Posted: Saturday, March 29, 2014 7:00 am Associated Press |

FORT WAYNE, Ind. — Because Julie Mack’s golden retriever was her best friend, roommate, playmate and travel partner, the euthanized passing of the nearly 12-year-old Clancy was excruciatingly painful. As Clancy’s head rested in her lap, Mack said a tearful goodbye in the privacy of a Fort Wayne veterinarian’s emergency room. Shortly after Clancy’s cremation, Mack’s friends gathered for a brief memorial service.

“I even had a guy come with bagpipes,” Mack says, nearly five years later. “We had a funeral service here at my (Atwood Lake) cottage. And so I started helping people with (their grief).” When a friend had given her a hand-painted wooden box in which to place Clancy’s remains, the gift touched Mack to the point of paying the gesture forward. And recently, she had just completed painting and varnishing her 30th memorial box – this one for a friend in New York. “I do it just to help people get over that loss,” Mack tells The Journal Gazette.

“I feel like there’s not much for people when they lose a pet.” All that could be changing. Public pet bereavement, a subject once questioned with the gesture of raised eyebrow, is not only accepted, but has become commonplace. Newspapers, including The Journal Gazette and The News-Sentinel, publish pet obituaries that include a photograph. Private services, such as Mack’s, are given. Even established funeral homes are offering their services.

“People today are certainly more attached to and into their pets than they have been in the past,” says Doug McComb of D.O. McComb & Sons. “I think it’s a lot because our society is changing in regard to our family structure. In the past, we had family members who were close to each other – lived in the same communities and so forth, and now we have people going away to college, and their first thought isn’t to go back home anymore. Now their thoughts are about moving on to New York or California or someplace like that. There isn’t that interaction with your family; sometimes pets can serve at least a part of that role as a companion. I think some of the relationships with pets today are deeper than they were in the past. People, when they lose their pet, it’s a significant deal in their life.”

McComb says his company will remove the pet from its home as well as offer the cremation and a specific setting for a private service. “We did have a person in the last year or so, the pet that they had was a company mascot,” McComb says. “The pet went from desk to desk and got patted on the head by the various staff members. Everybody was very attached to the dog. So what he did was he had a reception, and they passed out cookies that looked like dog treats. It wasn’t a funeral; it was a reception and kind of recognition for the people in the office that lost an office companion.”

While Clancy’s remains are in a painted box that sits on one of Mack’s end tables, Julie has another companion in Sam, a romping golden retriever who has filled the void in her cottage, if not her heart. “There are no rules to follow, no guidelines to go by, when you lose your pet,” Mack wrote in a short essay. “A pet becomes more like your family member. Their loss is deeply felt. The only thing that you can do is to take each step toward all of your feelings. Don’t try to run or block them. Honor all of your feelings of grief. It is OK to cry. It is OK to feel the void and very deep loss of your pet. Always remember it is OK to miss them. “And remember that down the road you may open your heart to another heart that just wants to be loved.”

© 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Last updated: November 24, 2009 9:50 a.m.
Emma Downs – The Journal Gazette

“Pet-sympathy cards have long been available, but are more in-demand these days,” says Terri Todd, of the Anne’s Hallmark store on St. Joe Center Road.

Darby was a typical terrier. High-spirited, mischievous, maybe a little too big for his tiny britches. “Ordinarily,” says owner Mary Morrow, 76. “We called him a terror instead of a terrier.” For 14 years, Darby was Morrow’s companion,  her special friend, she says. But the Welsh Terrier developed cancer in his nose and, one morning, he sneezed and started bleeding to death, Morrow says. “He loved us to death,” she says. “And we returned that. He was the joy of my life. I was so sad. We didn’t get another pet for years after that.” Morrow took Darby to the veterinarian, and the dog was euthanized.

She’d heard about veterinarians sending cards or flowers to clients who’d lost a pet. But Morrow received nothing. “I never heard from them,” she says. “I felt bad about that.” Losing Darby was the impetus for Morrow’s volunteerism at Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control. Five years ago, she joined the other shelter volunteers who write and send sympathy cards to anyone who brings a sick, severely injured or elderly pet (or a pet with advanced aggression) into the shelter to be euthanized. In 2008, the shelter euthanized 407 pets for people unable to afford euthanasia at a veterinary clinic.

“You’d see people bring in a dog or a cat and they’d be so sad,” Morrow says. “The least we can do is send them a card.” Morrow writes the cards herself. Featuring artwork by local artist Lisa Girlach, the message inside the card is simple: “We want you to know we understand how you feel about the loss of your friend,” Morrow says. “These animals are part of people’s lives,” she says. “And for some of the old people, they’re a reason to go on living.” This year, Morrow and Girlach have sent 200 of their cards  for cats, dogs, hamsters and one iguana  to local people.

“Pet sympathy cards are not a new phenomenon but are gaining in popularity,” says Terri Todd, manager of Anne’s Hallmark on St. Joe Center Road. During the 15 years Todd has worked for Hallmark, pet sympathy cards have always been available, but Todd sees more customers requesting them now. “They’ll think they’re asking for something unusual,” she says. “And they seemed relieved to actually find one.”

“One of the possible reasons for the increased interest in pet sympathy cards is that having empathy for a person who lost a pet, especially if you don’t own one yourself  is a relatively new phenomenon,” says Peggy Bender, community relations and education specialist at Animal Care and Control. “People are still taken by surprise when they receive one,” Bender says. “There are people out there who still see pets as just animals. So a person who loses a pet will feel hesitant to express how much grief they’re going through.”

“Sending a sympathy card is an important acknowledgment of a person’s loss,” says Kathleen Bredemeyer, an employee at Paws and Remember (, a local business that provides loss and grief counseling and provides pet memorial and cremation services. “We’re beginning to understand and recognize how deeply felt the loss of a pet can be,” she says. “They are our best friends and a part of our families. They play a large role in our lives and should be remembered.”

Here is what they had to say:


Oh, how I wish when I die my dog Skippy or my cat Peaches would meet me at the gate and we would go on like we were never apart. Life would be easier to live if after death we could all meet in a glorious place and continue on with the people and pets who passed before us.

Unfortunately, I believe that is not the way it works. When people and animals die, they are kept alive by our fond memories of them and, in the case of people, our genes that our children and grandchildren carry. Sadly for all living things, when we die that is the end.

— Virginia Weaver Sabol, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Erie

Buddhism considers all of life to be evolving toward higher consciousness and sees nonhuman life to be divine, just  as is human life. Animals are seen to be an evolving kingdom of living creatures destined in time to attain perfect enlightenment. Therefore,to harm any living thing is to do injury to the divine. Since animals are considered to be traveling toward enlightenment just as humans are, neither are they to be harmed, discouraged or hampered in their progress.

— Jim Hamilton, Erie Karma Thegsum Choling Tibetan Buddhist Center

I may not be able to prove that animals do or do not have the necessary souls that would bring them to the afterlife, but I will say that the afterlife will be a very lonely and horrible place if our dearest friends and “family” were not there to greet us when we cross over the veil.

— Grollwynn (Christopher Temple), Whispering Lake Grove, ADF

I do not believe that animals go to heaven when they die. The Bible does not teach on whether animals have souls or if they can even go to heaven. The first book in the Bible, Genesis, states both man and animals do have the breath of life (Genesis 1:30,6:17, 7:17 and 7:22).

There is a big difference between humans and animals. The difference is humans are made in God’s likeness and image (Genesis 1:26-27). God also breathed into the nostrils of man the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). Humans are capable of spirituality, and future heaven is promised to mankind but never animals that die (Philippians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:4). Animals are a part of God’s creative process, and God said that they were good (Genesis 1:25). I also believe that animals will be a part of the future kingdom but it is impossible to say whether they can die and come back to life (Isaiah 11:6, 65:25).

— Seth Crowell, Assemblies of God, Erie

I don’t think that much about the afterlife, but it seems to me that without all of those that we have loved (and that includes the animals who add so much to our lives), that it would be incomplete. So, if Morgaine Imelda, Smokey Joe and all the other furry friends aren’t there, I’m not going.

— Mike Mahler, Erie

Of course there are animals in the afterlife. I can’t imagine God denying us one of his greatest creations. Not a day goes by that I am not amazed, amused, entertained and loved by one of God’s creatures. God did not put animals on this Earth just for food or sport. Instead, he put them here for three other reasons.

The first is to enjoy. Who hasn’t admired a beautiful bird in their yard, and look at the millions of people who flock to our forests and parks just to catch a glimpse of an elk, deer or even a bear.

We also learn from animals. Every day, science discovers another way we can learn from these creatures. It may be the study of the traffic patterns of ants or how bird migration corresponds with the weather.

At last there’s love. That unconditional love your pet gives you every day. They don’t care how you look, the money you make or even if your breath is bad. They are there to greet and love you after your long day.

No, I can’t imagine God not including animals in our afterlife. Without them, we would be missing the “life” in afterlife.

— Cheryl Wenslow, Unity in Edinboro

This may be the easiest question I’ve had all day. Just go to Revelation 6:2,4,5 and 8. I take the Bible at face-value. I’m sure John knew what a horse looked like, so there would be no mistaking it for something else. Also, God made all living things. I believe he can “talk” to all living things, and they have a way to talk to him. To say otherwise puts limits on God. My God has no limits.

— Bob Boyd, Immanuel Baptist Church, Erie

The church has no explicit doctrine about animals in heaven or the afterlife. It’s a matter of theological speculation.

However, concerning “last things” the church teaches about “a new heaven and a new Earth,” that presumably includes animals (Lumen Gentium,48; Catechism 1042-1050). My wife and I have similar discussions about whether or not animals have souls.

According to Aristotle and Aquinas, they do. But they define “soul” very broadly as the “principle of life” or “life-force.” Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College and a popular author, speculates that there must be animals in heaven. His opinion can be summarized in this simple syllogism: 1. Heaven is a state of perfect happiness. 2. Animals (including our pets) are part of our happiness. 3. Therefore, animals are part of heaven.

Jesus didn’t say anything about animals in heaven. But I often wonder what happened to the donkey after Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday.

— Deacon Dennis Kudlak, Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, Erie

I believe there is a heaven for animals and an afterlife for them.

I act responsibly and lovingly toward all of God’s creatures. Acceptance, love, kindness, generosity — all these qualities can be true of the pets that share our lives.

I bless all animals in my prayers, always acknowledging that they, too, are being divinely cared for and loved by the same God that protects and loves all.

I give thanks for the pets who keep me and others company. More than just animals, they are beloved family members. These pets never need to be asked for love and acceptance. They are given without question and without thought of return. I give thanks for animal friends and the joy they add to my life.

All creatures proclaim their Father’s power and testify His love. All creatures are miracles and gifts from God, but I believe because I’ve seen the miracle of love. These are the overflowing riches of His grace. There is a heaven for all of God’s creatures. They were here first.

— Rita Trabert, St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, Erie

As Toto was in the land of Oz, so animals will be in heaven.

That’s great news for most people, especially to think that in the place of perfection, there will be no more accidents on the carpet.

Animals don’t have souls like people, so I doubt very much that I’ll see my dog again. But animals will be part of the new creation of God. What was created in perfection the first time will be re-created in perfection the second time.

The prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse into the next life, where the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the calf with the lion. Animals are part of God’s eternal created order.

In Revelation 21, we behold the Lamb, a name for Jesus Christ. The time frame there is the eternal state. If animals were not in heaven, no one there would understand what the metaphor means.

Yes, expect to see animals in heaven. You’ll encounter a zoo there like none on Earth.

— Rev. Al Detter, Grace Church, McKean

“The whole creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God.” Romans 8:19 “The world itself will be freed from its slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” — Romans 8:21

From these statements in the Bible, we can see that all creation — plants, animals, along with us humans who care for them on this Earth, are waiting for their freedom.

Remember how God told Noah to take the animals into the ark so they would survive the great flood? It was out of his great love for the work of his hands, the innocent animals of which man is the greatest.

Thus, the animals will also be living with us in heaven, as in the garden of paradise, as their creator intended.

Sin entered the world by one man Adam, but by one man, Jesus Christ, we were freed from the curse of sin and corruption. As we will live in the glory of God in his kingdom, so also will the rest of his creation.

God is love, and he wants the best for all things that he made — all people, trees and plants, cats, dogs and every kind of living creature. The lion will lie down with the lamb. In the kingdom of peace, we will be united with God, and reunited with each other and with our beloved animals.

— Ann M. Filutze, Order of Secular Discalced Carmelites, St. Joseph Community, Erie

The Bible informs us that God created Adam and Eve in his image and likeness. All the creatures of the Earth, the heavens and of the sea were made for our use. They were put here for food, aiding in labor and providing comforting companionship as pets.

I personally feel animals are to be used and fully appreciated during their life span, but afterlife in heaven just isn’t there for them. Having said that, in all truth I’d rather select some pets instead of some of the earthly “human losers” I’ve worked with over the years to share my eternal reward with, that’s for sure.

But it’s God’s call, not mine.

— Leo Swigonski, Holy Family Catholic Church, Erie

As a Neopagan, specifically an ADF Druid, I offer praise to the Three Kindred; the Shining Ones, the Nature Spirits and the Ancestors. As all living animals are part of the Nature Spirits, when their bodies die and they leave this world, I believe those spirits exist as part of the Ancestors.

The Ancestors are not just of my blood (in the case of a family member or pet), they are of spirit, too. There are animals who are now extinct, or those hunted for food (and given the gift of life to others), for those that have gone I offer praise; be it stories, songs, food, to show them I have not forgotten them, that they are appreciated, honored and shown praise.

So, these beings will exist, as spirits, as part of the dead, as a form of the Ancestors.

Personally, as for an afterlife, I concern myself with the here and now. If we make virtuous choices, and do things well now, the next life will be taken care of when we get there.

— Grey (Paul) Whittney, Snow Water Grove, ADF

God said let the Earth bring forth creatures according to their kinds, and God saw it was good (Genesis).

You fall in love with pets and they fill your home with love.

My beloved cat and dogs have been four-legged blessings in my life with their unconditional love for me. They know when I am happy or sad. They keep my secrets and never betray me. When my world fell apart, my pet was right at my side, ready to snuggle, listen and with her eyes say, “Mom, things will get better soon!”

Since God created pets to be my very best friends and companions in life, I truly believe with all my heart that God will greet me with my family and friends along with Lady, Flipper,Pumpkin, Bozo, Turkey-Bird and Rosie.

We will all cross the Rainbow Bridge to be together forever once again in heaven.

— Rebecca Bliley, First Presbyterian Church of Waterford

I do believe that there are animals in heaven or the afterlife. Animals have a life of their own and have some of the same characteristics a human has. Some people even consider the pet they have as part of the family.

I know plenty of families that have buried their pets and gave them a ceremony just as they would for humans. Just because animals look different and are from the wild doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.

God said that he created everyone equally. I believe this goes for animals as well. A big reason why I believe this is because of pain. No one likes the word pain and hates feeling it, and I think that’s how animals feel about it to. They feel pain, just as much as humans do, and it would be wrong to not think animals go to heaven or an afterlife.

— Jeff Slater, Christian

I have always heard about the Rainbow Bridge. It’s the place where all the pets you ever had wait for you in heaven until your happy arrival.

Our relationship with animals has evolved over the years. We used to be the stern master. They were in the doghouse, rain or shine. Gradually, pets moved into our houses, our beds, our hearts.

Animals have lived with me all of my life, each one unique and precious. I’ve felt the sting of being ignored by a cat for being gone too long. But also there’s the ecstatic jumping, barking, wagging doggy reception, too.

Jesus left us with the most important commandment — to love one another. I don’t know about most people, but pets have unconditional love for their humans.

Animals have exquisite minds, big hearts and, yes, souls. Why wouldn’t they go to heaven?

— Sally Messenkopf, First Presbyterian Church of the Covenant, Erie

The subject of animals in heaven, spirit and the afterlife is one that is very close to my heart. How could anyone ever doubt that which is unconditional love would not transcend this physical existence?

Every being is a spark of the divine. Look into the eyes of your dog, cat, horse and see and sense that inner being. Feel that endless joy and peace that all of our domestic animals bring into our lives.

I believe that dogs and cats live in the original state of connectedness with being. They are here to help us regain that feeling of oneness with our creator. They remain in a state of deep awareness with all energy and life around them.

I also believe that animals can become our spirit guides and guardian angels, and their love truly never dies.They communicate with us telepathically, also with their hearts.

As a medium, I have been honored with their presence and communication many times. All animals bring wisdom, love and peace. Open your heart today and allow that unconditional love into your life.

— Rev. Brenda Beck, Namaste’ Center, Meadville

How to know when it is time to say goodbye?

This decision is the hardest part of owning a pet, our pets and companions have put their trust in us, and we must decide when enough is enough. I believe there are several important questions to ask yourself:

Is the pet still eating and drinking?
Can the pet walk enough to get up and go to the toilet by itself?
Is the pet still happy to see you?
Have you had your pet examined by a vet?
If all reasonable vet care has been given to the pet and there is nothing else you can do to relieve the suffering it may then be time to consider euthanasia.

People find this decision very difficult and spend a lot of time agonizing about it. Usually as the deterioration in the pet’s condition happens slowly and there is no clear reason or time to take the pet down to the vet. It is always good to talk to your vet about the condition of your pet as there maybe simple solutions to your pet’s problems. The vets’ job is to help you make this decision and then support you in this decision. Sometimes economic reasoning must come into the decision making, you could spend a lot more money but this may only extend the life of the pet for a small amount of time. Some people would put themselves into a lot of debt to pay for the treatment of their pets. This always humbles me as a vet that people would go without so much to save their pet. But sometimes people have to be realistic and see that the best solution is euthanasia, this can be quite painful to realize if you had more money you would go ahead with the treatment.

This is a difficult decision to make and you must balance the economic reality to the needs of the pet, your pet would not want you to suffer for it sake. When you know it is time for euthanasia you need to stay focused on that decision and do all the right things to make sure it is a good euthanasia.

By Michael O’Donoghue BVSc  People and Pets



Dr. Alice Villalobos, the veterinarian who started Pawspice, a quality of life program for terminal pets, has published a scoring system for life quality called The HHHHHMM scale.  The letters stand for: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Hygiene, Happiness, Mobility, and More Good Days than Bad.

Quality of Life Scale: The HHHHHMM Scale
Pet caregivers can use this Quality of Life Scale to determine the success of pawspice care. Score patients using a scale of 1 to 10.
Score Criterion
1-10 HURT – Adequate pain control, including breathing ability, is first and foremost on the scale. Is the pet’s pain successfully managed? Is oxygen necessary?
1-10 HUNGER – Is the pet eating enough? Does hand feeding help? Does the patient require a feeding tube?
1-10 HYDRATION – Is the patient dehydrated? For patients not drinking enough, use subcutaneous fluids once or twice daily to supplement fluid intake.
1-10 HYGIENE – The patient should be brushed and cleaned, particularly after elimination. Avoid pressure scores and keep all wounds clean.
1-10 HAPPINESS – Does the pet express joy and interest? Is the pet responsive to things around him or her (family, toys, etc.)? Is the pet depressed, lonely, anxious, bored or afraid? Can the pet’s bed be close to the family activities and not be isolated?
1-10 MOBILITY – Can the patient get up without assistance? Does the pet need human or mechanical help (e.g., a cart)? Does the pet feel like going for a walk? Is the pet having seizures or stumbling? (Some caregivers feel euthanasia is preferable to amputation, yet an animal who has limited mobility but is still alert and responsive can have a good quality of life as long as caregivers are committed to helping the pet.)
1-10 MORE GOOD DAYS THAN BAD – When bad days outnumber good days, quality of life might be compromised. When a healthy human-animal bond is no longer possible, the caregiver must be made aware the end is near. The decision needs to be made if the pet is suffering. If death comes peacefully and painlessly, that is okay.
*TOTAL *A total over 35 points represents acceptable life quality

Adapted by Villalobos, A.E., Quality of Life Scale Helps Make Final Call, VPN, 09/2004, for Canine and Feline Geriatric Oncology Honoring the Human-Animal Bond, by Blackwell Publishing, Table 10.1, released 2006

Dear SPCA,
My elderly lab recently died. We’ve all had a difficult time coping with the loss but I am concerned about my other dog, Rhea. She doesn’t want to play, lays around and even went to her friend’s crate, went inside and howled and whined. I have since donated the crate to a local shelter. Do dogs grieve? What can I do to for her? Should I get another puppy right away? Thanks for your opinion – M.

Dear M.,
Scientists have long debated whether or not dogs and other animals have emotions, even though it seems clear to those of us who live with them that they do. The current consensus is that they do have emotions, but that their emotions don’t map directly to human ones.

Since Rhea does sound like she is distressed and the distress began with the absence of your other dog, you can describe her behavior as grief-related. However, it may also be, in part, a reaction to your changes in affect as well as changes to her daily schedule and amount of enrichment. Stimulation in the form of extra exercise, outings, games and toys loaded with treats could serve as a welcome distraction for her. Extra training sessions could help, too. Learning new behaviors tends to suppress emotion. Short, fun sessions, where she can earn food and/or interactive play with you could help perk her up and take the edge of your grief as well.

If she is too stressed to learn well, start with easy versions of things she already knows, reward her extra well to catch her interest and then work up to more difficult training. As for not being ready for a puppy, don’t feel bad about that! You can’t assume her life would be improved by a potentially troublesome puppy, who will require a disproportionate share of your time and attention. Furthermore, the puppy will grow into a boundary-testing adolescent and then into a socially mature dog. Depending on how old and how bold Rhea is, she could then find herself challenged for control of resources such as her bed, her people and her food that she used to have free access to in her own home. If your lab was her only canine friend, she might not need or want another companion at all.

Dogs who live with another dog but do not regularly meet and play with other dogs in different environments often become unused to other dogs and do not interact well with them. An earlier blog entry, Does my dog need a friend?, talks about choosing a canine companion for a formerly “only dog”. If your family (including Rhea) is up to it, you could even try some of the suggestions about introducing her to other dogs to see whether finding a companion for her is even desirable. Assuming Rhea likes dogs, here’s another idea – foster one! There are many organizations that desperately need temporary homes for dogs. You can provide Rhea with a friend who is well-matched in energy level and temperament without having to find a dog with all the other qualities that you want in a “forever dog” and without going through puppy rearing! At the same time, you can heal your grief and honor the memory of your lab by saving dogs’ lives. Fostering is very rewarding, but it can be hard not to get attached. The secret is to think of your foster as a visitor en route to his home. As you discover all the great things about your foster, you write them up to help him get chosen and free up your crate to save another precious life like his. The Houston SPCA has a sizable foster program, which gives many animals a comfortable foster home and loving foster parents while they wait for their forever home. Although we have many labs, if you are looking for a specific breed, age, and/or temperament, you may want to try rescue groups. Most are small, all-volunteer, non-profit companies. To find one, try an internet search using the keywords “dog rescue Houston” adding the name of a breed if you wish. For more ideas for enrichment activities for your dog or if you need to discuss your concerns further, call the Houston SPCA Animal Behavior and Training Department at 713-869-7722 ext. 190 or email us at

Posted by houstonspca at April 30, 2010 05:20 AM

I know that ‘science’ can’t prove (OR DIS-PROVE) animal emotion – those of us who know animals know that they DO indeed grieve. Grief is nothing more than an awareness of an absence. That absence is made recognizable by changes in routine, sounds; smells; and activities. Grief manifests itself in physical symptoms such as chills or warm flashes; appetite changes; muscle pain or tenseness; and a variety of other measurable responses to a loss. Emotionally that transfers into confusion, inattention, in ability to focus, and basic stress. All mammals share this overall process. Our interpretations of grief vary based on our history, environment and upbringing. And yes, our species.

Posted by: Just__A__Thought at April 30, 2010 12:21 PM

Of course dogs grieve. Dogs have emotions, like all mammals, including humans. Indeed, presumably most higher vertebrates, including mammals, birds, and reptiles have emotions. And even the lower vertebrates (like fish and amphibians) probably have some primitive emotions. Given the great anatomical similarities of all mammals, not to mention the genetic DNA similarities, this should not be a surprise. It would be more of a surprise if they didn’t. The part of the brain that processes emotion is one of the oldest and earliest evolved parts of the brain, long before humans or our immediate ancestors came around, so for that reason alone one would expect emotions to be widespread in the animal kingdom. Science is about making observations.

We can’t see inside a dog’s brain to see if it is experiencing some emotion, but we can’t see inside a human’s brain to see if it is experiencing some emotion either. However, we can observe events that seem to trigger specific emotional reactions in humans and then check to see whether common physiological responses occur. We can do exactly the same thing in dogs and other animals and see if they have similar responses. If we do consistently see such responses, then it is reasonable to assume the existence of emotions similar to our own in these other species. And in fact actually observing animals (as opposed to simply making some pronouncement with no observable basis, often only on the basis of personal prejudice) shows they do have many emotions similar to ours, which again should be no surprise at all. The reason it is a surprise to many people is that strong cultural attitudes to the contrary have existed for a long time.

The reason for these attitudes is not a surprise either. Humans have long used animals for many purposes, for food (both directly, for their flesh, and indirectly, for their products, like eggs or milk), for clothing (such as wool or fur), for protection (like guard dogs), to control pests (like cats eating mice), for sport (like hunting, dog fighting, cock fighting, bull fighting), for medical testing, for war (like horses or the elephants of the Carthaginians), for transportation (like horses), for hauling (like mules and oxen), for farming, and so on. Many of these purposes include killing or injuring said animals.

Consequently, it became very convenient for humans to pretend that animals had no thoughts or feelings (in spite of much evidence to the contrary). Because otherwise, we would have to consider potentially uncomfortable ethical issues in our treatment of animals. Or even worse, curtail some of these activities, which would threaten many people’s profits or livelihoods. Of course, we have even done this with other humans, as when slavery existed in this country, when black people were considered subhuman so they could continue to be exploited (though laws were also passed making it illegal to teach black people to read or write, which should have been unnecessary if it was really believed they were subhuman and thus incapable of reading or writing).

Also, we as a species seem to have a lot of species insecurity. It seems many of us have to try to downgrade the ability of other species to think and feel in order to feel better about ourselves as the supposed pinnacle of creation. I suspect this comes from our evolutionary heritage, with our ape-like forebears cowering in the dark and rain on an east African plain, hoping some great gaping maw does not materialize out of the dark to devour them. That probably made them pretty insecure, and although we have since developed all this technology to give us great physical power, that emotional insecurity is probably still there.

As far as direct evidence for canine and feline emotions, I have seen quite a bit myself, having had a number of dogs and cats over the last 24 years. I am a scientist by training, having studied math and physics and computer science and had courses in chemistry and biology and read extensively on paleontology, evolutionary biology, and genetics, so I have tended to observe my animals with the eyes of trained scientist. I have been especially fortunate in this regard in having had multiple dogs for a long time, because dogs are pack animals, like their wolf forebears that humans manually evolved over the last 10 or 15 thousand years or so.

Much interesting canine behavior thus only occurs in the context of a pack, so that if you only have one dog, or even only two, there is a lot you probably will not see. Between cats and dogs, I think I have seen about all the common simple human emotions, where they react to specified situations very much as humans would. Humans have some complex emotional behaviors, apparently bound up with our much higher intelligence, which I suspect are not seen in other animals. I doubt dogs or cats indulge in extreme infatuations or things like anorexia, for example.

But when it comes to basic, simple emotions, I think animals have most of them, including fear, depression, loneliness, boredom, grief, lust, jealousy, vindictiveness (particularly in cats), deceit, friendship, hope, love, mild dislike, extreme dislike, subdued animosity, hate, bullying, and perhaps others. I have certainly seen clear examples of all these things, often many times. I suspect fear is one of the oldest and most basic emotions, probably present even in simple vertebrates and maybe even in simpler creatures. Fear seems to go along with pain. Pain is not an emotion, but it does tend to produce emotional responses, which may produce fear of events which caused such pain.

People often tend to think fear and pain are bad things, but this is a great misunderstanding. Both are in fact great evolutionary advances, pain probably coming first, and very early, and fear later. If you were an early fish that had not evolved the ability to feel pain, some predator might chomp on you, and you would just calmly sit there and allow yourself to be eaten, meaning you would have less chance to reproduce and spread your genes for feeling no pain. But if you had evolved the ability to feel pain, when you got chomped on, that would hurt, triggering an attempt to either fight back or get away, giving you a better chance of spreading your genes for feeling pain. This means creatures that could feel pain would eventually out multiply and supplant creatures that could not, as seems to have happened. And fear is similar, because it allows you to tag past incidents that caused pain, so you can try to avoid them in the future.

So fear clearly had (and has) survival value (contrary to the dictates of the unemotional Mr. Spock). The problem of course with both pain and fear is that they do not discriminate well, being very simple and low level functions. Sometimes you feel pain which you cannot do anything about, in which case the pain is not helpful and maybe even harmful if it is severe enough. And sometimes you develop fears of things that are not really harmful, which can lead to all sorts of other problems. But the point is that both pain and fear work well enough most of the time to have overall survival value, again suggesting their long existence.

Most other emotions probably also have survival value, or they would probably not still be around. And this survival value again suggests why they are so widespread in the animal kingdom. I could spend a long time cataloging the examples of various emotional behaviors I have observed in dogs and cats, but I will forgo most of that, in the interest of space, and just describe one case I did not observe, but heard about from a couple I know, because it is relevant to the original question of whether dogs can feel grief.

The couple had a black lab for a long time, then after several years got a border collie mix from the SPCA. After several more years, the lab died of bone cancer, at 13, and the other dog basically just went nuts and about drove her owners nuts. About 6 months later the guy brought home a black lab puppy for Christmas, mainly for his wife, but the other dog quickly became normal again and became chums with the new one. Clearly the older one missed her previous companion, and it took another dog to erase her loneliness.

Posted by: Vernon Williams at May 1, 2010 02:25 AM

Pet Loss and Grief Counseling

The loss of a pet can be for some people, a devastating and misunderstood experience. It is not unusual, if you are feeling bereft and distressed if you have recently experienced the loss of your pet. Those who have never bonded closely with an animal and experienced their unconditional love can sometimes dismiss your pain and distress. While death is probably the most commonly experienced loss of a pet, other ways of losing a beloved pet, like their disappearance, or having to part with a pet through family circumstances or relocation can also be very distressing. The normal response to loss, in whatever form it takes, is grief and most people find it helpful and supportive to have their loss acknowledged.

A counselors who understand pet loss, can provide a secure and compassionate environment in which someone can share their distress. Each person’s response to loss is as unique as the relationship that you shared with one you loved deeply and each such relationship needs to be honored. Most people who are grieving find counseling helpful because they are listened to, respected and they have the opportunity to express not just their pain, but what this loss means to them. Counseling can also help you understand that much of what you are experiencing is normal and the counselor is able to validate your feelings. The process of expressing what you are feeling can help to reduce your emotional pain. Usually, when someone loses one who has had a special place in their life, they want and need to tell someone what made their relationship so special.

A counselor is usually able to help you manage your grief and suggest healthy ways of caring for yourself. An important aspect of grieving is to be kind to yourself. Avoid sharing the loss of your pet with people who will not understand and support you. It can be difficult if others respond to your news with something like: “It is just a dog- get another one.” Your relationship with your pet was special and from them you experienced much love and joy. You owe it to yourself and the one you loved to have that valued by others who are willing to honor that relationship and support you on your grief. It can sometimes be easier just to say to those who do not understand that wonderful bond that can exist between people and their pets, that you have recently lost a family member.

Remember that talking with someone who understands can help you find your way through this difficult time.

By Michael O’Donoghue BVSc  People and Pets


Just last week, while I was performing euthanasia for a critically ill patient, the pet’s owner looked at me and said, “I bet this is the hardest part of your job.” That gave me pause. For me, putting animals to sleep is not one of the hardest parts of being a veterinarian. That’s because euthanasia is often a blessing and gift to a suffering animal. In my experience, the hardest part of being a veterinarian is telling owners that their beloved pet has a terminal illness and will soon be leaving this world. The emotions that pass across their faces, even if they have suspected the worst for some time, are heart-wrenching.

It’s Never Easy I still remember the first person I had to share this terrible news with. He was a nice, middle-aged man with two small children and an 8-year-old Rottweiler named Stone. Stone was a member of the family, and when he started to limp, his owner brought him straight in to be checked out. Stone was a wonderful dog at home, but he was not a fan of the veterinary clinic. My best dog treats did nothing to warm his heart, and when I manipulated his painful left shoulder, well… that ended our chances of being best friends. Even though Stone was not an admirer of mine, I liked him, and I really liked his owner. That made it so much harder to discuss his diagnosis: osteosarcoma. Osteosarcoma is a painful bone tumor that responds poorly to treatment. In some cases, treatments involving limb amputation and/or radiation therapy can be beneficial. In Stone’s case, these options were not feasible. Together, Stone’s owner and I decided to provide him with the best palliative care we could, and we promised each other that we would not let Stone suffer. When the time came, we would do the right – if tough – thing and put him to sleep rather than allow him to live in increasing pain.

Stone’s owner was the first person I ever had an end-of-life discussion with, and he was also the first person to ask me a question I have heard hundreds of times since: “How will I know when it’s time?” The most recent person to ask me this question was my own mother. Her Miniature Schnauzer has battled long-term health problems and was recently diagnosed with diabetes. Unfortunately, she initially responded poorly to treatment. She lost her love of food, began soiling her bed and was generally acting pitiful.

How to Decide Over the past few years, I’ve heard a lot of veterinarians give wonderful advice to people who are wondering when it is time to give their pets the gift of a peaceful passing. Here are four of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard, and they are the same ones I passed on to my own mother for her consideration.

Every pet, illness and situation is different. There is no single rule that can be followed for when it is time to help your best friend “cross the rainbow bridge.” Getting input from your veterinarian on the specific medical conditions that your loved one may face is vital for doing what is best for your pet. You may also benefit from having a caring friend who is not as emotionally involved in the situation as you are to help you gain perspective and really “see” what is happening with your pet.

Remember that pets live in the moment. One of the most wonderful things about animals is how they embrace the present. Every time I walk into my house, my faithful Vizsla throws a one-dog ticker tape parade. The fact that I have entered the house thousands of times before, or that I will leave again in a few hours, means nothing. All that matters to him is the joy that he feels right now. When our pets are suffering, they don’t reflect on all the great days they have had before, or ponder what the future will bring. All they know is how they feel today. By considering this perspective, we can see the world more clearly through their eyes. And their eyes are what matter.

Ask yourself important questions. Sometimes, articulating or writing down your thoughts can make the right path more apparent. Some questions that help pet owners struggling with this decision include:

  • Why do I think it might be time to euthanize?
  • What are my fears and concerns about euthanizing?
  • Whose interests, besides those of my pet, am I taking into account?
  • What are the concerns of the people around me?
  • Am I making this decision because it is best for my pet, or because it is best for me because I’m not ready to let go?

Measure their quality of life. This is no more than trying to determine how good or bad our pet’s life is at this moment. Trying to assess this can be difficult, but there are some ways you can try and evaluate it. Let’s take a look at a few of my favorites in the next section.

Is Life a Joy or a Drag? Our pets may not be able to talk to us and tell us how they are doing, but if we pay close attention, there are many clues that can help us answer that question.

The Rule ofFive Good Things”: Pick the top five things that your pet loves to do. Write them down. When he or she can no longer do three or more of them, quality of life has been impacted to a level where many veterinarians would recommend euthanasia.

Good Days vs. Bad: When pets have “good days and bad days,” it can be difficult to see how their condition is progressing over time. Actually tracking the days when your pet is feeling good as well as the days when he or she is not feeling well can be helpful. A check mark for good days and an X for bad days on your calendar can help you determine when a loved one is having more bad days than good.

HHHHHMM: Doctor Alice Villalobos is a well-known veterinary oncologist. Her “HHHHHMM” Quality of Life Scale is another useful tool. The five H’s and two M’s are: Hurt, Hunger, Hydration, Happiness, Hygiene (the ability to keep the pet clean from bodily waste), Mobility and More (as in, more good days than bad). Dr. Villalobos recommends grading each category on a scale of 1-10 (with 1 being poorest quality of life and 10 being best). If the majority of categories are ranked as 5 or above, continuing with supportive care is acceptable.

Pet Hospice Journal: Keeping a journal of your pet’s condition, behavior, appetite, etc., can be extremely valuable in evaluating quality of life over time.

A Tale of Two “Endings” Thankfully, my mother’s Schnauzer, Zoe, eventually responded to her therapy. As a perpetual optimist, I like to think that she may be with us for some time to come. Still, the reality of having older pets is that we must be vigilant in their care and aware that every day is a gift. In the case of my long-ago patient, Stone, with whom I first walked this path, I am glad to say that he did not suffer unnecessarily with osteosarcoma. His owner made a good decision, and Stone crossed the rainbow bridge while in the loving arms of his people. He was remembered by them as a strong, loving protector of the children in his family, and I will always remember his owner for having the strength and wisdom I hope we’ll all have when the time comes to say that final goodbye.

By Dr. Andy Roark | | Pets – Mon, Apr 22, 2013 12:21 PM EDT


Euthanasia: Your head says one thing but your heart says another

Euthanasia: Why some owners choose to stay and some choose to go


Grief over the death of a beloved pet can be devastating
Ellie advises a reader who can’t recover from the death of a dog/best friend, killed by a pitbull in its owner’s presence.

By: Ellie Advice, Published on Thu Mar 14 2013



Q: Last September, I lost my 3-year-old dog/best friend in a pitbull attack. While I was bruised and bloodied, I felt severe guilt over falling apart instead of finding a way to help him. I’ve sought counselling, focused mostly on anxiety, for which I’m already medicated.

My family and friends are a great support but no one totally understands my grief. I’ve read self-help books on pet loss, but none deal with such traumatic loss.

The pitbull owners were my neighbors, who had several prior citations, had already had one dog confiscated, and were all-around irresponsible and cruel to their pets. They moved away.

There’s little I can do legally. I’ve already tried counselling, prayer, group meetings, Internet searches. What else can I do to ease my pain?

A: All grief is personal and arouses anxieties, fears and other feelings of loss. With traumatic loss such as yours — sudden and violent — you feel powerless. The fact that it’s a pet is for you no different than a child because you felt the dog was in your care and your responsibility. So continue with the counselling, especially as you’ve been prone to anxiety. Coordinate your psychological therapy with your doctor, regarding the medication you’re already on, in case something else would be more effective through this period.

My suggestion: Perhaps a fund-raising event toward a pet-related charity, in your dog’s honour, might take you outside your grief, and give purpose to the pleasure/companionship your dog gave you.

Q.  I was wondering, is it normal to grieve over the loss of a pet more than the loss of a family member? Here’s the deal I lost my cat to a seizure about a week ago. I was devastated, I mean, I’m still grieving,it’s just about as bad as when I lost my dad. Since my cat was chosen out by my dad. (Long story)

Anyways, my grandmother died today, and she lived to be 87. I haven’t really cried that much, I don’t know if I’m still in shock, but I just don’t feel sad about it. I mean, I miss her, but I don’t feel sad like I did about my cat or about my dad. Why is this? Is it also normal for me to be grieving more about my cat than my grandma or is there something abnormal about me?

A.  It makes perfect sense. Losing the cat is like losing the last living part of your father.  At the same time, a pet is dependent on you, so you were a kind of mom to the cat.

Many believe that losing a child (which is what your cat was to you) is the worst pain a parent can experience. It’s partly the strength of the parent-child bond, and partly because the child didn’t get to live a long, full life. Your grandmother did have a long (and we hope fulfilling) life, so it isn’t a case of a life cut short.

However, do NOT express this last part out loud, especially to your family. However true it may be, people don’t like hear that one death is not as big a tragedy as another.

And do not worry that your feelings aren’t normal. A lot of people react in predictable ways, which is why the funeral business is such a money-maker. If you grieve in a different way, well, don’t let anybody tell you that it isn’t right or normal. You don’t need to validate anybody else’s manner of grieving.

Some responses by readers:

  1. Just Thinking:   I think you are being to hard on yourself. Grieving is different for all people and varies in degrees depending on many different factors. I would suggest that you have been in a state of grief and this is now added and so you have gone into shock? Try to be kind to yourself, the loss of your cat after the death of your father and the connection you have with the cat from your father is going to be very strong, possibly stronger than the relationship to your grandmother, there is nothing wrong or unnatural about that, the loss of your cat is like losing your father a second time?
  2. TM:   You know I don’t think its that crazy but I would feel the same if the same thing happened to me. I hate saying that but its true. I think you might be a little in shock and if your already grieving its hard to figure out who your grieving for. Its normal to not be devastated I think over a grandparent. For one they are older so it is expected,plus unless you live with them, the older you get the less attached you are too them.
  3. xxraeofsun:   You may have been closer to your cat than your grandma or maybe you weren’t seeing your cat’s death coming
  4. Ash:    Wow,you are definitely going through a lot right now and you shouldn’t feel bad that you aren’t “grieving” per se, but maybe you are still in shock and this is just a way of your emotional self to protect yourself. All of this loss at once is sure to confuse anyone about their emotions. You seem to connect your cat (how you described it) to your dad, (since he picked it out and all) so the loss of your cat is probably bringing back the pain of loosing your father. Don’t feel abnormal about any of this, or bad about grieving for your grandmother differently. This much stress can really mess with a person. Best wishes and sorry for your losses.

Daily Bible Study with SEEDS OF THE KINGDOM
Updated: Saturday, 19 December 2009, 8:26 (GMT)

17 December 2009 | Expressing Grief

Jesus wept. John 11:35, NIV

Our young grandson has just experienced his first loss of a pet.This nearly three-year old hamster died over the weekend and he was heartbroken. His parents handled it well. His dad asked him if he wanted to hold it, which he didn’t, but together they went and buried it in the garden. He spent a tearful evening with both of them and the next morning said to his mum,”I don’t know how I am supposed to feel”, possibly thinking that it was “only” a hamster and should he be feeling so upset. Her reply was that it was quite all right for him to feel sad and that it was natural to miss the little creature for a time. I have prayed with many people who experienced the loss of a close relative, sometimes a parent, when they were very young and were never able to grieve. Now, as adults, they have discovered a well of untapped grief which they have never expressed. Probably the adults around them at the time wanted to spare them the pain of loss and so from the best of motives they didn’t encourage the expression of grief. But now the buried feelings have either come to the surface or else all emotions have become trapped under a layer of concrete. Jesus freely expressed His emotions. On two occasions we read that He wept, once when He knew that He was going to raise Lazarus back to life and once over Jerusalem. He was not ashamed of His tears, nor of people seeing Him crying. Children should be encouraged to grieve, to know that people, and creatures, that they love are going to die sometime,and that they should not bury their feelings.


Heavenly Father, Thank You that You have given me emotions through which I can experience the fullness of life. Please help me to express them all in a right way and not bury the uncomfortable ones. Amen.

Today’s Writer

Angela Weir has been associated with Ellel Ministries from the very beginning, first as an associate member of the ministry team and later as an associate teacher. She trained as an actress and after her marriage and move to Cumbria, taught drama in a girls’ school.