Our Animal Companions Grieve Our Death

Our Animal Companions Grieve Our Death

Our Animal Companions Grieve Our Death

For the Sake of Ringo

Our Animal Companions Grieve Our Death

Ringo was an old, ill setter, loved by his human. Ringo and his human lived here at Lake Chapala, Mexico, but one day the human died unexpectedly in the States leaving Ringo with no plan and no money. A note left on the refrigerator directed whoever found the message to call the number of a friend. There was no information about Ringo. There was no veterinarian number. There was no list of medications. Nada. The friend stepped in as a sleuth to learn the details about Ringo. Not only that, she had to find a home for him. She spent a significant amount of her own money and much time putting together a plan for this aging, suffering dog. The home where Ringo spent his last days was a special place. His “new person” loved him deeply and she described Ringo as the purest and sweetest soul. She literally loved him back to a better state of well being. But he had come to her severely depressed and refusing to eat.

We can do better for our animals. In understanding what happens to our animal companions when we die, we can plan and provide for them in creative and meaningful ways.

Adopting a dog or another animal, for the most part, brings out the best in all of us. Here at Lake Chapala, Mexico, we expats respond in significant numbers to the resounding call to adopt street dogs and cats that have been rescued. We learn about their availability through social media or from friends. And sometimes an animal has wandered into our yard or it cries from the side of the road as we drive by. Our hearts leap into gear and, after all, we are retired and have time for walks, and dog parks, and playtime with friends. We agree to foster and help an animal recover from life on the street, from being abandoned, abused, thrown out of a truck, neglected as a roof dog, or just because…

Most of us fall deeply in love with our adopted animal companions and with our fosters. Our hearts open again and again to our fellow beings who inhabit this planet with us and who bring us heart-loads of joy. In turn, they (perhaps for the first time) learn to trust and love a human.

In these times we are learning more about sentience and consciousness as it applies to our animal companions and all non human species. We can be accused of anthropomorphizing our animals, and yet we can find a myriad of studies that support our own inner knowing that animals have feelings, that they can become depressed and sad and grieve our death.

What the studies on pet grief show, quite obviously, is that we can’t know an animal’s concepts or thoughts about death or grief. What has been shown as indicators of grief are loss of appetite, weight loss, lack of energy, listlessness or clinginess, loss of interest in physical activity. Acknowledging these changes in behavior can lead us to a conclusion that the animal is having an emotional response. A study conducted by the ASPCA showed that 60% of pets experience four or more behavioral changes after losing a companion, animal or human.

But, do we really need scientific evidence of pet grief? Those of us who have or have had animal companions know without a doubt that our animals have a wide range of emotional responses.

We love quotes from famous people, and there is no lack of comments regarding feelings and animals. Our beloved Jane Goodall, expert on chimpanzees, says, “the most important issue is that we understand that animals are sentient, that they are not things but individuals, each with a personality; that many have emotions of joy, sadness, anger, frustration and grief and can show compassion and empathy towards each other and towards us.”

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) , physician, theologian, musician, philosopher, had this to say: “Only by means of reverence for life can we establish a spiritual and humane relationship with both people and all living things within our reach. Only in this fashion can we avoid harming others, and, within the limits of our capacity, go to their aid whenever they need us.”

And they do need us. Our animal companions need us. They need us for our love and companionship and care while we are living, and they need us to plan for that care and love to continue after we are gone. Pet planning is a gift we can give them. Granted, it forces us to come to terms with our own mortality, and that is a gift we give ourselves.

If I can stop one heart

from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

- Emily Dickinson

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