We had a favorite old neighborhood dog die the day before yesterday. That makes three neighborhood canines who have bought the proverbial in the last couple of months.
His name was Meatloaf and he was a big old plodding rottweiler cross who was the ripe old age of 14 – old for a big dog. In his demise he joined two other favorites, Jake, and Max’s adored friend, Abby.
But, this morning, Max merrily did his park exercise minus those three dogs (who used to always be there) and showed no signs of remorse. Dogs apparently don’t feel grief in the way humans do. We were out in the park and we spoke of the late and charming Meatloaf. Max showed no sign that anything was amiss. He went on about his business of sniffing as many blades of grass as he could and peeing on at least every other one. That was before getting down to his ‘real’ business which is, let’s face it, the reason we are out there at an ungodly hour.
So, while we missed Meatloaf, Max’s attitude seems to be one of “meh”. Do dogs feel grief? Myths, and I honestly think they are little more than wishful thinking myths, tell us they do feel grief as we do. And we all know the bittersweet tale of Greyfriar’s Bobby, the wee Scottish terrier who lay atop his master’s grave in Greyfriar’s churchyard in Edinburgh. There is even a statue to him there, and I have seen it. Doesn’t mean I believe it. I’d like to believe it because I am both a romantic and a dog-lover.
I think, because we love dogs, that we like to ascribe traits to them that are human traits. It’s like when we go on vacation and leave our canine at home. We feel discomfort and can even painfully miss furry him or her. We assume the animal is going through the same agonies. Know what? It’s likely not. They say the memory span lasts about ten minutes of separation anxiety in the animal, and then he or she moves on to a new reality. However, when we return there is instant recall. Our presence is the trigger and it all comes back. Dogs don’t abstract, they need tangibles. “Aha – there you are! I remember you guys! Yay!”
I once had to leave a dog for a year when my wife and I moved to England as she went on teacher exchange. Leaving lovely Murphy was excruciating. I doubt there was a day I did not think of him. We left him with good friends and he was very happy there and they cared for him scrupulously, and also kept us updated on his well-being.
Anyway, the night we returned from a very long flight, we were reunited. He looked for a few seconds with almost a WTF? Expression on his face, and then all four paws left the ground and he threw himself into my outstretched arms. I cried. He likely didn’t. But he was incredibly happy to see me.
The foregoing is dedicated to Meatloaf, Abby, Jake, Ben and all the other fine canines we have been privileged to know. As well as my friend’s Lionel and Daisy.