Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Do dogs know about death?

I would dearly like to know how much an animal understands what is going on around him and in particular  about death. Death is entirely natural in the plant and animal world and we forget that we are animals at our peril. Each year we watch die back and renewal as part of the seasons but what happens in a dog's mind when the other animal he has shared his life with is no longer there. Do alarm bells ring somewhere in a gentle warning that nothing is forever and it could be his turn next?
I don't know...and if anyone does please tell me.
When Crispin was a puppy he had another golden retriever that he adored. I had been told that getting a puppy would extend the old dog's life and at first that seemed a most unlikely statement. Major, the old boy simply backed away from the bouncy pup who kept trying to make him play.
Crispin used to tumble over him and I worried for his arthritis but gradually a sort acceptance  became the norm and as Major grew into majestic old age Crispin became his willing nurse and keeper. He helped him up when he struggled. Every morning he cleaned his ears and eyes...he deferred to Major...he would never go in front of him or eat or drink from his bowls.
When Major got to the age Crispin is now his pain became too much for him to bear and the vet came out to the house to put him to sleep taking great care that the young dog was in a different room with one of my friends.
Crispin looked everywhere for him. They had always travelled curled up together in the back of my Discovery. The first time out after the death Crispin sniffed every square centimetre of the car...and he did the same to the house...
Even two years after the death Crispin would still bound up to a golden in the park or on the beach and then fall back disappointed when it was the wrong one.
I was reminded of all this this morning when he was clearly looking for Tosh. He did the outside  and then came inside and started again.
Bless him its had taken almost 6 years but I know he is missing a friend, a companion in crime when food was around. It felt very unnatural when I was cooking fish at lunch time not to give the odd prawn to Tosh who stayed at my side through out  the cooking process.
The vet offered us the ashes for the garden but we refused.
" The body is only an envelope." I explained "Once its empty it has no significance" Years of dealing with ashes has been part of daily life  here..so I am used to the whole process, no need to have a spot thats special.
All our animals have a place in our hearts and I am more surprised than I can say about how much I am missing that small but dominant character who yesterday quit his envelope for the celestial playing fields where his first Mum Netty was waiting  for him.  
Crispin is still here using his envelope....hopefully for some time yet before he joins all the other friends he has made in life.  And as someone wrote on the blog comment yesterday....if dogs and cats don't go to heaven then I don't want to go either.


  1. Jean, it is a bereavement not just for you, but for Crispin too. When we have lost a Cat, the others have known that someone is missing and have actually pined for them.

    When we had a Dog, Della, she lived happily with our Cats and when the inevitable came, they missed her very much.

    We had a Cat, Ruby, she had one litter and then was spayed. We kept one of her Kittens and eventually ended up with two more Cats. Perhaps there was to much of a crowd for Ruby, who just disappeared. We did all of the usual seeking her, including checking local vets and the council in case she had been run over, without any trace. She is chipped, but two years later, we have not heard anything of her.

    When she went, her Kitten, by now, fully grown pined for weeks. He had been with her all his life and she left him. In some ways he has never recovered. He tolerates the other Cats, but will not sleep with them or eat with them. He still seems to be looking for her when he goes out to the garden and looks up and down the Alleyway etc.

    Ruby's mother is still with us. She was feral, but we managed to catch her and had her spayed. Cats protection could not re-home her, so we took her back and she lives outside, and we feed her there. Ruby's kitten relates to her and has been known to groom her. Mother substitute perhaps.

    People who say that animals do not have souls are mistaken. Animals do, they also have feelings, not necessarily the same as ours, but feelings all the same.

    This is one reason that I am vegetarian, Originally it was for medical reasons, but now, I am convinced that we should not eat the flesh of living creatures.

  2. I agree with UK Viewer on several scores and do believe animals have souls. I am also a vegetarian and these days feel that eating animal flesh is akin to cannibalism.
    As a life-member of Cats Protection (and several other animal organisations) I have heard many stories about the best way to deal with having an animal put down in terms of its animal companions.
    Since, no matter how intelligent, animals cannot reason they need to be made aware that a friend has died, and several people think that they should be allowed either to witness the actual euthanasia or be allowed to see the dead animal immediately after.
    This allows them to sniff and understand that life has gone and they will then not need to 'look for' their dead companion.
    I have never tried this, but so many people have reccommended it that it sounds fesible.

    It is hard enough for humans, who know the whys and wherefores, how much harder it must be for them.

  3. Thank you do much Ray and UK .I really value all your comments but especially those two...Crispin is still looking for Tosh and I can see the point of allowing them to see the body...where there is none its more difficult to try to fill the gap left by such a tough little character..