Fairfield County Edition

Welcoming a New Animal into Your Family

When a new animal becomes part of the family, the process can be very similar to bringing home a human baby, absolutely delightful and thrilling, but also potentially overwhelming. There can be a lot of crying involved, both tears of joy and of frustration. When a human baby cries, no one assumes the baby is being “bad”. Crying is a baby’s most effective form of communication and can mean many different things—a wet diaper, hunger, the need to burp, loneliness or discomfort. The new parents will work hard to identify what the child is saying and will keep repeating this learning process over and over. No one assumes that the parents will figure it all out in a couple of weeks and the baby will never cry again.

Unfortunately, many families do not apply this same rationale to their new pets. They tend to interpret unwanted animal behavior as acting out in some way rather than communication. There is an expectation that everything will work out very quickly.  If it doesn’t, they may assume there is something wrong with the pet, rather than considering how to create a more peaceful transition. Managing expectations, avoiding comparisons, preparing for an emotional roller coaster and assuming positive intent will help create a loving and harmonious home for humans and their animals.

Manage Expectations

Change is stressful even when the change is a positive one. The addition of an animal affects all members of the family. This is one of the reasons why some animal rescue organizations insist on meeting all members of the family before an adoption; they want to ensure that everyone is excited about bringing the new pet home. There are new routines, including activities such as feeding, walking and cleaning. New safety rules also need to be established. For example, a new indoor cat requires that all occupants of the house watch out for the cat when opening doors, and children need to be taught how to safely interact with the cat without harming or scaring it. 

Before bringing a new pet into the family, spend some time carefully considering whether you have the time and energy, as well as the physical and emotional resources, to care for the animal across its entire lifespan. Each animal has its own needs and it is important to think logically about how to meet those needs instead of just falling in love with the idea of a pet or impulse adopting one that tugs at your heart.

Avoid Comparisons and Prepare for an Emotional Rollercoaster

Animals need time to adjust to their new family, just as humans do. The first few weeks may be challenging as everyone gets to know one another. Avoid comparisons, especially to prior pets or to other peoples’ pets. Each animal has his or her own personality and needs to be recognized as a unique being. Along with excitement, the new pet may bring up a wide range of uncomfortable emotions, including grief for a prior pet you lost, fear that bringing home the new pet was a mistake, anxiety that you don’t know how to care for the new animal and frustration or anger if things aren’t immediately working out as you hoped. The new pet may be experiencing the same range of emotions, since the animal’s entire world has changed. Be gentle with yourself and with your new pet, just as you would with a new baby. The animal is learning about you as you are learning about it. Give yourself and your pet time to adjust and the space to process each of your feelings. Recognize the rollercoaster of emotions as a natural part of a big transition, not a cause for panic.

Assume Positive Intentions

Animals, just like babies, are not being “bad” when they engage in undesirable behaviors. They may not yet know the rules of your household, could be experiencing physical or emotional distress or may simply be trying to communicate the only way they know how. Instead of getting angry with your pet and interpreting their behavior as acting out, assume they mean well. Watch carefully and remember that each behavior is a form of communication.

Be curious and creative and consider what the animal could be trying to tell you. Play with the possibilities and be sure to talk directly to your pet. They may not understand your words but they will understand your energy. Tell them you love them and want to understand them and help them adjust. Care and kindness is understood across species. If this loving and curious approach does not change the undesirable behavior, consider enlisting the support of an expert “translator”. There are many amazing holistic practitioners, including veterinarians, acupuncturists and animal communicators, who can help you understand your pet, resolve any concerns and thrive together as a new family.

Carrie Brady is the creator of Wilton-based Possibilities Farm, a wellness center that partners with horses through non-riding programs, personal and professional development workshops, creative arts, meditation, equine-assisted Reiki and the Heart Herd. Connect at 203-210-7484, PossibilitiesFarm@gmail.com or PossibilitiesFarm.com. See ad, page 33.

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