Do dogs grieve the loss of a pet? It’s an interesting question, but if you are a regular reader of this blog you might already know the answer to that question because for the past two months I have been mentioning changes in my young dog’s behavior. Those changes began on Saturday, May 28 when my senior dog Cody passed away.
Cody was Bailey’s housemate and during the 17 months they were together Cody also became my puppy’s mentor and friend. He showed her all of the nuances about being a member of a human family. She grew to rely on him and I never would have guessed how much his passing would affect her future.
I was brave the day Cody died. I had been through the euthanasia process with six other dogs and three of our cats. I held him close and whispered my goodbyes in his ear. I told him to look for his sisters Sophie and Shadow because they would be waiting for him. I sat with him afterward in the exam room reminiscing about the day I saw his picture online and knew he would be part of our family. For a minute I was at peace as much as he was.
Then when I stood up to leave the veterinarian’s office with Cody’s collar in hand, I had an unexpected physical reaction to losing him. My body started to shake and I felt completely drained of energy. I could barely walk to my car. It was as though all the stress of the week had caught up with me.
You see Cody’s final week was hell. He had been sick with Inflammatory Bowel Disease for a long time and I was used to cleaning up after him and cooking for him, but I wasn’t prepared for his body to go haywire and shut down in less than a week. His rear legs suddenly started to crisscross when he walked and at night he began to pant and pace up and down the hallway. We went to the veterinarian’s office three times during the week. They thought he might be senile or have a neurological problem, but they didn’t want to aggressively treat him because of his immune problems. Finally the veterinarian explained that everything he was prescribing was merely a band aid for Cody’s condition so on Saturday morning when he didn’t know how to turn his head to take a treat from my hand I knew his time with us had come to an end.
During that horrible week, Bailey served as my little nurse. She kissed Cody on his forehead when he slept, stayed by his side all night long and enthusiastically greeted him after each of our visits to the vet. I thought she must have an instinct that Cody’s time was ending, but that wasn’t the case.
She is a young dog so how could she possibly know there was something like death?
When I came home that last time she welcomed me and looked all around my car for her buddy. I let her sniff Cody’s collar, but that didn’t seem to mean anything to her. She looked for him for the rest of the day and night.
All three of us, my husband, Bailey and I, didn’t know what to do with ourselves in our own home so the following day we made quick plans to visit family in Southern California. The trip went well and I thought it was the break Bailey needed so she could start a new chapter, but sometime during the weekend I noticed she had stopped eating.
We tried to coax her with treats and restaurant food, but she didn’t want anything. The pattern of avoiding dog food, treats, and people food has now continued for more than two months.
Bailey has been examined by two different veterinarians. Both think she is grieving for Cody and doesn’t understand why he won’t come home.
Ultimately Bailey was put on an appetite stimulant which sends a sudden and urgent message to her brain to eat. It isn’t a pretty to watch as she unnaturally gobbles up a meal.
Bailey’s condition has been a living nightmare and at times I thought I was going to lose her. It’s caused me more anxiety than I have ever known because I was literally seeing a healthy dog become anorexic.
During the past two months we tried everything from new diets to force feedings. Bailey’s typical response is to sniff the food and refuse it by sweetly kissing the back of my hand.
Our current routine is to have her eat alongside Spike and Tiger, our two cats. She likes their company. I have cut her portions in half and serve food in a small bowl. I found a brand of kibble she will eat in small quantities and I augment that with a raw patty in the morning and a cooked hamburger patty at night. She eats a few bites at breakfast and I can get her to eat dinner at around 8pm at night. Sometimes I still force the first few bites which seems to remind her body that it is time to eat. I call it “priming the pump.”
Since Cody’s passing there is a profound sadness in my household that we can’t shake. Sometimes I get angry with him because he left too soon. I adopted Bailey because Cody reverted to living in my closet after Sophie and Shadow died. I hoped it would bring him back to life and I would have two happy dogs that were friends with each other and companions to my husband and me. We had that for 17 months.
I will continue to report on Bailey’s progress, but in the meantime I thought I would share our story about a dog grieving the loss of her friend.