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man hugging cat

Creating a stronger bond with a pet usually tends to be an easy and natural thing. Sometimes, however, there can be a block in the way of the bond. For example, feral cats who were not socialized during the critical period of their kitten-hood may take a very long time and a lot of patience on the part of their people to bond—if they ever do; the bond will most likely look very different from the bond that the people would like to have. A dog who was mistreated and who has learned to bite people will have a long road to go, and will need to work with an experienced and gentle trainer. And a person who has been through deep grief after the loss of a pet, and who is now bringing a new animal companion on board, may also present a block to the bonding, without even realizing it.

If you are working on the bond with a new pet after (or during) pet grief, it will be important for you to release any notion that loving this new pet is an act of disloyalty to the deceased pet. Reflect on this: our pets’ lives are shorter than ours. They were never meant to accompany us the whole length of our road here—only a certain part of the way. The love you have for the deceased pet will not decrease, and you will not forget. Just as the departed animal celebrated the small things and enjoyed life every day, that animal invites you, by example, to do the same. Hold the old love in your heart, and “pay it forward.”

Here are some suggestions for strengthening the bond with your new friend:

  • Be calm, consistent and reliable.
  • Get on the same level with your cat or rabbit sometimes.
  • Spend time: grooming, focused attention, talking.
  • For cats and dogs, provide puzzles and games (such as hiding the treat under the blanket, etc.)
  • With dogs, be outdoors as much as possible. Being out in the sun and fresh air will do you both good.
  • Massage your pet, gently, with attention, in the way that your pet likes. Take the time to learn what makes your pet feel good.
  • Hand-feeding is a good bonding activity to do once in a while.
  • For cats, the famous “head bump” is a connection-builder: present your fist to the cat’s nose; let him smell and rub his head against your hand. Do that a couple of times before petting him.
  • Say kind and affectionate things to your pet. She may not understand “the King’s English,” but she completely understands your “vibe.” You, meanwhile, do understand the words you are saying, and they help you to feel the connection you want to feel towards your new pet.
  • While holding your pet, focus for a few seconds on the gratitude in your heart—for this particular animal, and for all animals, everywhere.

Sometimes bonding seems to be like love at first sight: instantaneous, and then building from there. In other relationships, bonding may have to begin from a depleted and grieving heart, and we may need to focus purposefully on opening our heart, gradually and with intention and deep thankfulness.