My wife and I recently went through one of the most agonizing events of our lives: the euthanasia of our beloved dog, Murphy. I remember making eye contact with Murphy moments before she breathed her last — she gave me an endearing mix of confusion and comfort that everything was well because we were both by her side. The Discussion
When people who have never owned a dog witness their dog-owning friends’ grief at the loss of a pet, they may think it’s all a bit much; after all, it’s “only a dog.”
Those who have loved a dog, on the other hand, realize that your own pet is never “just a dog.”
Many times, friends have confessed to me, guiltily, that they mourned the loss of a dog more than the loss of friends or family. According to research, the loss of a dog is almost identical to the loss of a human loved one for the majority of individuals. Unfortunately, there is little in our cultural playbook to help us get over the loss of a pet – no grief rituals, no obituary in the local newspaper, no religious ceremony – which can make us feel more than a little embarrassed to display too much public grief over our dead dogs.
Perhaps if people understood how powerful and profound the link between people and their dogs is, such mourning might be more universally recognized. This would immensely assist dog owners in integrating the death into their lives and moving ahead.
A one-of-a-kind interspecies relationship
What is it about dogs that makes humans relate so strongly with them?
For starters, during the last 10,000 years, dogs have had to adjust to living with humans. They’ve done it very well: they’re the only animals that have evolved particularly to be our companions and buddies. The “Domestication Hypothesis” was proposed by anthropologist Brian Hare to explain how dogs evolved from their grey wolf ancestors into the socially competent animals we today engage with in much the same way we interact with other people.
One reason our connections with dogs can be more rewarding than our human relationships is that dogs give us unconditional, uncritical positive feedback. (As the old adage goes, “May I become the kind of person my dog thinks I am.”)
This is not by chance. They have been selectively developed over generations to pay attention to people, and MRI scans demonstrate that dog brains respond just as strongly to praise from their owners as they do to food (and for some dogs, praise is an even more effective incentive than food). Dogs detect humans and can learn to comprehend human emotional states based only on face expression. Scientific studies also show that dogs can understand human intentions, try to assist their owners, and even avoid individuals who do not collaborate with or treat them kindly.
Humans, predictably, respond favourably to such unrequited affection, support, and loyalty. People can grin just by looking at pets. Dog owners have higher well-being scores and are happier on average than persons who own cats or no pets at all.
As if they were a part of the family
A recent research of “misnaming” highlighted our profound attachment to dogs in a subtle way. Misnaming occurs when you call someone by the incorrect name, such as when parents erroneously call one of their children by the name of a sibling. It turns out that the family dog’s name is similarly confused with human family members, showing that the dog’s name is drawn from the same cognitive pool as other members of the family. (Ironically, the same issue rarely occurs with cat names.)
It’s no surprise that dog owners miss them when they’re gone.
According to psychologist Julie Axelrod, the loss of a dog is so heartbreaking because owners are losing more than simply their companion. It could imply the loss of an unconditional source of affection, a major companion who provides stability and comfort, and possibly even a protégé who has been mentored like a child.
The loss of a dog can also have a greater impact on an owner’s daily routine than the loss of most friends and relatives. Owners’ daily activities, and even vacation plans, can revolve around the requirements of their dogs. Changes in lifestyle and routine are two of the most common causes of stress.
According to a recent poll, many mourning pet owners will misinterpret confusing sights and sounds as the departed pet’s movements, pants, and whimpers. This is more likely to occur quickly after the pet’s death, especially among owners who had a strong bond to their pets.
While the death of a dog is heartbreaking, dog owners have grown so accustomed to their canine companions’ reassuring and nonjudgmental presence that, more frequently than not, they will eventually adopt a new one.
Yes, I do miss my dog. But I’m sure I’ll put myself through this torture again in the coming years.