Adopting Again After Loss: Learning From Animals How to Love Again After Loss
I spoke on the topic of “Adopting Again After Loss” at the 2015 Pet Memorial Sunday ceremony hosted by Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation. This is the transcript of my presentation.
In past years here I’ve spoken about my own experiences with the still-remembered losses my household of felines ranging in age from 15 months to 25 years, and of rescued cats through the decades who I fostered who were with me only weeks or months but who readily came to trust and love me and others despite their injuries , trauma, abandonment or loss.
I take my lesson from these rescued animals for us today as we consider bringing another animal companion into our lives. When we think of adopting, we think of ourselves first, and that’s natural because we haven’t met our match yet, and we are the only part of the partnership we know just then. In grieving, we may decide that finding another animal companion would only bring pain as we feel we are betraying the one we’ve lost and the idea of getting to know another companion only to lose them too someday seems hopeless.
But that adoption, and the resulting relationship, is a two-way street, and both sides come into this relationship with their own baggage. Remember that those animals , no matter where they come from, are also suffering a loss, whether they are leaving a happy home or they’ve been directly rescued from abuse or abandonment, and they may still be grieving that loss. You too are a stranger to them, possibly seen as a source of pain and fear or you are simply unknown, a stranger, and they leave a life they know, even if it isn’t perfect or even safe and fulfilling, for something completely unfamiliar. And we expect them to accept this deal, and learn to love and trust us.
And most of the time they do. One of the kittens I fostered last year, Smokie now named Basil, was rescued with a sibling at five weeks, fostered and cared for to socialize until they were ready for adoption, and though the sibling came along fine and found a forever home, 14-week-old Basil was still so fearful he couldn’t go out on the adoption floor at the shelter and was considered unadoptable, and in the middle of August, the busiest month of the year at the shelter with dozens, sometimes over a hundred, animals surrendered each day, with legal limits on the numbers of animals they could hold, there was no room for a kitten who was too frightened to face the public. You know what his fate would have been. I was asked if I could give him a chance and see if he could be socialized for adoption. I had the room and would be glad to give the little guy an opportunity.
He was frozen in his little carrier, plastered in the back, a black kitten in the dark, just huge round terrified eyes. He wouldn’t even come out to eat for two days, but with time and patience, day by day, he left a little more of his fears behind, quit hiding from me, let me touch him, pet him, brush him, pick him up, and started to play and talk to me and greet me at the door each morning, and was totally curious about the ninjas he could see outside the bathroom door. He greeted visitors with increasing confidence and love.
Last year on Pet Memorial Sunday I had a different presentation planned. That morning, only two-and-one-half weeks after he’d come to me, a terrified kitten at risk of death, I picked Basil up, warm and soft and purring and cuddled him in my arms while he reached up to tap his nose against mine and touch my face with his paw, then fell back with his long legs and big kitten paws tangled in the air and his fluffy tail fell over his face. Looking at that little face with blinky eyes and paws in a tangle I thought, it’s a miracle, you were going to die two-and-one-half weeks ago because you could not let go of your fear to trust and love, and now you’re ready for a long happy life, expecting love and affection all the way. That’s when I knew what I would say for my presentation today.
If that little kitten could let go of his fears and not only trust me but love me and everyone else he met, if all the other fosters could leave behind whatever horrible trauma they’d suffered, their pain and abandonment, surely we can set aside our pain and grief, meet them in the middle and love again?
We can follow the example of these rescued animals who have often lost a human they had loved and everything they’d ever known through no fault of their own, and yet turned around and let go of it all, and loved another human family with no guilt or regrets.
And what could be a better way to mend two broken hearts than to stitch together a new relationship?
Each year we collect brief tributes from the participants and read them as part of the ceremony. After many painful losses of rescued cats in our rescue, this was my tribute in 2015.
You still work your magic, not just on me but on all others who see your portrait, the cat who rescued me, on the 20th anniversary of your transition from this life to the next.
Read more about Pet Memorial Sunday and other presentations
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Loving Again After Loss
I’m always happy to speak on this topic. It’s focused on why we choose to live with animals, especially after a loss. Deb watched me over a period of years lose a number of cats, then gain a number of cats, then lose again, and decided I would probably have something valuable to say about loving and losing and loving again, and I always draw from my own experiences:
In 2011 I spoke about losing all my senior cats in one year, and then losing Lucy, but that she brought me Mimi and her children.
In 2012 I spoke about losing my two oldest kitties, Cookie and Kelly, in one year and though I’d just lost Kelly a month before I knew it had changed my relationship with cats forever.
In 2013 I spoke about taking in Lakota and Emeraude knowing my relationship with them would be brief, and losing Lakota after six weeks but loving him nonetheless ( I didn’t realize I hadn’t shared this here, but had had it published in Pittsburgh PetConnections in September 2013. I will probably share this article again this coming Sunday as its own feature).
In 2014 I mentioned that our relationship with pets is not all about us, but about both of us, we and our pet and what each of us feels and gives and takes to and from each other, and pointing out that fosters, Emeraude, Kennedy and Basil, then named Smokie, had each been abandoned and even grievously injured by humans, and yet let go of that pain and turned around to love and trust another human who was a complete stranger.
In 2015 I spoke about animals being healers, and how they can soothe our grief without us even knowing it. I hadn’t published that presentation following the event, until today—this article is my 2015 presentation.
In 2016 I related the stories of people I’ve known and the decisions they made.
Why do we take animals into our lives?
Because we need them, and also because they need us, and we can’t fear to love for fear of loss.
Perhaps I’ll see you there. If not, my thoughts will be with my own losses, and all those I’ve read about in the past year.
And the photo we used for this year’s invitation is one of mine, The First Daylily, from June this year. Daylily flowers are named such because their flowers last only a day. It’s a metaphor for how short our pets’ lives in comparison to ours. Cherish it while it’s here. And this is the topic of my 2017 presentation.
Also read my essays and articles on Pet Loss and other articles on Pet Memorial Sunday.
Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals
Animal Sympathy Cards
I took this photo one June morning in 2009, less than two weeks before I lost Namir, who along with Cookie spent time out in the yard with me every morning in those years. I remember turning around and seeing these prints on that flagstone as the three of us walked along the path, and hurrying to get the photo before the prints began to dry in the sun. The memory was so strong and I immediately began to form the final title of the image even before I knew what I’d do with it. I remembered it daily, knowing that Namir’s heart couldn’t hold out much longer. It was one of the first designs I visualized when I decided I really would go ahead and design the Animal Sympathy Cards.
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Animals CAN soothe your grief and promote healing – and they never replace. Our hearts are just too big, and they have room for all.