Whether or not a loved dog has cancer, time is limited. And one of the easiest things to forget is this fact of being a Guardian…we usually outlive our four legged family members. But we are not the only ones who mourn for the loss of loved ones.
A recent article in Health Day described a dog who attended his guardian’s funeral, a fallen soldier, and sat down at the base of the coffin. Although this might seem remarkable to some, for those of us who live and love animals as part of life, it is hardly surprising. We have witnessed dogs having emotional intelligence in our own lives, gently licking us when we are troubled, or perhaps just moving closer during our hard times. We have seen them experience joy at our happiness, bounding and wagging during our life wins.
And so it is also not surprising that dogs, like us, mourn the departure of a loved family member. This is seen when a dog’s guardian leaves the home, whether going off to college or the great beyond. The same can happen with the passing of another dog in the home. Readers of this blog likely will not be taken aback with the headline of the article, “Dogs May Mourn as Deeply as Humans Do.” But of course they do.
However, there are some differences between dogs and people in this process.
First of all, people have the ability to make a choice to cope with loss in a direct way to improve things. Methods for doing this are found in The Dog Cancer Survival Guide. Dogs are not as able to make decisions like this and act on them. People can also help dogs during hard times, whether in helping them deal with cancer or with their own mourning. Guardianship includes brain chemistry modification, which those of you who have read the Guide know is a scientifically proven step in improving both life quality and health (longevity). In other words, helping a dog cope with loss or cancer through daily steps to improve her feelings of stability, competency, social connectedness, self esteem, and life quality makes a huge difference.
Another difference in how dogs and humans deal with loss is that dogs do not have what is called “preemptive grieving”. This is when a person anticipates the loss of a loved one before it happens. Preemptive grieving can be harmful if excessive, and needs to be dealt with to insure effective guardianship. It is hard to be a good guardian through the mental fog of excessive preemptive grief. Some people experience very extended grieving after a loss as well. Sometimes this grief may even turn into a syndrome now called prolonged grief disorder, which may require psychological treatment.
Dogs, on the other hand, live mostly in the moment. And this is a healthy state most of the time because it is a way of living that tends to make a happier life. Grief for its own sake is not an accomplishment, and this is one of the great lessons our dogs can teach us about life. Most often, they grieve appropriately, pick up the pieces, and then move on.
And that’s what they would want us to do to.
Dr. Demian Dressler is internationally recognized as “the dog cancer vet” because of his innovations in the field of dog cancer management, and the popularity of his blog here at Dog Cancer Blog. The owner of South Shore Veterinary Care, a full-service veterinary hospital in Maui, Hawaii, Dr. Dressler studied Animal Physiology and received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California at Davis before earning his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Cornell University. After practicing at Killewald Animal Hospital in Amherst, New York, he returned to his home state, Hawaii, to practice at the East Honolulu Pet Hospital before heading home to Maui to open his own hospital. Dr. Dressler consults both dog lovers and veterinary professionals, and is sought after as a speaker on topics ranging from the links between lifestyle choices and disease, nutrition and cancer, and animal ethics. His television appearances include “Ask the Vet” segments on local news programs. He is the author of The Dog Cancer Survival Guide: Full Spectrum Treatments to Optimize Your Dog’s Life Quality and Longevity. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Hawaii Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Avian Veterinarians, the National Animal Supplement Council and CORE (Comparative Orthopedic Research Evaluation). He is also an advisory board member for Pacific Primate Sanctuary.