The Joy of Pets: Adopting Again After Loss

Black cat figurine on the memory table.
Black cat figurine on the memory table.

Today is Pet Memorial Sunday and later I’ll be assisting with and speaking about adopting again after loss at Chartiers Custom Pet Cremation’s annual ceremony. The first time I attended this ceremony was ten years ago to commemorate the losses of Moses and Cream that spring. Since that year I’ve lost all 7 cats who lived with me then, and a few more besides, so my heart can tell from experience that we are able to love yet another animal companion after losing one, or more.

Below is my written presentation for Pet Memorial Sunday. I don’t really prepare a written speech because I just can’t follow it, but I write it out so I can think it through and then give myself a list of reminders in the order I’d like to give them and hope I can stay on track.

Last year I was especially uncertain about what I’d say because I had an idea but it wouldn’t come together, then a moment with Basil that morning gave me the answer, but I had little time to prepare. It all came out well. I based this year’s remarks on the same instance.

My presentation comes near the end of the event—I am the last speaker, right before me is the dove release, and after me Deb reads her closing remarks and a poem, and I can be feeling pretty emotional by the time I arrive at the podium, but the most people tell me is to “speak up”.

. . . . . . .


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 him 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.

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.

pet memorial sunday
Me during my presentation in 2014.

In our grief we are much like these rescued animals are, and as they can open their hearts to us, so can we open our hearts to them.

And what could be a better way to mend two broken hearts than to stitch together a new relationship, and rescue each other?

. . . . . . .

This year I have no new losses to remember, but decided I would take this year to remember the rescues we’ve lost.


For those we rescued with only enough time for you to pass in loving hands, and those we could not reach, we are honored your souls called to us in your moment of need and we were able to do what we humanly could to ease your suffering.

pet memorial sunday
We touch the dove before she is released, carrying our secret wishes with her.

. . . . . . .

The Joy of Pets: 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.

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.

Read about the Pet Memorial Sunday ceremony, the program and our speakers. This year is Deb’s eleventh ceremony, and her tenth year in business.

Kitty Family
Kitty Family

Read other articles in the category of Pet Memorial Sunday and Pet Loss

Browse some rescued cats and kittens—browse here or visit PittsburghCAT!

cats and kittens
Gallery view of Pittsburgh CAT cats for adoption.

. . . . . . .

Friendship Friday
Friendship Friday.

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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
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Tuesday: Rescue Stories
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And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!




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6 thoughts on “The Joy of Pets: Adopting Again After Loss

  • September 14, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Such a sweet post and words you’ve shared. It is very important and powerful to share the positive memories we have. 🙂

    • September 21, 2015 at 7:36 pm

      Jenna Meow, thank you so much. It helps me too, even though many of my losses were years ago.

  • September 13, 2015 at 10:34 pm

    Bless your heart girl..for the comforting words you give to others…

    • September 21, 2015 at 7:35 pm

      Thank you, Bluemoonalone. They are learned from experience, sad to say.

  • September 13, 2015 at 11:12 am

    Such a touching post, Bernadette. It is always so very difficult to loss a companion pet, but thankfully the heart is manufactured to be willing to open up and love again. I never like saying goodbye, but if we didn’t say goodbye, we also wouldn’t have the opportunity to love again. New memories and new joys. I will be thinking of you today… xoxo

    • September 13, 2015 at 9:45 pm

      Deb, what a wonderfully positive way of letting go of grief. If we remember the days of first getting to know the one we’ve lost it’s something to look forward to in a new adoption. Thank you.


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