Q: About a year ago, I made the heart-wrenching decision to leave a great job, house, friends and family to move to Hawaii with my fiancé.
As part of this transition, I also chose to have my two beloved chow chow dogs put to sleep. This was done for a variety of reasons, including their age and temperament, the smaller living quarters in Hawaii, the tropical climate and frequent travels, all with the goal of making our new life as stress-free as possible. I adored those dogs, but I justified their sacrifice to the greater good of a successful relationship.
After six months, I am still tormented by memories of my dogs. The depths of anguish and loss make me think I got rid of them for purely selfish reasons, which is the kind of behavior I thought I reviled. I feel that I have gone from dog-lover to dog-killer in one trans-Pacific flight.
This is not the person my fiancé fell in love with, and I fear that I will begin to blame and resent him for my emotional despair.
Do I try to morph into the kind of steely person who makes the tough decisions, swallows the consequences and moves on? Can I ever be the warm-hearted, caring animal-lover I once was, or will I always be a fake? What can I do to repair this soul-revealing wound?
A: First, please don’t worry about being a fake. The fact that you are writing this — and in such a heartfelt way — means that this is very unlikely to be the case. You are still the woman your fiancé fell for.
Also, I am truly sorry you feel so wracked with guilt about your decision to put your dogs to sleep.
People don’t always realize that their attachment to animals can be every bit as strong as their attachment to people. Many people have terrible grief at the loss of a beloved animal.
It was reasonable for you to join your fiancé in Hawaii. And maybe it would not have been fair to take the dogs, because of the factors you mention. You didn’t want the dogs to suffer, and they didn’t. But it’s clear you now recognize this decision was extreme.
Obviously, if you couldn’t take the dogs with you, a less guilt-inducing alternative would have been to find them a good home. But it’s too late for that. Difficult as it is, you have no choice but to accept the fact that you made a mistake.
It’s impossible to make every negative feeling go away. However, because the choice to put the dogs to sleep was yours, you shouldn’t blame or resent your fiancé for this. But neither do you have to flagellate yourself for the rest of your life.
To ease your guilt, you might want to consider getting another pet. In particular, there are plenty of older, needy animals you could love. If adopting another animal isn’t feasible, you could contribute to a rescue group or volunteer for one. These are ways to “make up” for your decision.
It sounds as though you have learned that, like many women, you are prone to doing extreme things for a love relationship. When the time comes to make another big decision, you will be prepared to make a better one.
Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Some actions turn out to be mistakes which cannot be undone. But it is possible to take positive action to counter their effects. In addition, of course, they can do much to teach you about yourself and enable you to be more mindful the next time.
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.