Golden Retrievers Speak: Alanis And Grieving

Alanis:    What happens when a canine loses a canine companion?  Do we experience grief, or do we think our friend will eventually return?    When Jeter left the house on December 31st, was it to go to the groomer, or was it to go away forever?   Does the concept of time even enter my brain?  Can I count the seconds, the minutes, the hours, and the days?     Do I forget that Josh and Jeter once prowled around this house, or can I still sense their presence days, weeks, and months later?

How do I entertain myself, without another dog to keep me entertained?  How can humans replace the bond I had with my canine companions?   How do I walk alone, how do I jump in the car with nothing else in the back seat?   How do I feel about being the first dog to receive a meal, the only dog that gets the nightly treat?  How I can play with a toy, or chase a tennis ball, without another dog offering competition?

Will another dog come through those doors some day, and how will I react to once again sharing all of this stuff that is only now enjoyed by me?

I have three bowls of water to choose from every time I need a drink, and yet I still feel thirsty.  I get a good meal twice a day, yet I still feel hungry.    I am trying to regain my energy.  I am wagging my tail again.  I am panting more, sleeping better.   I am following my owners around the house like a lost puppy, and that is because I am a lost puppy.

Mommy gave me a toy octopus the other day – the type of toy Josh loved to carry and whip around back in his heyday.   I do some of the same, though I am hoping the octopus will come to life and fight back.  It never does, but I will keep trying, for it is not my nature to give up.

This is weird.  This is awkward.  When I was growing up in a different household for my first six months, I was the only dog.  I should be used to this, but I am not.   This is a process.  I lost my best friend before he had a chance to grow old with me.   The dog that would always give me a tongue bath even after I tormented him.

I am a dog.  I guess I am not supposed to “grieve.”  I guess I am not expected to know exactly what “death” is, nor am I supposed to comprehend what it means when a canine companion leaves.

But if all that is true, why does my behavior change, and why am I sad?   You may have some clinical definition of “grieving” in a dictionary, but I can’t read one of those.   I just know what I feel and what I miss.  And nobody can define that for me.

Me:   Alanis has been out of sorts since Jeter passed.   She has definitely improved as the days have gone on.  She is playing more, she is eating better, and is spending more time outside.   She went on her first extended walk today since Jeter’s death (it has been too frigid in New Jersey to go for a longer walk over the past week+), and she did well with a “play date” she had on Saturday.  That date seemed to rejuvenate her, as she likely needed to be around a dog who was willing to play with her.

Do dogs actually grieve?  Doing research on the topic, some experts think that dogs grieve at the level of a small child:  They comprehend the loss, but don’t understand the death.  

Alanis’ behavior has consisted of sleeping in Jeter’s spots (and sniffing around his favorite spots), loss of energy, and being more “clingy” than usual.   She rejected a piece of string cheese the day Jeter died, but her appetite has been mostly intact.  On today’s walk, she did a lot of sniffing.  Whether she had the scent of Jeter or it was something else, I have no idea.  I just noticed an increase in the behavior.

Dogs will process a death in different ways.  It is up to you as an owner to differentiate what may be grieving vs. what may be an actual illness.   It is easy to chalk everything up to a dog missing their companion, but just watch your dog to make sure he or she snaps out of it after a few days.

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