On Sunday, October 6, my younger brother would have been 45 years old but he passed away in 2006. He was pet sitting my dogs Bailey, Phoebe and Viola — we hadn’t got Sophie yet. He had a heart attack on a Monday afternoon. We knew something was wrong on Tuesday when we couldn’t reach him. I asked a friend to go check on him and they found dead upstairs in the bedroom. The dogs had been with him for over 24-hours after he died.
Our friends immediately called us and called 911. We were frantic as we were in Las Vegas and couldn’t get home fast enough. We were worried about the dogs and how this was going to affect them. Bailey had been with Joey the longest and she was the one we were most worried about dealing with this. Plus there were lots of strangers in the house and she didn’t really like strangers. They stressed her out.
All the girls looked for Joey. He was the constant in their lives day in and day out. He was very sickly and spent a lot of time on our coach snuggling with one, two or all three of the girls. I was traveling a lot for my job and Andy was working a lot of hours so Joey was the the mainstay for the dogs.
He used to be a very healthy guy but being a bachelor out on his own, he didn’t take care of himself. He contracted Strep and didn’t go see a doctor. This was partly because he didn’t have any health insurance and partly because he was not very pro-doctor. The strep moved into his heart and his kidneys. Within three years he was on dialysis and was getting ready to have defibrillator surgery on his heart.
After his death, Bailey started to exhibit some weird behaviors. We have a bookcase in our kitchen right next to where she sits when waiting for her breakfast and dinner. Joey’s ashes sit on the bottom shelf. She “high fives” the container with his ashes before every meal. She never did that before.
Phoebe took a different route for her grief. She at the beloved couch — really just the cushion Joey used to sit on. She did this three times until we could no longer save the cushion and had to order a new one (cushion not couch).
Viola did not really have any changes in behavior but she would bust open the door to his room and just stand in there. I always felt like they thought he was going to walk in at any time. Andy and I thought that too.
We see animals grieve for their humans all the time. Only an unfeeling ogre could make it through Hachi (the Richard Gere movie) without boo hooing when Hachi ran away looking for his person! Our pets also feel grief with the loss of another pet in the family. In a recent op ed piece in the New York Times (I think it was Sunday, October 6) claimed dogs were “human too” because of a study going on with dogs getting MRIs to measure their emotions.
Gregory Burns states in his article, “Because dogs can’t speak, scientists have relied on behavioral observations to infer what dogs are thinking. It is a tricky business. You can’t ask a dog why he does something. And you certainly can’t ask him how he feels. The prospect of ferreting out animal emotions scares many scientists. After all, animal research is big business. It has been easy to sidestep the difficult questions about animal sentience and emotions because they have been unanswerable.” But an MRI result, is looking directly into the brain and bypassing behaviorism according to Burns.
Burns believes that we need to rethink how we treat dogs because his study shows that they have the ability to experience positive emotions, like love and attachment which would mean that dogs have a level of sentience comparable to that of a human child.
I didn’t need a study involving MRIs to tell me that my dogs feel love and attachment. I see that everyday and I’m grateful for them!