24 August 2010


The loss of a family member leaves a hole in the family, a collective wound.

I have spent much of my life with dogs and cats in my household and have witnessed their response to loss. The way they suffer wounds of grief.

When Jackie died two months ago, the dynamics of our four-legged family began to shift ever so slightly. The dogs selected new preferred locations in the kitchen to sleep. I changed the placement of their breakfast and dinner food bowls. Always on the prowl for food, little Tristan stepped up his patrol of the other dogs’ progress during mealtimes and became more vocal, growling about perceived encroachments around his own eating space.

I should have noticed.

Years before, when Jackie’s companion Hemingway died, he progressed through a period of despondent sadness, then moved into a stage of hyper aggression that took me by surprise and ultimately resulted in a broken clavicle and a trip to the emergency room. My injury was just collateral damage. The real target of Jackie’s aggression was another dog.

Jackie’s grief, his wound, was deep and those feelings found their way to the surface.

This time the crescendo was startlingly similar.

In a sort of passive-aggressive posturing technique, Tristan often sleeps in the doorway of one of the guest rooms we use as an office and cozy TV-nook. His position makes it difficult for Edgar to enter or exit the room. Edgar is polite and submissive and usually waits for either Cristy or me to urge Tristan to move, allowing Edgar to pass. But Sunday night, Edgar attempted to pass without the accompanying verbal instruction and Tristan took grave exception. A snarling confrontation ensued and Edgar bit Tristan.

Bite: the fearful event we associate with out of control canine aggression.

The aftermath is subdued. Edgar has resumed his normal peaceful, submissive manner and Tristan is a bit more polite than usual. I’m guarded and have started carrying a little rattle around with me to divert Tristan’s attention if I hear any growling or if his focus on another dog is too intense. A little technique I noticed on one of The Dog Whisperer programs.

Later today I’ll take Tristan to the vet to have his wound attended to by professionals. But his other wound, and Edgar’s too, the loss of their companion Jackie is beyond my ability to remedy and possibly beyond my ability to console.


  1. Oh, what a great post, Diane!

    I believe with all of my heart that animals feel the same things we feel, which includes grief from the loss of a fellow companion. They go through the same process of acceptance, grieving, and then healing.

    I think sometimes animals (like people) see how far they can go, until the other one says, " Ok...I'm not taking this anymore."

    ""Edgar has resumed his normal peaceful, submissive manner and Tristan is a bit more polite than usual."

    (((( Edgar and Tristan )))))

    So glad to hear they've come to an understanding.

    Hope you and Cristy had a super Tuesday!


  2. I grew up with a yellow lab and springer spaniel. When we had to put Maverick down, the spaniel, who had always had him in her life, began to change a little. It broke our heart to see her waiting at the door for him to come home. And though at times it appeared that she was coming more into herself, without being under the shadow of Maverick, she always looked for him. It broke our hearts. Hoping your sweet one will soon recover.

  3. That would break my heart too. Comfort just seems beyond reach. But in our household, dogtreats go a long way in helping! :) Thanks for popping over. -d

  4. Animals grieve their family members as we do. Great idea with the rattle. Hope Edgar's wound is ok. Time is the healer of wounds, so hopefully your babies will adjust soon and fall into their new roles.