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HOW TO HELP A GRIEVING PET WHEN THE OWNER DIES

Vickie Haywood, Professional Groomer, Pet Care Columnist, SAAB Member

 

Dogs can suffer overwhelming grief when the owner dies. You may be grieving too but here’s how SCENT can help the dog (and you) through this tragic time.

 

Death is inevitable, for us, our family members, our pets. Pets are our family too, and don't let anyone tell you they don't feel the loss of a loved one.

 

Your dog knows when you don't feel well and they know when their own death is near. Yeah, we read stories all the time about those subjects and yet few people address the grieving dog. I have had clients who had dying relatives and they were very concerned how it would affect the dog when the person died.

 

And what about the whole house turned upside down with the funeral arrangements, strangers coming and going? Think how upsetting that is for the family dog. And think about what happens in the quiet time when it is over and the loved one is just, gone.

 

Maybe you have heard about dogs who still seek the loved one after it is over. The dog may go in that person's closet and you search frantically thinking the dog escaped somehow only to find it in the closet laying on the loved ones shoes. Or maybe it turns the laundry basket inside out and carries around an item of clothing, seeking that persons smell.

 

The first few days after a death, the pet may be frantic looking for the lost loved one. He or she may lay in that person’s spot on the couch, inconsolable. He may be softly whining or the opposite, barking and running berserk through the house. I have told my clients for years.. PREPARE!!

 

Take worn T-shirts and put them in Zip lock bags for the future...this might be several weeks or even a month in advance. Save a used pillowcase, shoes or socks in a Zip lock baggie. These objects are particularly good items because they have great scent!

 

 

Here is where your saved items come into play. Pull out one of the stored items and put it in the dog’s crate. You do use one don't you? No? Ok put in on the dog’s bed or drape it over a favored chair. It will take a number of days for the strong scent to dissipate. Meantime the dog is soaking up the scent. When the dog lets you know that item is not longer “good” take out another. Don't get angry if the dog is packing around those house slippers you saved.

 

Make sure you tell whoever is in charge of housekeeping during the funeral time NOT to move the treasured items!!!

 

Meanwhile try to keep a routine as normal as you can but perhaps add in some extras. Take the dog for a long walk. The chemistry that happens inside is comforting. You know those endorphin's you get taking a walk, or a jog? Helps doggie too!!! Your own chemistry scent changes with all kinds of activities. You know fear travels down a leash at a dog show. The dog looks at you like “what’s up? Why do you smell funny all of a sudden?”

 

You know those stories you have read about dogs lying on graves? Or lying beside a casket? It all has to do with scent. Never EVER underestimate the power of a loved one’s scent.

 

We have all read about bomb sniffing, drug detecting dogs, man trackers, cadaver dogs, and how the heck to these incredible dogs find a live person in the rubble of an earthquake under tons of dirt? How did they find anything at One World Trade after all the jet fuel and rubble came down? How do dogs find cancer and how do they tell an epileptic person is going to seize?

 

It is called scent discrimination for a reason.. (remember that utility obedience test where the dog has to find YOUR scent on the leather or metal dumbbell?) Dogs are also trained on specific scents. Dogs trained to find drowning victims are actually scenting on the oils released as a body decomposes. The oils rise to the top and drift on currents, and the dog alerts on the scent. Cadaver dogs are trained much the same way, using many air pockets to locate the body. Man trackers follow both air and contact scent. The bloodhound’s ears are pulling that scent right up its nose.

 

So never doubt that a dog will find comfort in the scent of a beloved person. Over time, the connection dissipates for most dogs. We can help them through the process by providing them with comfort if we plan in advance. In the case of a sudden unexpected death, just grab some laundry and put it away. DON’T WASH IT.

 

A personal story… maybe this will remind you of one of your own. My mother died young. She was 55. I was 27. My Mom wore Ambush perfume all of my growing up years. She has been gone a long time, since 1976, but I still have her last bottle of Ambush and every once in a while, I put a dab on a pillow case and just breathe in my Mom. Maybe for you it is the scent of baking banana nut bread - makes me think of my Grandma, she made the best. But there is that scent thing again, comforting right?

 

While on the subject of comfort, Reiki and acupuncture can also help with grieving, as well as Bach flower remedies. There are many things useful for humans, Angel of Mercy comes to mind and Grief relief. I used Grief Relief for 6 months during my divorce some years ago. There are many such remedies available for animals. I hope this has helped you help the family dog. And that you will make preparations ahead of time so that while someone is helping you, you can help the dog.

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