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Dog "Understood" Master's Death

Here is an article from the Animal Doctor, Dr. Michael Fox:
Dear Dr. Fox — I'm writing in response to your recent column about how a "dog's devotion to master can lead to the grave."

It is similar to what occurred with our golden retriever more than 20 years ago when my husband died at 46 after a four-year battle with cancer. During my husband's illness, Friday laid beside his bed, provided support when my husband walked, and never left his side. He obviously knew something was wrong and was devoted to his master.

Before my husband was ill, he was a senior sports-and-news cameraman for a major TV station. Owing to the nature of his assignments, my husband's work hours were unpredictable.

Regardless of the hour, Friday always knew when my husband was headed home and ran to the front door, wagging his tail and sitting patiently until my husband's car pulled into the driveway.

After my husband's death (in the hospital), Friday sat at the front door all day, every day, whining and waiting for my husband's return. He stopped eating and wouldn't leave the front hallway. He refused to play with our children whom he loved because "guard duty" was his only
purpose. He left his post only when he needed to be waked. My heart was breaking for this dog.

After one week of watching Friday's vigil, I decided to help him understand what happened.

Hesitantly, Friday left his post and got into the car with me. His car behavior was unusual: He paced from window to window, looking everywhere for my husband. I drove to the cemetery, and we walked together toward my husband's gravesite.

As we got closer, Friday pulled away from me and ran directly to my husband's grave. He lay down on the grave, closed his eyes, and just stayed there, quietly. I didn't try to talk to Friday or to disturb him — he needed to grieve, too.

After an hour, Friday got up and walked over to me, using his mouth to hand me his leash. He was ready to go home.

On the way back home, Friday laid down quietly in the backseat. After we arrived home, he kept kissing my hands as if to say "thank you" and never again sat by the front door waiting for my husband to return home. He now understood.

Although obviously sad, his behavior returned to normal around the children and he began eating again.  In time, he healed as we did.

— L.B.J.,Lake Worth, Fla.

Dear L.B.J. — Many readers will join me in thanking you for this remarkable example of giving a dog closure with regard to your husband whom Friday thought was perhaps still alive.

Your devoted dog clearly advances our understanding of how much some dogs really do know and feel. We should never underestimate their ability to comprehend and make every effort, as you did, during such difficult times of bereavement to help them when they are grieving.

Dog "understood" Master's Death Dr. Fox, c/o "Animal Doctor," United Features Syndicate, 200
Madison Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10016