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How To Help Dogs In Mourning
by Karen Rhodes, Family Dog Consultant
Touched by the photo of President George W. Bush’s service dog lying quietly by the casket, I thought about other faithful dogs and how the family can help them.
Any of us who have had the blessing of dogs in our lives are fully aware of their loyalty and their instinctual reactions to our changing emotions. Sensing our grief, fear, surprise, stress and every other human feeling, our dogs provide unconditional loving support.
They reach out to us with wagging tails, soulful eyes and warmth as we process events in our lives: joy, sadness, grief, elation, playfulness, hunger, anger, confusion, fear and love.
We recently lost my brother to a long cruel illness. His human partner who was grieving herself was quick to notice his beloved canine companion was crushed beyond consolation. The dog was by his side through the entire illness, watching my brother’s failing health and suffering. When he passed, his dog barked incessantly at the medics who were attempting to revive him and when he was carried off in the ambulance, he ran to the window, frantic as the EMT transport drove away. The dog was pacing for hours as the family waited for the results of the rescue.
In the days following my brother’s death, his faithful “boy” was not eating and was extremely lethargic and unresponsive, even when offered his favorite foods, toys and activities. His mourning was severe, inconsolable.
Eventually my brother’s girlfriend got the dog to eat. She insisted he take walks and then he seemed eager to visit places he once went with my brother. However, weeks later he still paces from the window to the door waiting for his owner to come home. Hopefully they will be reunited one day.
Years ago my father owned a rescued Doberman Pinscher. The dog, Butch, was his constant companion. Their journeys often brought them to my home where Butch would play with the dogs I had at the time but he was always aware of my father’s presence and followed his requests sometimes with just a glance.
When Dad passed, Butch who was in his later years, refused to eat. He rejected even favorite foods the two had shared together when they watched their favorite television shows. Butch would not rise from his spot on the couch, his heart was completely broken. Several days after his complete shutdown Butch began passing blood in his urine. Kidney failure. Knowing Butch and my father were never to be separated, we had Butch cremated and added to Dad’s urn, so they could enter the afterlife together.
In more recent times I was hospitalized for several months in another state, miles from my beloved pups. How I yearned for their snuggles and their love. Being so far away and having medical issues which entailed certain precautions it was impossible for my dogs to visit me. Finally, following major surgery, I returned home. The dogs were so excited to see me they needed to be in another area until they calmed down. When we were reunited they did not leave my side for hours.
The comfort they gave me was indescribable. Who has not been comforted during a difficult time by the loving eyes and warm fur of a beloved companion? They too are “family” and they understand… without pressure, just love and patience.
While caring for them was physically difficult at the time it was good for all of us to get back in a routine. I realized something so important that it compelled me to write this.
The need, the desire and the act of caring for something else besides my own needs gave me strength and purpose. And doing it must do something for our animals.
I have observed other animals grieve; elephants, horses, cattle and cats, each with their own language. Even people who don’t have animals can have the capacity to understand the concept and open up to the fact that animals have feelings and communication techniques which relay these emotions.
Learning to “speak dog” can bring you closer to your canine, increase your loving bond and help them through times that may otherwise go unnoticed. Even if you haven’t experienced a difficult day, hug your dog, spend some comfort-time with your pet and remember their instinctual ability to process our human emotions are extraordinary.
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