When Animals Grieve, Ctd

Aug 20 2013 @ 9:27am

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More readers respond to Andrew’s post on Eddy’s mourning of Dusty:

We have been so very sorry to read your recent posts about the life and death of Dusty. We are both sorry for your loss and with it, the remembrance of our Van’s death last year. I admit to starting a note to you twice last week, each time ending with “What is happening with your other dog?”, but I didn’t have the heart to send them. They just seemed like piling on, and my own memories of Van’s death were overwhelming. So I was interested to read the stories from readers on grieving pets. I thought it was time to share my thoughts from last week.

Our beloved dog Van died last year in late May after years of decline, followed in the end by seizures. He got to the day when he wasn’t really Van anymore. Like Dusty, his last day was full of love and hamburgers. The vet came to our apartment and we said our goodbyes. When I started to close the French doors separating our living room from the kitchen, so that our other dog Bettina wouldn’t be in the room, the vet said gently that we should allow her to be with us at the end of Van’s life. Bettina sniffed around him and said her goodbyes.

We were concerned about her, so we increased her walks with our dog walker from two days a week to five, thinking that at least she would enjoy the company of her canine friends. Like Eddy, she ate and seemed to enjoy her new solo life. But then, also like Eddy, she stopped eating and started burying her food in our couch and chairs. She started living under the dining room table. She stopped hanging out with us. We began to realize that the only reason Bettina ever hung with us was because Van did. We understood that he was her captain and without his leadership, she didn’t know what to do with herself.

The week after Christmas, we adopted for Bettina a 6-month-old fur brother. At first she wasn’t very enthusiastic. He is a giant puppy with no impulse control. But she did start eating again. Our dog walker insisted that Bettina was hating to love him, and that turned out to be true. Eight months in, they are now firm friends. And she is herself again.

Our reader also attaches the above photo of “Van and Bee watching the world go by.” Another reader:

I just finished reading the story about Molly and Custard.  My family had a very similar experience when our 14-year old golden retriever Auggie died.

Nine years ago now, we adopted a one-year-old cat named Nemo, an absolute rascal that had been left at our vet’s office when his owner could no longer keep him.  Auggie and Nemo were never the best of friends.  Despite being a 75-80 lb dog, Auggie was pretty much afraid of her own shadow and Nemo took full advantage.  He always seem to know how to drive the ol’ girl crazy, particularly in later years when she had hip dysplasia and Nemo could get to parts of the house that Auggie no longer could.

When the day finally came to put Auggie down – and we were so fortunate that she was really only truly suffering the last two weeks of her life – we didn’t think Nemo would miss her much.  After all, he’d be king of the castle!  But something funny happened: Nemo started sleeping in spots where Auggie used to sleep.  He was gentler and more affectionate, staying near my mom for hours (who thought of Auggie as her long-lost daughter) when she was feeling sad.  He got lonely more frequently, often meowing or trying to grab our attention in the middle of the night.  It was as if he had experienced a bit of a personality transplant – he was the same ornery cat, but softer and more vulnerable.

I dunno, maybe I’m projecting my family’s feelings onto a cat that couldn’t give a damn.  Still, I couldn’t help but feel we were helping him as much as he was helping us grieve.

Another emphasizes a point illustrated by the first reader:

I feel like one very important thing we can all try to do is to let our companion animals be with their companions in death.  Personally, I’ve told my partner that if I should die before he and my dog, I want my dog to have some time to be with my body, to know me in death, since that physical proximity is her only way of really knowing I am gone.  Animals know by scent (and perhaps other means) that other animals in their presence have died.  I think the same should ideally occur with other animals in the “pack” – they are, after all, not only companions of us, but companions of each other.  If one dog dies, another dog in the same family should be given time with that dog to know and experience its death.  There is no other way for them to really know what has happened to the one that is gone.

Thank you, as always, for the opportunities you provide for these conversations.

For the entire Dish discussion this summer of deceased pets and the impact on their owners, go here.