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On Tuesday, our dear friend Lisa called to say that she had to put down her beloved “Eddie,” an 11 year old boxer that we all just adored. Lisa was our human massage therapist for a while and used to bring Eddie and his “sister” Emma to Rocky’s for play and fun times. As Lisa says, Eddie was a large presence and always concerned about others. It’s a very sad time for all. But it started me thinking, what about Emma, does she know what’s going on? After all, the three of them had been such a close family for a long time. Is Emma feeling what Lisa is feeling?
Anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet knows all too well the grief that accompanies that loss. But what about the reverse? Do our pets grieve the loss of a “sibling” pet, or even the loss of a human? Research says yes. Pet grief is real, although it’s not the same as the grief a person feels, nor is it as deep. And it doesn’t happen with all pets.
If you’ve lost a pet in your home, what are some of the signs your surviving pet is grieving? According to Barbara J. King, professor of anthropology specializing in animal behavior at the College of William and Mary, the most common signs are loss of appetite, trying to get extra attention or affection, becoming needy, social withdrawal or revisiting places that were meaningful. She also says that in some cases, grief can be attributed to the fact that our dogs are so much in tune with our gestures and facial expressions that they experience what we are feeling.
If you suspect your surviving pet is grieving, what should you do? After all, you’re grieving as well. Despite your grief, probably the greatest gift you can give the survivor is extra attention and love. Focus your energy on the survivor. If you can, let your pet see and smell the body of the one who passed away. If this isn’t possible, try to get a clipping of hair and let your pet smell it. This can help with closure. Some people try to bring a new, younger animal into the home right away, believing it will help. Sometimes it does, other times, you just need to let the grieving take its course.
Despite her enormous grief, Lisa did all the right things for Emma. Even though Emma didn’t want to come out of the kitchen that morning knowing something was going on, Lisa brought Emma and Eddie together prior to taking him to the vet so they could say goodbye. She got a locket of his hair and his collar for her to sniff. Never having experienced the grief of a surviving pet, Lisa was surprised at how sad, lost, and needy Emma seemed to be that day. She’s learning first hand that pets do indeed grieve. Going forward in love, the two of them will grieve together, and will get through it together. Rest in Peace dear sweet Eddie. We’ll miss you.