Site team,
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

Adopting a pet: Things to consider

Adopting a pet can be wonderfully fulfilling, whether you’ve loved and lost a beloved pet in the past or this will be the first animal you welcome into your home.

There are so many animals currently under the care of rescue centres and rehoming charities who deserve the chance of a loving home. Just a brief glance at some statistics show the staggering scale of this issue and why adopting a pet can be such a life-affirming decision:

It’s not just dogs and cats that need rehoming. Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, hens, other birds, reptiles all need a proper home where they can live a happy, fulfilled life.

Before you adopt

Although adoption is incredibly worthy, it’s important that you go into adopting a pet with your eyes open.

Think about the following:

  • What type of animal would you like to adopt?
  • Do you have experience with this species?
  • Can you provide the living space, food, exercise and so on that the animal will need?
  • Should the animal be kept alone or in pairs/groups?
  • Can you afford the costs of having a particular animal, including the monthly insurance and/or any vets bills?
  • How long are you out at work every day? How will this affect your chosen pet?
  • Newly adopted animals often need a lot of your time and attention – are you able to give this around your existing commitments?
  • Do you have children? If so, what ages are they?
  • Do you have other pets? How will adopting a new animal affect them?
  • Does the animal have any special needs, such as medical problems?
  • What age of animal would suit your family?

By pinpointing what you can offer to an adopted pet as well as what kind of animal would be the best fit for your home, you have the best chance of the adoption working out.

Adopting a rescue animal

Many animals end up in a rescue centre because of challenges with their behaviour. Dogs are prime examples. In recent research discussed by The Dog’s Trust, it was found that dogs are often surrendered because of fearful behaviour, aggression to other dogs and/or people, and separation anxiety.

If a dog is already dealing with these issues, they can be exacerbated by being constantly moved from one home to another. It’s important to be aware of this.

In fact, rescue animals of all shapes and sizes can come to their forever homes with a wide range of problems and anxieties. You may be told something about their background or their life before being rescued may be a complete mystery.

Love, patience and care can make a world of difference but positive changes rarely happen overnight.

Will you be OK with that?

Sadly, many pets that leave a rescue for their ‘forever’ home find themselves being returned weeks, days or even hours later because the adopter hadn’t fully understood the scope of the issues they might face. This leaves more challenges for the next adopter to tackle because the animal isn’t able to trust that they won’t be moved on.

Be prepared

A good rescue centre will try to prepare you for the issues you could face and offer support after the adoption. Even armed with information though, taking on a rescue animal can be challenging, especially with dogs and cats.

It’s crucial to recognise that your adoption may come with highs and lows and to be honest about what you can take on.

  • How would you cope with an animal that has been abused?
  • What would you do about an animal that hasn’t been handled by or socialised with humans, especially if that animal is withdrawn or reactive?
  • Do you have a support network around you? This might be crucial if, for example, you have a dog with separation anxiety who becomes destructive or distressed when left at home – you might need your friends to act as dog sitters.
  • If you’re adopting a dog, would be you be prepared to pay for training classes or work with a behaviourist of some description?

Not all rescue pets have behavioural or emotional issues – rehoming charities can help you find the animal with the most suitable temperament.

Do your homework

Once you’ve decided that you’re ready to rescue an animal, we’d recommend that you find out about the various rehoming charities for the species or breed that you would prefer. Look nationally and locally.

Some charities list animals for rehoming on their websites but it can be time-consuming for them to keep this information updated so don’t despair if you can’t see the perfect pet online. It’s often possible to visit a rehoming charity or foster family by appointment or to have a chat over the phone or via email about the most suitable adoptee. They may have someone in mind who hasn’t been listed yet.

Terms and conditions of adopting

Depending on the type of animal, charities may insist on doing home checks and introductory and follow-up visits to make sure you’re paired with the right animal. This is to ensure that the transition into your home goes as smoothly as possible.

If your new pet needs an enclosure, you may be asked to set it up before you adopt so that someone from the charity can check the size and appropriateness. For example, hutched rabbits must have access to a large run safe from predators.

You will also need to find out whether there is an adoption fee, as well as other terms and conditions.

A local guinea pig rescue, for example, might only let female piggies be adopted if you sign a declaration that you will never breed from them. Equally, you might have to adopt a pair of guinea pigs or prove that you have another pig at home to live as the adoptee’s companion. A good charity will let you introduce your existing guinea pig to potential companions to make sure they’re well matched.

If you’re rehoming a young dog or cat, you might be asked to have them neutered at a certain age and to provide proof that this has been done or even arrange it through the charity’s preferred vet.

You might also have to promise that, in the event that your pet needs rehoming in the future, they are returned to the same charity. Make sure that you read and understand the terms and conditions of the adoption. Rehoming charities would much rather answer your questions now than have to rehome an animal a second time in the near future.

Avoid free listings

While we’re aware that animals are often listed for adoption on free listings sites, we would urge you to find your new companion through a recognised charity or rescue centre.

This is because animals rehomed through these organisations will usually have had thorough health checks, relevant vaccinations and been assessed for their suitability for rehoming. You should also be able to call on the charity for advice after the adoption.

With animals that are offered ‘free to a good home’ online, you may have no recourse if you hit problems.

Fostering a pet

If you’re not sure whether you’re ready to adopt a pet, you could consider fostering. Many charities are crying out for fosterers as it gives pets up for rehoming a chance to decompress in a home environment until a suitable forever home is found.

As a fosterer, you’ll probably be given first refusal on adopting any pets you temporarily home. Rescue centres love a failed foster!

Fostering is a powerful way to make a difference to animals even if you’re not ready for a lifetime commitment. Rehoming charities will usually cover vet’s bills, etc. while animals are in foster care – all you need is love, a safe space, food, water and time.

A life-long companion

If you do decide to go ahead with adopting a pet, we’re sure it will be one of the best decisions you ever make.

The experience of giving an animal the loving home they deserve is incredible. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing an animal come out of their shell and learning to relax and trust.

There may well be challenges ahead but this just makes all the victories sweeter.

With so many animals desperate for a first or second chance with people who genuinely care for them, adopting is a way to put some good back into the world. If you’re grieving for a lost pet, it can also be a beautiful way of honouring their memory (but only if you’re ready).

Until next time, Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support