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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Dog Owner Guilt: Understanding How to Cope

by Carrie Boyko, CEB
© Carrie Boyko
Every Dog is a Unique Individual
Dog owners are among the most compassionate people you'll ever meet. Sometimes this compassion brings on guilt, often needlessly. Today I would like to share a letter from a reader that I hope will help you to avoid the guilt that can come with loving your dogs. For privacy, I have changed the names in the story:

Dear Carrie:

I lost my dog, Chocolate, over a year ago to cancer. It was really hard for me: I lost her six months after I lost my Dad. Most people say their pet is their baby. Well, in this case, she was my sister. My family adopted her when she was 8 months and I was 5.

When we first met her, she was so scared she peed herself, but of course, when we brought her home we couldn't get her to sit still for what felt like the first 5 hours! Once she got used to our routine she calmed down a lot, but she'd still have her moments :).

After I lost my Dad, I noticed she got really depressed. She didn't want to go for walks or eat as much. I knew he was her favorite, but I didn't know it could get that bad.

About two months later, she went blind. My mum and I just thought it was her age, but when she was laying down and refused to get up, even for her favorite meat, we knew something was wrong.

We took her to the vet and they referred us to a clinic a couple towns over. At first the vet said she was improving. She even snapped at one of the nurses (which was considered good news), but when the vet did scans of her body and then told us she had cancer all over, I didn't want to believe it. She'd been my best friend for so many years. I didn't want to lose her, ever!

I was there when she was put to sleep and so were all the nurses and other vets from that clinic. I realized how lucky she was to have people that truly cared about her around her when she passed. I know some animals don't get that. I knew I've wanted to be a vet since I was little, but at that moment I knew I wanted to be there for the animals that were dying just as much as for the ones that were living.

Later on, when I wasn't grieving as much (I still miss Chocolate a lot, but I've accepted it), I started volunteering at the city shelter (and I still do) where I adopted another dog, Slinky, just recently. I believe Slinky chose me. She's a Chihuahua mix (Chocolate was a Rottweiler), but sometimes I feel like I am comparing Slinky to Chocolate or I am trying to replace Chocolate. I know no dog will be able to fill those shoes, not that i would want them to. 

I just find myself saying or thinking something like, "Chocolate used to do that" or "That reminds me of Chocolate." I even find myself doing that with dogs at the shelter. I don't want to keep doing this; I know each dog is different and that there is no need to compare and contrast, but I still find myself doing this. Do you know of anything that might help?

Dear Annie:

It is so timely that you have written now, as I just read an article about dog owner guilt. It sounds like you are having a touch of this, something we all experience. No parent or pet owner can honestly say they have not compared and contrasted their various children or pets at some time. I'll be the first to admit that I do it, if only in my head.

I believe it is natural for us to note and then compare the differences between personalities and characteristics of our pets. And what is really wrong with this? No pet is PERFECT; no child is perfect. Each will have one or two behaviors or quirks that are bothersome at times. Yet each will have their endearing behaviors that bring us to love them so very much.

So, what is the difference between compare and contrast, and simple guilty feelings? A fine line, I suppose. Yet, as I read many years ago in a manual for new moms:

 "Guilt is a useless emotion"
It makes us feel bad about ourselves, even as we are only being human. Humans are intelligent, caring beings that cannot help but see the differences in others--canine and human alike. That is one of the unique things about us. We need to learn to see this as a gift.

Chocolate and Slinky are very different, for sure. These differences should help you to enjoy Chocolate's memory in a framework that is apart from your current experience with your newest pet, Slinky.

Celebrate Slinky's uniqueness by doing different things with her, using different accessories and food and nicknames. Feed her in a different location, take her to different parks, and enjoy her different looks, all in a way that will help you to appreciate her for what she is, rather than what she is not.

You'll get there. All dog lovers do. If I can help again, please fee free to write. It is always good to hear from a reader. My hat's off to you for adopting two homeless dogs and loving them with all your heart.

Happy tails,


P.S. Feeling guilty about other aspects of pet ownership is common, as well. If you need help with your cat and dog relationship problems, check out our Woof and Meow series at the Best of All Things Dog Blog. You'll also find this link just under out header at the top. 

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Nature by Dawn said...

Sometimes I think about my childhood dog Cassie and I wish I could get another Sheltie like her. But then I am afraid that if I get another Sheltie, I will compare her to Cassie and be disappointed. Cassie was an extraordinary dog and a lot for any dog to live up to. (I have had other dogs since Cassie. But since none were Shelties, I haven't had the guilt issue of comparing them to her.)

In order to avoid any guilt of comparing any new pets to Cassie, I will probably look for a Sheltie mix or spend a lot of time on Pet Finder looking for any dog which tugs at my heart.

Carrie, with Tanner and Oliver said...

I'm glad you can still visit Cassie and remember her at our Rainbow Bridge Memorial. She was a beautiful girl, and she is there with my Xena. I hope they are enjoying a celebration. This weekend would have been Xena's 14th birthday.

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