Adopting a dog vs. replacing your late dog

April 20, 2011

“He looks just like my dog who died last year, ” said a woman who adopted a new dog explaining why she chose him.  Eventually, however, she wanted to relinquish this poor dog because he’s not the same as her late dog.

This happens more often than you may think.  It’s understandable that you’d like to continue on with a dog who would mask the pain of losing the dog you loved so much.  But when you adopt a “replacement,” it often ends up really unfair to the new dog because you are always loving your old dog through the new one.

When you compare your new dog to your late dog, you are setting the new dog up for failure because the image of your last dog is now greatly improved (you forget all the bad things, and your late dog is now a flawless dog in your mind).

No dog can survive such scrutiny, especially a dog who just came from a traumatizing experience; e.g., his master may have died, and he was dumped in the pound or discarded on the street.  A rescued dog needs comfort and kindness at his new home, not a strict probe or criticism.

For this reason, I’d rather adopt a dog who doesn’t resemble my late dog, or at least an opposite-gender version of the same breed.  That said, I’ve never had the luxury of “choosing” my dog, as I simply get “stuck” with a dog I’ve fostered.

We often hear people say, “I can’t adopt another dog.  It’s not fair to my dog who died.”  “I’m sorry to hear your loss.  When did he die?”  “10 years ago…”

Really?  Would your late dog care if another dog’s life was saved in his honor?

Another famous excuse for not adopting is, “I don’t want to go through the pain of losing my dog again.”

Did you not know that the dog’s life span is shorter than yours?  How about 10 or even 15+ years of joy a new dog can give you?  What about saving a life and giving a happy life to a dog whose fate is doomed otherwise?  Why would you deny all of them for how you might feel when your new dog passes?

In fact, the first dog’s passing is the hardest.  It’s not because you loved him the most.  It is because you did not know what to expect.  But you know what lies ahead now.  You know that your heart was broken but you’ve survived.

I love my dog so much that I sometimes jokingly say, “I’m gonna die if Valentino dies.”  My good old friend reminds me, “You said that about Forte and also about your cat Muffy.  They are both gone, but you didn’t die.”

When Forte died, I felt as if it was the end of the world.  The air felt like liquid and the time passed on a different dimension from where I stood.  I could not even take a walk without him heeling next to me.

Valentino came into my life three and a half months later from a rescue group I was volunteering with.  His rescuer kept him at his house when he was a puppy, but he put Valentino in solitary confinement for about eight months at his kennel in the high desert.  Consequently, Valentino had the worst case of separation anxiety.  Since he’s a stunning looking dog, he was adopted twice, but was also returned twice to the rescue group.  I did not want him to stay in a kennel run anymore, so I volunteered to foster him.  When I discovered the severity of damage done to him, I knew that if he were adopted and returned one more time, he’d become a total mess that nobody would ever keep.  I could not let him get tossed around anymore, so I paid his adoption fee and made him officially my dog.  It took us months to work on it, but he eventually shed his separation anxiety.

I too wanted to adopt a dog who had some resemblance of Forte.  To me, it was his piercing gold eyes.  I didn’t care about the breed or size, but thought I’d adopt a dog with piercing gold eyes.

Valentino has brown eyes.  Yet, it did not matter whatsoever.  Valentino instantly brought me such a joy, which he still does eleven years later.  On our first walk, he looked at me with a big smile.  He knew he did not have to go back to the high desert.  He lifted my spirit so much that I felt like a feather.

What was I waiting for?

I felt badly, not for Forte, but for Valentino.  I too was thinking I was not “ready” for a new dog, and while I was feeling sorry for myself for those three and a half months, Valentino had to endure the harsh life in his solitary kennel run, for three and a half extra months.  I also endured the lonesomeness for three and a half extra months.  Whom was I doing a favor by tormenting myself anyway?

Was I waiting for Forte to come back?  What did the waiting game serve?

It’s not like my husband died and I’m remarrying a new man.  Speaking of such, dogs never look at you and say, “You’re thinking about your late dog, aren’t you?  Do you really love me, or do you still love your last dog?”

Interestingly, while Valentino doesn’t look like Forte at all, I’ve called him Forte by mistake more than once throughout the past 11 years.  And quite a few friends of mine also make the same mistake even today.  Can you imagine how it would be if you called your current wife with your last wife’s name?

No, Valentino doesn’t mind it at all.  And I don’t mind it, either.  It just shows that Forte has not been forgotten.  My love for him will always exist, like my love for Valentino is forever.

Your new dog does not replace your last dog.  He brings more love to your life.  Love multiplies.

There’s no set amount of love that you have to divide among the number of your companion animals.  When you have more than one child, do you have to love your first child 50% less when your second child arrives?

So, don’t be afraid or feel guilty to adopt a new dog even if your dog just crossed the rainbow bridge.  Your dog would be proud of you for saving another life, and what would be a better remedy for your grieving heart than hugging a fur ball with a waggly tail?

And don’t look for a dog who looks like your late dog.  Just follow your heart and you will meet the one who’s meant to be—maybe your last dog will send the right dog your way.


Marie Atake is Founder & President of Forte Animal Rescue and a former Commissioner on the Board of L.A. Animal Services.