When we think of grief, it’s usually in human terms. We may not always consider grief as it applies to animals. But pets often grieve the losses of their companions. They may not be able to completely verbalize what they’re feeling, but their actions and body language tell us what they’re experiencing. As pet owners, we need to recognize animal grief and provide support and stimulation for our furry companions as they navigate through loss.
Recently, our family experienced the physical passing of our fifteen-year-old Labrador Retriever, Poodie. Although the loss was difficult for us, our three-year-old white Shepherd, Sampson, struggled more than anyone in the family. As soon as the veterinarian left our house the day Poodie died, Sampson ran upstairs and stayed under our bed for the duration of the night. Over the next week, he withdrew from the family and stayed upstairs under the bed, only making the trek downstairs to eat or go out to the bathroom. He didn’t play, snuggle, or partake in any of his usual activities.
The following week, we decided to create a new stimulating routine for Sampson. We took him for walks twice a day and for a daily car ride. Usually his car ride destination was Papa and Nana’s house a few miles away, so he could play with his best friend, a yellow Labrador named Simon. Within two weeks of Poodie’s passing, Sampson adjusted to his new schedule with bright eyes and an upright tail. He played ball in the yard daily and stayed downstairs in the den all day. The only time he went upstairs was at night for bed.
Exactly one month after Poodie’s passing, Simon died of cancer–a disease he took on for his best friend, Kyle. He had been fighting it for over a year but his body couldn’t hold on any longer. We hesitated to take Sampson over Nana and Papa’s after Simon’s death because we feared he might withdraw the way he did with Poodie’s passing. So we waited a couple of weeks to bring him over.
Yesterday, we drove over to Papa and Nana’s for the first time since Simon’s physical death. Sampson bounded up the front lawn to the door. But Simon wasn’t there to greet him this time. Papa opened the door and Sampson tore through the house both upstairs and downstairs searching for his buddy. Then he darted out the back door and scurried all over the yard sniffing each step. After he scoured the yard, he jumped up on the porch, and let out a loud whine. He looked up at me with his big amber eyes and whimpered a few times. I wrapped my arms around him and gave him a big hug.
We walked in the house as Sampson trotted through the kitchen and sat down right where Simon’s bowls of water used to be. Then he rose and walked into hallway and sniffed the marble foyer–the last place in the house where Simon rested before he died. Sampson stretched himself out in the foyer and stayed there for the duration of the visit.
As we drove home last night, Sampson seemed a bit sad, as he rested his head over the back seat. But, when we got home, he didn’t run upstairs to hide under the bed. He stayed in the den and we gave him lots of rubs on his belly and hugs. I’m sure it will take a few visits to Papa and Nana’s house, before Sampson gets use to not seeing Simon. But his response to Simon’s passing was much better than his response to Poodie’s passing.
Grief comes in many forms and affects everyone including pets. When our pets encounter grief, we can help them by providing love, support, stimulation, and perhaps a new routine. Our pets are always there to love and support us. In times of their grief, we may need to give them a little more love and support than usual.
Love and light,