Several people have cautioned me to keep a close eye on our dog, Sophie, since Cooper died four days ago. She and Coops were as close as any two dogs I’ve ever known, together for over nine years. My mom used to call them ‘Mutt and Jeff’ from the old television (or radio?) show. Coops was very much the alpha, and Sophie was her sweet and meek shadow. Watching Sophie now I wonder, do animals grieve?
I have read contrasting opinions on the subject of animal grieving, and can only speak from my own experience. I think that animals are very wise about and accepting of death and dying- far more so than we humans- and that they, like people, grieve in their own way. When we lost our Doberman, Bailey, we let our cat, Kasey, say goodbye. It was beautiful to watch their communication and acceptance. Something transpired between them that I will never understand, but felt honored to witness. Cooper was a puppy at the time, and she worshipped sweet Bailey. Her reaction was different; she continued to search for Bailey, especially at mealtimes, for weeks afterwards. She didn’t seem sad, but rather confused- where is my playmate? For years afterwards if I asked her, “Where’s Buddy?”, she would look around. She did the same after my mother died, always looking upstairs or at the garage door in the direction Mom had entered our home if I asked, “Coops, where’s Grandma?”
When Kasey died, we let both Cooper and Sophie say goodbye to her before we took her to the vet. It was incredibly beautiful as each dog took their turn gently sniffing her and silently communicating. I have no idea what was communicated; perhaps the scent of the very ill cat, the acceptance that death was imminent? Cooper looked for her for a few days afterwards, but Sophie seemed to move on with the normal routine right away.
When Coops collapsed during our walk and struggled to breathe, Sophie sat by us on the sidewalk and whimpered softly. We hastily dropped her off through my garage door in our rush to get Coops to the vet, and let her smell Coops’ harness and collar when we returned home. At first she didn’t appear to be phased by any of it, but picked up on our sadness and stayed very close to me.
When I came home the other day and opened my side garage door, Sophie was waiting. She looked happy and excited, looking past me, and I realized- she was watching for Coops to come out of the garage. When I closed the door, Sophie’s mood visibly deflated, and she turned and walked back toward the house. Since then, she has seemed despondent at times, clinging even more closely to me.
I don’t want to project my own grief onto Sophie; I know that she is not processing the loss of Cooper in the same way that Dan and I are. However, it is clear to me that she has noticed the change in routine, the absence of the dog that was with her twenty-four/seven for years. She will be fine, but we are making sure to give her lots and lots of love and attention. It helps us, too, as we feel the void left by Cooper’s loss acutely.
I tried something new, taking Sophie to the pet store for the first time ever. We never could go before, as Cooper was far too protective to put her in that type of situation. It was a big success! Sophie loved it- especially the treats they gave her and the German Shepherd and Golden Retriever puppies she got to meet walking through the store, and the beautiful Doberman we met at checkout. She was gentle, sweet, and well-behaved. It was something simple that so many take for granted, but I think it was sort of like Christmas for me and Sophie.
A couple of friends reminded me of the quote, “When a door closes, a window opens.” I would give anything to have our Coops back with us- my heart is broken over her loss. However, life has to go on, and I’m going to embrace this new phase of being able to take Sophie anywhere without worry. My new ride-along buddy, both of us healing together.