If you have ever had the privilege of owning a dog or a cat, the love and emotional bond that you have with them is deep, and when it is severed in their passing, you experience grief much like you suffer from the loss of a human loved one. But if you have a multi-pet home, do the surviving animals also suffer or grieve the loss of their ‘friend’?
It is believed that grief in animals is measured by changes in behavior. When a surviving animal acts in ways in which they are visibly distressed or altered from the usual routine in the aftermath of the death of a companion animal who had mattered emotionally to him or her, they are in the state of grief. Studies and observations suggest that animals in the wild, from elephants to birds, exhibit grieving behaviors, as do household pets. But unless you see this grief first hand, you may not think that animals have the ‘emotions’ or capacity to miss their lost buddy. Patty and Bruce Vervalin of Clemmons, NC, saw their 4-year-old German Shepherd, Joe, grieve the loss of his buddy, Tess, an 11-year-old German Shepherd; the two dogs were inseparable from the day that Joe joined their ‘pack.’
“From the moment Joe joined the family, Tess watched over him. She was definitely the Alpha dog between the two of them, and even though she had health issues most of her life, she was Joe’s rock. Tess had a way of calming Joe during thunderstorms and when he heard loud noises like fireworks, which were a major stressor to him. Tess made sure during times when Joe was anxious, she was close enough to touch him. She would be the first one out the door when they’d go into the backyard; Tess would make sure all was good before Joe joined her. Throughout their life together, Joe had seen Tess leave and be gone for a few days at the vet to get treated, but she always came home. The last time Tess left, we really thought she would just get her blood sugar checked because of her diabetes and be back. When she didn’t come home, Joe became withdrawn and seemed like he really didn’t know his role now. Joe would get Tess’ ball and bounce it in the house as if he thought she would come out and play. When Tess passed, Joe, was lost, as were Bruce and I,” recalled Patty. Joe’s behavior is typical of animals in a multi-animal household who lose their companion, but it doesn’t make it any easier to help the animal left behind.
One of the most common behaviors observed in dogs left behind was to continually check the places where their lost housemate normally napped, rested or played. An increase in whining or being clingy can also be exhibited by the remaining animal. It is recommended that, if possible, you spend extra time with the grieving animal, which not only helps it but can also comfort you. While you may think that you have the closest relationship with your pet that died, if you are gone much of the day at work, the bond between the animals in your home is just as strong, and while you have an understanding of ‘death’ and your pet no longer being in the house, your other pet doesn’t. He or she just knows that their buddy isn’t around anymore and they are in distress over that fact. It has also been found that a cat will mourn the loss of a dog, and vice versa, as much as same species will mourn for each other.
Patty, Bruce, and Joe were making their way through life without Tess, when a friend (myself) posted a picture of a sweet little girl puppy on Facebook and things changed quickly.
“When we saw the picture of the lab mix at the Rowan County Animal Shelter, there was something about her eyes that reminded us of Tess. We had told ourselves that we weren’t going to get another dog for various reasons, but all that reasoning goes out the window when we saw Joe on the deck, lying in the rain with his favorite toy, a Kong, and Tess’ ball. He needed a friend, and so I was off to adopt my first rescue dog. I was nervous and anxious about the whole process. Bruce and I truly believe that Tess led us, along with Carolyn, to Emma. Joe’s been showing Emma the ropes, and they are getting along great. He’s still not completely comfortable with his new role, but you can see the bond that is forming between the two of them, and we are so very grateful to have Emma in our lives,” Patty said.
Adopting another pet soon after the passing of one may not be for everyone, but for the Vervalins, bringing Emma home was a good decision. It has not only helped Joe move forward, but it has helped Patty and Bruce in their grief, knowing that the love they had for Tess goes on. When you lose an animal, the new one doesn’t replace it, in your home or heart, but your heart is made bigger by allowing yourself to love again.