Monday 25 February 2013

When is the right time?

It’s a sad fact that when we have animals to come to live with us, we’re more likely to outlive them than them us.  It’s something we often don’t want to face, and when it happens it’s frequently devastating.  In my work as a pet sitter and animal healer, it’s something I find I’m often dealing with;  And not just for my clients, me too!!  I can’t help it, I do get very close to my wonderful charges, and it’s always so sad when they leave.  Even if I’ve been able to help them at the end, to be at peace and comfortable, with the aid of Reiki healing and intuitive communication.  Even if I know they’re happy and in a place of joy once they’ve gone, I still miss their physical presence.  And even as I’ve been able to give their families some comfort at the end too.  I guess we wouldn’t have animals to live with us if we weren’t so caring about them, so it’s bound to happen.  And I know it will happen to my own Bella and Dylan one day – although I prefer not to think about it.

At some point though, many of us do decide we will adopt another;  but when’s the right time?

Many years ago I lost my lovely Moggie at just 11 years old to kidney failure.  It was sudden and a huge shock, the grief was completely overwhelming.  I couldn’t face going back home to a house without her in it.  Couldn’t face the total emptiness.  So I jumped in my car and drove for an hour and a half to my sister’s, only returning home when I felt able to go back into the house.  Clearly I still had to deal with my emotions.  And clearly in no fit state to even start to think if I wanted to bring another in.  In many ways I was lucky – the decision was taken out of my hands, as my job was moved to overseas very quickly, and there I remained for 18 months. 

On my return it was something I considered, but found I just couldn’t deal with the thought that I would have to go through this loss again at some point.  But, my job then took me all over the country, so not fair to bring in a new cat if I was hardly there.  Decision averted for a little while longer.  But whenever I returned home from my travels that was something I missed.  Someone to welcome me with unconditional love, to make my house a home again.

Various other events conspired to make bringing in another cat an impossibility for quite some while again, but eventually I knew I was ready, and Bella found me.  It was a long time, many years, and I do think I needed all of that time to know that I was ready. 

I have a pet sitting client who lost her beloved cat in December 2011, and still can’t face her fears about adopting another, over a year later.  She welcomes in local cats as they wander around the area, as she still loves them, and gains a great deal from their presence.  But no new cat of her own just yet.

At the other end of the scale, I remember a few years ago while volunteering at Animals in Distress, a lady came in to adopt a ferret.  She’d only just lost one that very same morning, but she knew she had to have another straight away.  She was still in tears, and in grief, so I did wonder a little.  But this is what she’d done before, and it worked for her.

And now, at Peggy Henderson’s sanctuary, people visit to adopt a new family member after another has gone – but this can be weeks, months, years even.  It’s not right until it’s right.

Just recently, three events have caused me to really think about this question - “When is the right time?”  Last May, gorgeous 3 legged Archie passed away suddenly, leaving his person completely grief stricken.  In fact I didn’t know it had happened until she sent a general text to everyone telling us what had happened, and that she wanted to be left alone.  I knew she’d be in touch if she felt I could help, and I know that this grief can last a long, long time.  She contacted me just the other week to invite me to come and meet Harriet, her new cat!!  They’re still getting to know each other, but already they seem very fond of each other.  And I’ve already been to take care of her, and she’s delightful.  I think they’ll be good for each other.  But she needed all those months.

My friend Lucy adopts older cats, as she knows they always struggle to find new homes, and wants to be able to help their last years to be as happy as possible.  Trouble is, you know you might not have them very long, so are having to face bereavement perhaps more frequently than most of us.  She’d had Lily Pad nearly 3 years when she became quite ill with cancer a few weeks ago.  She nursed her to the end, and I went to help her with some Reiki too.  She felt she would probably get a new cat quite quickly, it’s what she’d done before, and it worked for her.  So, she has 3 new lovelies, and they’re all settling in.  But she is still missing Lil so much, there are times she finds it difficult with these new ones that she doesn’t yet know very well.  She’s fond of them, but there’s no strong bond yet.  She has good days and bad days.  There are some where she feels it’s all too much and she jumped back in again too quickly, and others where things are fine.  But when do you know that the big grief has passed, and that you’re ready for new beings to love?  Often you don’t.  It’s different for everyone, and it’s different each time.

And then Bubble left us just last week.  I’d taken care of him for 3 years, fairly frequently – his person worked from home, which was lovely for them both, but would need to visit the Brussels office for a couple of days every couple of weeks.  Bubble was diabetic, and just before my last planned visit last weekend, was told he’d had a hypoglycaemic incident, but that he seemed to have recovered ok.  But he hadn’t, and a few days later, after no eating or drinking and emergency rehydration, it was clear it was his time to go.  He was 17 and had had a good life.  But it still seemed very sudden, and quite a shock.  I had a long chat with his person after that, to make sure he was ok – it was just the two of them.  I asked if he thought he might adopt another cat, and the answer was a very definite yes.  We talked about when might be the right time, and after giving him some of the examples I’ve related here, he decided that he would probably wait a little while, to make sure that he was in the right place emotionally for a new friend. 

There is something else to be aware of too when adopting a new animal friend.  We know intellectually that each animal is different, and we’re not replacing those that have gone.  Yet, it often happens that the heart wants to do just that.  The settling in period can be hard.  Even if we’ve gone to great lengths to ensure we adopt the right animal, there will be times when we feel we’ve made a bad mistake.  They are completely new beings, and we’re new to them.  Relationships of any kind take time to develop and form, so we must allow this time.  We miss the lovely idiosyncrasies of those who left us, yet in time, we’ll learn to love our new pets’ foibles too.  Time, patience and awareness of what may happen are essential.  And patience with ourselves too. 

So, I’ve not answered the question;  nor did I expect to.  There isn’t a right or wrong here.  Sometimes for some people, for some animals, it might be just days;  other times it could be years.  Trust your heart in the end, and know that while there will need to be some settling for you all, your new animals will come to be as loved – for themselves – and all the animals who’ve lived with you have been. 


  1. I know what you mean Jean. When my beloved Mungo died in Apr 2010 I wanted another cat but my family felt that our other cat Tiggy would prefer to be a single cat. I bowed to their suggestion but as it happened fate had other ideas & in Aug 2010 we got Snowy, thanks to your notice on facebook & I'm so glad we did. Both girls are very different characters from each other & from other cats I've known & loved over the years but that's what makes them so special & unique x

  2. Thanks Janet. Sometimes fate or destiny does intervene, and we need to listen out for their messages. :)