Guilt Over Animals
By Allen and Linda Anderson
Has a relationship with an animal ever caused you to have
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
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?
Learning to Forgive Yourself
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.