Sunday, July 3, 2011

Canine Grief

I've been wanting to write about canine grief for a while now, and after reading the moving opinion in today's New York Times about Gus, the grieving polar bear in the Central Park Zoo, it may the right time. If I can do so without crying.

Mr. Big clearly grieved when Pupgirl died. When she was sick, the first week she was in the hospital, he lay not in his usual spot, but in a spot where he could face her usual spot. Was he looking for her? I think so, as he had never evinced any interest in facing that corner before. Mother of Mossy was visiting at the time, so I have an independent witness to this behavior. He was ecstatic when she came home. Two months elapsed before she went through another exploded lung episode. Another week in the hospital, home for one night, and then she died.

He didn't react the same way to the second hospital visit. Was it because he remembered that she had come home the first time, and he expected her to do so this time, too? Was it because he could sense what was happening in her body, and knew the outcome? He was with me when I released her spirit, and I made sure he sniffed her face to know she was gone.

His initial first day at home without her was nothing unusual, but he quickly became sad. Not morose, not depressed as he had been that first week in December. But quiet, losing weight, seeming worried. I kept him to their usual schedule, with walks every morning as usual, same food, same treats, but he didn't like this new normal. And he did seem even more clingy than he had when he first came into my home 9 years ago.

This went on for two months, and then he slowly started to be less clingy. He was still quiet, still unsure, but I could tell he was working through his readjustment to the new normal without our girl.

Four week later, CuddleMonster arrived, and Mr. Big is relieved. The best word to describe him is lighter. He has always been a little scared, unsure about life. Pupgirl was fearless and happy go lucky, sure everyone loved her and that life was fun and exciting. Mr. Big has always been cautious, deliberate. She was his security blanlet and life without her must have been terrifying, even when everything was familiar.

CuddleMonster is also happy-go-lucky and excited by everything in his new metrodog life. He's the same age Biggie was when he moved in, but their personalities are very different. His certainty has made Biggie's life easier, and the result is that Mr. Big is more relaxed, more confident. We went to a new park, with an equestrian center and a dog park and thousands of new smells and sights this morning, and he was interested, engaged, eager to sniff and mark, despite the heat and humidity.

The outcome of this latest dog adoption has been even better than I dared hope. Are they the best of friends? No, not yet, and they may not ever be best friends. But they are becoming friends. CuddleMonster is learning that Mr. Big is King, and he is only the Duke, and has no objection to that. Biggie has accepted another dog where His Girl should have been, and doesn't seem to mind that CuddleMonster is staking out his own parts of the house, and his own part of me. His is happier, which is all I ever wanted for him and all the Zoo.

Does Mr. Big remember Pupgirl? I think so. If dogs can remember which house used to have a barking dog even years after the family has moved, and which tree had a squirrel once, and at which corner he encountered a cat once, I cannot see how he could forget the dog with whom he lived 9.5 years. But canine grief, like canine lives, is shorter than ours, and perhaps their experiences of long-term processes like grief is foreshortened accordingly. What may take me months, if not years, if ever, to get over, seems to have abated for Mr. Big, and I am glad.

Nope, didn't get through this post without crying.

1 comment:

  1. I have lost many dogs during the years and it never gets easier each one is special. Just lost one of my cats and your post brought tears to my eyes again.