Should you get a puppy after the death of a spouse?
Not a decision to enter into lightly but definitely something to consider when living alone is new and challenging.
The common rule you hear after your spouse dies is to wait at least one year before making any major decisions.
Why would you even want a dog? Most likely because you are lonely and the dog will be a loyal companion to fill the emptiness.
If you have had a dog before you will know at least what you are getting yourself into. But if you have not had a dog before here are some things to consider.
Puppy or Dog?
Puppies are a lot more work than a dog. I have 2 friends who are now fostering dogs in their homes that have been saved from “kill shelters”. These dogs are cared for and have had a chance to adjust to a family. Many are already house trained and just looking for a forever home. Knowing that you are not supporting puppy mills and abuse of breeds by purchasing a dog at a boutique pet store can also help you feel good about yourself, and you will probably need some help in that category after your loving spouse is no longer around to tell you how awesome you are.
What I hear a lot from people who rescue dogs is that the dog really rescued the people.
Puppies however are so adorable.
If you can handle training your puppy to go do his business outside, if you can wake up early and commit to a walking schedule and if you will not be out of the house all day then maybe a puppy is the right choice for you. You will need a project and raising a puppy is one of the most rewarding projects out there.
I grew up with a dog and in my adult life, Mike and I had 3 dogs as pets. Our dogs were members of our family and the last one Lucky, a pure bred border collie, we raised as a puppy when my youngest son was 5 years old. She was our family member and loved so much for over 12 years and it was heartbreaking when she died. To read more the loss of a pet my dog Lucky, click here.
Mike and I decided that we would not get another dog. We have an older cat and we weren’t sure how much traveling was going to be in our future or if we would even move or retire so we decided to pass on that multi-year commitment.
However, when Mike died only 15 months after Lucky had died the idea of having a puppy to console me was brought to my attention. A friend started to send photos of puppies to me and I visited a couple of shelters. I was not thinking straight but the thought of a puppy did make me smile.
Three weeks after Mike died, on my oldest son’s birthday, my son and I found ourselves playing with the cutest little 10 pound, 7 month old pup with an amazing personality. In fact, at first I thought the cuddly white round ball of fur sitting on my lap was perfect, but my son said, “mom, you could just get a stuffed animal if you like that one”. So the playful one got a leash and some toys and then took a nap on the car ride home. We took the little scruffy Yorkie mix home and he was welcomed by our friends and neighbors. He was a bit excited to meet us too.
I experienced what is called complicated grief. My husband’s death was sudden and tragic and I had a difficult time sleeping. All I could think about was the night he died. I could not turn my brain off and think of anything else. I needed to take a leave of absence from work and began therapy for PTSD.
Having Harry my new puppy gave me a reason to wake up every day. In fact, he also gave me a reason to smile and laugh. Harry barks to go out for walks two times each day but he does not like to succumb to being put on a leash. He will run away like a crazy crook and scamper circles around the room so that I can’t catch him. I’ve tried faking him out and pretending to leave but he’s too smart. Usually for a treat, he will come over and let him attach the leash.
He loves going for a walk really. Once we are walking, he likes to stop and smell, just about everything. I do not get much exercise walking Harry but since I live near the beach it gives me an opportunity to take a walk on the beach each morning and think about what I am grateful for. I always start by saying I am grateful for my puppy.
Since Harry is a little dog I find he is easier to cuddle with. He likes sitting in an empty chair at the table and watching us eat. I try very hard to be sure he does not get any scraps from the table, but he has watched and is learning to play Bridge when my friends come over to play cards.
My king size bed is great and I do love to stretch out in it, however, Harry has another idea. He likes to curl up in the bend of my knees which makes it a bit hard to turn over at times. It is nice to have a warm body to snuggle with on cold nights and even to cuddle with during an afternoon nap which I love. When I am feeling sad, he seems to understand and is quick to sit on my lap and give me a kiss. When I am happy, he is happy too.
I am no expert but I think that you need to consider some things when getting a pet:
Do you have time to spend with this animal? If you will not be around a lot, it is not really fair to bring in an animal to sit around all day waiting for you. How many hours are you away from home? Can you stop by during the day or arrange for someone else to? Do you like to travel, and will there be a place for your pet to go when you go away?
That brings me to another thought. I wanted to travel. After Mike died, I thought maybe now I would do more traveling somehow and then I got a dog. Not the smartest idea really. I did take Harry on one trip upstate New York in the car. Read to find out more about our trip to scenic Ithaca, New York. He did pretty well.
But I really have to give all the credit to my neighbor and her family who adopted little Harry into their family. They may not have had a choice since he and their large black Labrador Retriever fell head over heels for each other early on. Since the first month Harry came home, he became best buddies with our neighbor’s dog. They have been together on a few occasions to the upstate New York ski house and are always happy to see each other during the week. Having friends with dogs or friends who will watch your lovable little 11-pound puppy when you go away is a really huge thing to think about when you want to get a dog and do a bit of traveling.
Yes, you will have to do something. I was so lethargic at times, but you do have to get up and take the dog out for a walk. I have a yard, but dogs need more stimulation. They will be happier and sleep better if they get out and walk. Maybe playing fetch or tug of war with your pet will be fun too. Getting them food, taking them for walks, making appointments at the vet and playing with your pet will take some energy. Get ready for that.
A basic need we all have and something that your dog will give you is unconditional love. Even when you are not your best, your dog is nonjudgemental. Your dog just wants you and all the attention you can give him or her. The more you give, remarkably the more you will get and maybe that is what you really need right now. My experience in getting a young dog just after my husband died is very positive. I have had some crazy dog stories in my life and I know that not all pets work out for all families but if you think about it carefully and pick the right pet, or let him pick you, I know it will work out best for everyone. Maybe even the skeptical cat.
Did you get a pet after the loss of a loved one? Would you recommend it? Dog or cat?
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I did not get a Pet after the loss of my spouse. I have had more than one person recommend this to me, as if a Pet can take the place of my husband. But I am into traveling and if I got a Pet it would cause me to stay home with it instead of traveling. I cannot afford to constantly board a Pet and I have no close family that would be willing to take care of a Pet while I constantly travel. Being by myself getting out of the house and traveling is more important right now, perhaps if I ever settle down I might consider it. I have even been told by Rescues it would not be a good idea for me right now.
I think people need to think twice before suggesting this options to ALL widows
Absolutely widows, like everyone, need to think about the decision carefully. My experience has been so positive and it’s just another way of helping people heal after such a sad and tragic loss.
My beautiful miniature poodle died on March 8, 2017. My husband and I were grieving over her death when my husband’s lung cancer went from being stable to doubling in size quickly. He died on May 8, 2017, exactly 2 months after our poodle.
My double grief left me not wanting to sleep in our beed because my dog slept with us.
I finally was able to overcome that about 8 months later.
I would have gotten a rescue dog if I was just dealing with the loss of my husband but the circumstances made it impossible for me.
I will be getting a small motorhome in a few years and that is when I want to have another dog, a traveling companion.
Definitely worth it and you sound like you have a good plan.
I bought a stuffed fluffy doggie to be with me on my first solo drive to Florida from NY, no walking, no feeding or water dishes (I did have to put him in trunk when I stopped because he looked so real I was afraid someone would break a window fir dog) also over the next 10 years from age 61to71. I traveled around the world to 28 different states and countries with a gentleman friend who became my husband and together we enjoy 17 grandchildren.
I love your cute stuffed doggie. So loyal!!
thank you for this great article – I lost my husband last year and I was alone – I thought maybe a puppy would give me a reason to keep going – boy was I wrong – I panicked almost as soon as I brought him home – luckily I found a very caring person to adopt him. you are right – don’t do anything for at LEAST a year. no big decisions – and getting a puppy/dog is a HUGE decision – I am still with a pet – but have been thinking about fostering. thank you for your story
Thanks for reading. I have a friend who fosters and that is very rewarding too as you get to help find good homes for the animals.
Well mine chose the puppy 4 months old while sick and died 19 days afterward. The dog is like having her at home its our baby now 3 yrs old Rex! It helps
Very sweet. I feel my late husband knows about my little fur baby even though he wasn’t here. So comforting!
Indeed I think she did it to keep me company he is my baby now.
I got a 7 week old standard poodle two weeks after my husband died. This all happened at the start of the pandemic. I had so much change all at once. And you know what? It was the BEST timing ever. I love my now almost one year old poodle like crazy. He loves me right back. For me, it was the right decision at the right time. There were problems inherent in the timing of getting a new puppy. There is not much socialization during a pandemic. But the endless joy and unconditional love of my new puppy makes this unbearable situation somehow bearable. We move forward together.
I’m so glad you have your poodle. It’s been a tough time during the pandemic and especially after the loss of your husband. He sounds perfect!
Omg so cute!!!
Thanks. He is my lifesaver!!
Mt husband died two weeks ago to cancer (a bit over a year from diagnosis to death – i’m 45), and I decided to get a puppy. A little King Charles. I saw her pic and couldn’t stop thinking of her. I work from home and I think having her will help make me take walks outside. I have 3 rabbits, but a dog loves you different. I had dogs as a child and loved everything about them. I get in such a lethargic state anymore and I hope taking care of her will add more purpose to my life. I didn’t know if I was ‘normal’ in getting a dog after my husband’s death, and I’m glad to see it’s not just me. ❤
Absolutely a great idea and she will bring you such comfort. That’s why people have therapy dogs. They can really improve your life so much. I can’t imagine life without my little Harry fur baby. ❤️ thanks for reading.