The reality of trauma in pets we adopt

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A huge mistake I see people make all the time is forgetting that their newly adopted pet has just been through a traumatic experience. Even if you are not adopting but buy straight from a breeder, the process of removing them from their home, their mom or playmates, is very stressful. Odds are that you’re giving them a loving home unlike anything they’ve known and if they’re not used to receiving gentle touches in a loving space, they’re likely going to be very apprehensive in the beginning. Animals are well known to be incredibly forgiving. They can go through terrible traumas inflicted upon them by humans and still find the space in their hearts to try again and greet you excitedly. But beware that those traumas are still there! If they are oddly always barking at men wearing hats – it’s possible it was a man wearing a hat that abused them in the past. Or perhaps they cower when your hand is at a certain angle. Maybe you are giving them a treat but in their subconscious, they are waiting for that blow they were so used to. When this happens, simply reassure them they are in a loving home now. These reactions will begin to fade as their faith and trust in you grows.

There is also a certain amount of grief that they will go through. Sometimes it’s very direct and stems from ending up in the shelter because their previous owner died. Or more often, it’s what I like to call “transitional grief.” I’ll explain this in human terms first: You know that feeling you get when you change jobs? Perhaps the old job was boring and you didn’t like it, but as you stand at the entrance to your new job, you suddenly feel filled with apprehension. Perhaps it’s your dream job and you know you will love it and be happy there but after your first day, you go home and cry because of transitional grief. It’s overwhelming meeting new coworkers, not knowing which ones you can trust, and be great new friends with or which might talk badly about you behind your back. When lunchtime comes, you don’t know the good places to eat nearby or which groups to sit but you also don’t want to look like a recluse and eat hiding in your office… this is all the stress around starting something new and it often leads us to miss our old job/familiarity. This is what I call transitional grief and all animals transitioning to a new home go through it.

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Like regular grief, there’s no perfect cure. The best thing to do is just remember what they are going through and don’t push them to return your affection if they aren’t ready. When we get a new pet, we are ready to pour our love into this new little creature and I’ve seen many people get offended when their pets are slow to receive it. Have patience and understanding, love and trust build with time.

**Animals who have been fostered, expect to be sent back to the shelter after about a month with you. You must give these animals extra time to convince them that this is their actual forever home.

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