Regrets and Guilt Over Animals
By Allen and Linda Anderson
Has a relationship with an animal ever caused you to have regrets?
A 60-year-old woman named Barbara wrote to us about a moral dilemma she faced three years ago. The decision she made filled her with regret. She didn’t know how to lessen her guilt.
Barbara said that after her husband of 23 years died of brain cancer, she was left without insurance and penniless. Mouse, her Chihuahua, brought great comfort to Barbara in the lonely weeks after her husband passed.
A year later, Barbara met a man with whom she fell in love. She moved into his house. And that’s when the trouble began. The man told her that he didn’t want to have a dog in his home. Barbara writes, “In a moment of desperation and because I was trying to please this man, I took Mouse to the Humane Society. When I returned home, the man was angry about what I did because he felt guilty. I was heartbroken.”
Later, Barbara realized that this man was a very selfish person and she ended the relationship with him. But Mouse was gone. She says, “I can still see that dog turning around to look at me, when the man from the Humane Society took her away.” Barbara has been filled with remorse ever since. She phrased her desperation this way: “I need absolution and I don’t know where to get it. I don’t know how I could have been so stupid. How do I get rid of this pain?”
In “The Emotional Impact of Regret Can Last a Lifetime” by Benedict Carey (Los Angeles Times, January 2003), Carey tells about a new view in psychology. He writes, “Regrets are not necessarily a sinkhole of misery but a reservoir of personal history that can be used to relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety, especially in older adults.” The article suggests that we learn to view regrets as a natural outcome of having lived in this world for any length of time. The article concludes that regrets can cause people to make positive changes in their lives.
In the song, “I Did It My Way,” Frank Sinatra crooned, “Regrets I have a few.” How do we heal, accept, and move on from past actions, words, and decisions, especially in regard to animals?
When we published Barbara’s letter in our Angel Animals Day Brightener Newsletter, our readers from around the world came through with flying colors. Their letters to Barbara, excerpted below, were affirming and compassionate. Everyone has regrets and most of us, if we’ve had animal companions, are sorry for something we did or did not do in regard to them.
One newsletter reader, Kristen, suggested that Barbara volunteer at an animal shelter as a way of helping animals, healing her heart, and possibly finding another dog to adopt and love. Kristen writes, “Everyone makes mistakes, but it is how we deal with them that lets us know what kind of a person we are.”
Patricia writes to Barbara: “You desperately wanted someone to love and take care of you. A lot of women are right now in that same situation. Don’t beat yourself up for a wrong decision under the circumstances you were in.” She suggested that Barbara call to see if the shelter still had a record of where the dog had been placed. Patricia also recommended that Barbara make up for her regret by helping out with a dog rescue group or animal shelter.
Another reader advised Barbara to share her story and help prevent others from making a similar mistake. He made a good point in his letter about how much easier it is to do what a human (with a voice) wants rather than an animal, (who doesn’t speak our language) would want. He writes, “I’m sure everything in your life was encouraging you to prioritize the relationship with the man above the relationship with the dog.”
Dawn wrote to encourage Barbara to forgive herself and not remain trapped in her own past. She reminded Barbara that at the moment when she made the decision to give up Mouse, she hadn’t meant to cause the dog any pain. Instead, she had been fixed inside a certain viewpoint and operating under stressful conditions. Dawn writes, “You regret your action now because you know better now. There’s your ticket to forgiving yourself. You are a better person now or else you would not regret your past action. You have learned to behave differently now. NOW is the key word.”
A reader named Robin wrote that her animal companion passed away at a point when she was in deep depression over a pregnancy loss and infertility. She writes, “The only thing I can offer in my own defense is that I was not myself. I was lost for awhile. Although I did the best I could, I cannot change the fact that what I had to offer at that time wasn’t good enough.” Robin reminded Barbara that life always gives us other opportunities to right our wrongs, if we keep our hearts open to the possibilities.
Marty Tousley, a Bereavement Counselor, congratulated Barbara for having the courage to share her guilt about Mouse with the rest of the newsletter readers. He invited her to visit his website at www.griefhealing.com and read an article he wrote about dealing with pet loss. Marty suggested that Mouse had literally given her life to protect Barbara. The dog had enabled Barbara to see what a selfish man she was involved with and the destructiveness of their relationship. He writes, “Mouse became Barbara’s guardian angel, and I’m sure she’s somewhere out there watching over her still.”
In a situation similar to Barbara’s Carol gave up her two 12-year-old cats. When she visited the University of Minnesota’s Arboretum in Chanhassen, Carol was able to heal with the help of a golden tabby. This cat looked like her previous cats. Carol writes, “The cat fearlessly sat in my lap in that cold autumn weather and let me hold and pet him for over an hour. I felt as if I was being given a blessing of love by this cat to allow me to forgive myself.”
After the kindness and understanding our newsletter readers expressed, Barbara wrote back to thank them. We published her letter in the next newsletter. She writes, “I guess it’s true that we usually punish ourselves far more than others would.”
Are there situations and decisions for which you feel guilt or remorse? Do any of the suggestions Barbara received light up for you as ways to find peace and forgiveness?
Animals love unconditionally. Let them serve as examples of how to love and forgive yourself.
Allen and Linda Anderson are co-editors of “Angel Animals: Exploring Our Spiritual Connection with Animals” (A Plume Book, 1999), available in local and Internet bookstores and through One Spirit Book Club. Get their free online newsletter at www.angelanimals.net . Story submissions for their next book, website, and articles are grate-fully accepted at Angel Animals, P.O. Box 26354, Minneapolis, MN 55426 or you may e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org . For more information call (952) 925-3309.
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