K9 Corner: Dogs can mourn a family’s loss

Published 8:37 am Tuesday, November 14, 2017


“Do animals really know when a family member or another animal dies or leaves home? I’ve heard of this, but I don’t believe it.” The answer is yes. Not only dogs exhibit awareness of the departure of a human or canine family member, other species also exhibit grief.

I am thinking of the various articles in the National Geographic magazine concerning elephants. If the elephant

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herd comes upon the bones of another elephant, they pause, touch the bones with their trunks, moan and gurgle

while swaying back and forth. This scenario has be documented many times with different elephants, different locations.

The same with whales; although not as well documented, whales have been known to sidle up to an injured whale and guide it to safety. One story that I read told of a mother whale carrying her dead baby under her flipper.

And the same goes for dogs. It took one of my dogs two and a half months to recover from the loss of his pack leader and playmate. During that time I had to snap a leash on his collar in order to get him out of the dog crate and outdoors. Then I had to walk him in the yard until he relieved himself. Feeding was also a problem. He stayed in his crate and I would sit on the floor by the open door and offer him mouthfuls from my hand. I thought he would never recover.

As far as a dog grieving for a human, Jeffrey Mouossaieff Masson in his book Dogs Never Lie About Love, says, “ humans and dogs seem to be the only two species that are capable of great love and crosses the species barrier. No other animal mourns for a lost human friend in the way that a dog does.” Masson quotes the American Psychiatric Association Annual of Official Nomenclature for the symptoms of depression as: “Appetite disturbance, change in

weight, sleep disturbance,” as well as others more appropriately assigned to human behavior.

Each dog is different, in my first pack of three dogs, at the demise of the leader, the other two got along so well that neither took over the leadership, leaving all direction to come from me.

Yes, dogs do mourn. They mourn their canine leaders and they mourn the loss of their family members, whether from death or from departure for college or a job. This is why people selecting “rescue dogs” need to have an extra supply of patience until the dog has resolved his grief and accepted the new family situation.

The best thing I know to do is to pay more attention to the animal, taking it for walks or a short trip, taking it to dog obedience classes where it will meet other dogs and do other things. In other words, provide distractions. Masson says that dogs can die of grief so I feel it is important to spend more time with them during this period.