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I see it all the time in multi-dog households. Some dogs just bond more closely than others. I suppose a person could talk about things like hierarchies, alphas and betas and omegas oh my! And we could analyze forever why some dogs bond to one another, and others couldn’t care less. But the fact is that often one dog will form a huge attachment to another dog. A lot of times, this happens when a puppy is introduced into a household with older dogs.
My friend Alanna has experienced this first-hand. She has five dogs (and yes, before anyone asks, she really does need five dogs!). Her most recent addition is Jimmy, a golden retriever. When she brought him home, she watched in wonder as Gordon, her three-year-old Saint Bernard, went over to little Jimmy, and then turned to look at her with eyes that so clearly said, “Oh, wow, Mom, you got me a puppy!” Jimmy, all wide-eyed, was like, “You got me a dog!”
There you have it; match made in heaven. And for years, Gordon and Jimmy were fast friends. They played together, ate together, and slept together. There were other dogs in the household, but Gordon and Jimmy were all about each other. Then, at age four, Jimmy started losing weight. Alanna had a wonderful vet, Dr. Byron, who did everything he could, but the problem was leukemia.
Alanna buried Jimmy in the backyard, amidst the flowers, and tried to move on.
A few months later, Gordon appeared to be losing weight. Of course, Alanna was thinking, “Oh God, please, not again!” So she took Gordon to see Dr. Byron, who performed blood tests, did x-rays, and pronounced Gordon to be in the peak of good health. So what was wrong?
Dr. Byron asked a number of questions. When did the weight loss start? What about the dynamics with the other dogs? Did Gordon have friends in the pack?
Finally, with a number of probing questions and answers, Alanna and Dr. Byron hit on the problem: Gordon was grieving.
As you might expect, Alanna had Jimmy put to sleep before the leukemia could claim him. Sadly, she did not realize that much of the distress Gordon was experiencing was because he was waiting for Jimmy to come home, and of course that was never going to happen.
Many vets recommend that, if you know that you have to have a dog put to sleep, and there is another dog in the household, you might want to consider actually having the other dog present at the euthanasia. That way, they know that their friend will not be coming home.
The other thing Alanna could have done was allow Gordon to be present for the burial. Again, he would have seen Jimmy, and known that his beloved puppy was no longer with him. He would have been able to say goodbye to his best friend and soulmate.
You know that this story does not exactly have a happy ending. It never can, when a beloved pet dies or has to be put to sleep. Jimmy’s time with Alanna and Gordon and the rest of the pack was far, far too short. And yet, life goes on.
Last week, Alanna was browsing the classifieds. And here’s what she found:
Free to good home. Mixed breed puppy, very affectionate. She wandered into my yard, and I think she might have been a stray for quite a while. I think he’s about five months old, but can’t be sure. Pretty markings, black and tan and a bit of white. Floppy ears. Not sure of breed. I have cats and can’t keep her. If you can give her a good home, she’s yours.
I guess I don’t have to tell you what happened next. That little homeless girl isn’t homeless anymore. Whether she and Gordon are going to end up soulmates like he and Jimmy were, it’s probably too soon to say. But they seem to be getting along so far. Gordon’s appetite is better, and his ears are a little perkier than they used to be. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
Don’t ever assume that dogs don’t feel grief. They grieve the loss of their dog friends, and sometimes, tragically, their human friends. I know this, and so does Alanna. So I guess the takeaway from this post is to treat your dog’s emotions kindly and gently. They are feeling the same things that you feel. And when they have a loss, they need help to get over it, the same as you would. I think that’s just one more reason why they are our best friends.
If your dog is grieving a loss, love him and comfort him, the way he would love and comfort you in the same situation. He is confused, and his heart is hurting, but with love and attention, you can heal it.
And a new puppy couldn’t hurt, either.