Do Dogs Understand Death?
If you follow us on Facebook, you know that a few weeks ago my sister’s dog Tally passed away. She was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma about 4 months ago. She initially had surgery to remove a large tumor in her abdomen and then was treated conservatively. She had a few months relatively “normal” and then started fading fairly quickly a few weeks ago. My sister and her husband made the agonizing decision to let her go.
We’ve posted about Tally and her rescue before in a two part series (Part 1, Part 2) authored by my sister. They rescued her from the streets of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico into the lap of luxury, first in Bethesda, MD and then Rancho Santa Fe, CA just up the coast from where she was born. But this post isn’t about Tally, it’s about her sister Taj. We’ve posted about Taj as well. She’s a thoroughbred – AKC registered, field champion Weimeraner who spent many hours in the field with her dad hunting.
Taj was the big sister to Tally – about 6 years older than her. Like most sister’s they had their spats, – turf wars, attention grabs, etc. but also lots of fun walks, hikes and games together. As they both grew older, they settled into a detente with each of them understanding their place and role in the family.
Tally, as the ‘baby’ was more attached to mom (my sister) and followed her around most of the time. Out on the patio, into the studio, into the office. She would usually seek Anne out and find a cozy spot to nap nearby. Taj was more independent and would spend her time in assorted favorite spots in the house or out in the pool or sunning on the patio. They would walk together each day and certainly play with each other in the yard, but “besties”…not so much. But that’s okay, our Jack and Maggie barely acknowledge each other! The closest they come to recognizing there is another dog in the household is when Jack licks her bowl clean after meals or when Maggie sneaks in and steals Jack’s carrot.
Tally’s been gone for a few weeks now and my sister has seen a marked change in Taj’s behavior. She’s the one following Anne around now – out on the patio, into the studio, into the office, etc. Where Anne goes, so does Taj. Anne says she also seems to be a little less stressed, a little calmer. Is it because there’s no competition for attention or affection? Or is it just another sign of Taj’s aging – she is twelve after all.
It made me think back on our dog’s behavior when we lost one of our pack. Tino was very aware when our neighbor’s dog was sick and passed away, but when Sally died, I don’t remember much change in his behavior. Of course he was much older then – about 13 and in the early stages of dementia, so he may not have noticed. I also don’t recall much change in Becca’s behavior when Tino died, or Jack’s when Becca passed. I wonder if it may be that none of them were really bonded to each other – our dogs all seem to be like ships passing in the night – they know the other dog is there, but there’s not really any interaction. Since they were all seniors when they came to us, maybe it’s a senior thing?
How about you – if you’ve lost a pet, did you notice a change in your other pet’s behavior?