A friend of mine unexpectedly died, leaving not only her husband and one year old child, but also a big, beautiful, devoted German Shepherd. Samson was an absolutely mammoth dog, but gentle and loving. He scared people, but only because of his size. He was an excellent nanny to "his" baby, but it was the woman to whom he was completely and utterly devoted.
I walked into the house shortly after Hannah's death, and Samson was frantically running from room to room, looking into closets, running back to the baby and the husband. Then, he sat in the middle of the room and whimpered.
"He is looking for her," the husband said sadly. "He looks every day, and when he goes out, he runs up and down the street, thinking that she ran away" (as Samson did one time).
He never got over his loss. He remained a sweet, gentle, loving dog, but he was always somehow sad. He took no interest in his toys. Although the baby played with him a great deal as he grew up, Samson still would end his day in her room, curled up by her side of the bed.
"It breaks my heart," the husband said. "Losing Hannah was bad enough, but to see Samson like this is—well, it's just unbearable."
When we lose pets, we grieve often for a very long time, and why not? You are with your pets everyday, and they are a large part of your life. One of my grandsons asked me if I loved him and his brother better than our dog. I said I did, and he said, "But why? You haven't known us as long. We weren't even born when you got your dogs."
That exchange really underscored the great love we feel for our animals, so that even a very young child can understand it. And just as we mourn when we lose a pet, so does an pet feel sometimes overwhelming sadness at losing a companion, be it human or animal.
Sometimes, our other animals have been present at the death of another household pet. One of our cats lays by the little stone cat that marks the burial of his best cat friend. When he wants to be quiet, he goes to that grave. I believe he is remembering, and I believe he still grieves.
When our beautiful golden retriever girl had to be euthanized because of uncontrollable seizures, we took our male with us so he could be present at her passing. They both howled. Her brother was not only her littermate, was also her soul mate, and the two of them were always together. Always. Maybe it would just be a nose touching a tail or foot, but they preferred to be near one another. As the chemicals poured into her veins that would stop her heart, she began to howl and I asked, in tears, if she were suffering. Our vet assured us that it was an altered state of consciousness. The male put his nose on her nose, looked at her for quite a while, then turned and went to the door. He didn't wag his tail, he wouldn't eat, he didn't chew his bones, nor would he take one of his big cookies he loved so much. When we took walks, he would stop and turn around. For about a week, the scent of her urine was present along the trail, and he would stop and sniff and look. Yet he wasn't looking for her; he knew she was gone. After four years, he has never regained his joyful nature.
For people who either don't have animals, or view them as simply an animal that lives with them, they can not understand the bereavement at losing an animal, or an animal losing a loved human. These deaths can be as traumatic to humans as losing a human being.
I love my animals more than anyone but my family and good friends, and their deaths are devastating to us. When our children were younger, they lost a cat who had been there before they were born. They were truly traumatized, and they held a big funeral. Lots of kids came home from school with them, and they each said something nice about Castor.
"He had soft, white fur." "He purred loud." "He kept you warm at night." "He liked to play with balls" and so on, until every child had remembered something special. We had light refreshments, and the other children went home. My children sat quietly for a while, shedding some tears, some preferring the privacy of their own rooms.
We wrote these words down, and kept them in a little book. The kids would take it out and read it, and as time passed, they did it less and less, as is the way of grief: It lessens.
But, animals grieve for their animal friends and their human friends, and you should make extra time for the one who is left. An animal can get very sick when bereaved, so don't minimize the loss.
We take animals into our homes and hearts, and they go too soon, and they leave a huge gap in our hearts. It is hard to fill that gap. I have no further words of wisdom, except to say that the bereavement does lessen in time.
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