by Wendy Hunter
Wendy Hunter is a volunteer with the Animal Rescue of Fresno. ARF shares with KRL their animal rescue adventures every month.
“You can usually tell that a man is good if he has a dog who loves him.”
– W. Bruce Cameron
My father was a good man. Tall and lanky, kind and good humored. He truly had a dog who loved him. During the four short weeks my dad bravely fought a losing battle with Stage 4 Lung Cancer, Miss Cocoa never left his side. When we brought him home from the hospital, I thought Cocoa was going to implode from excitement. She ran circles around the den, hopping from couch to couch like a four-legged jumping bean. She wiggled and whined as if to say, “Geez, Frank, where the ding dang have you been?” We had to stop her from hopping onto dad’s lap, thus disrupting the painful catheter he hated so much. Cocoa could sense something was wrong, but she didn’t understand why she wasn’t allowed in her usual spot. Gradually, she just got as close as she could, and carefully leaned into my father’s hip.
Dad was eventually relegated to a hospital bed in the den, where we kept the pellet stove blazing and his favorite music playing. To my surprise, Cocoa managed to jump onto the bed and settle herself into the smallest spot possible. Cocoa is plump and low to the ground, so for her to make that leap was pretty amazing. She completed this feat over and over again, just to lay next to dad.
Since my father was diagnosed during the holidays, we spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. We somehow managed to make it through possibly the worst turkey dinner ever. Gloppy mashed potatoes, dried out white meat, mushy stuffing, and what tasted like gravy from a can. Yeesh! The only edible things were a buttered roll and a piece of chocolate pie from the cold case. Definitely a culinary experience I would rather not repeat. I thought about taking leftovers home to Cocoa, but even SHE would have turned up her nose.
Luckily, the cuisine back at our house was a vast improvement. As Christmas neared, plates of yummy goodness began to appear. It might have been stress eating, or the fact that friends and relatives kept sending us food, but we ate 24-7. I’m not sure how many guests they thought were at our house, but it was definitely not enough to consume every five-pound cheesy casserole that came our way. One day, my sister was making a gigantic vat of lasagna, when our neighbor showed up with a pasta dish. An hour later, we received an order from DiCicco’s, containing enough spaghetti and chicken Alfredo to feed the entire Kardashian clan. Of course, Cocoa benefited from our overflowing refrigerator; she accepted our tasty treats and usually wanted seconds. Sometime carbs are the comfort we need during a crisis.
When a dog loses his owner, comfort is key. This can be a very stressful time; his best friend is gone, and he doesn’t understand why. He misses their voice and can still smell them. Dogs grieve in many different ways, but can’t vocalize their feelings. Instead, they exhibit behavioral changes such as panting, whining, barking, pacing, and fidgeting. According to Barbara J. King, author of How Animals Grieve, “My definition of grief is that a surviving animal shows distress through behavior that is markedly divergent from his routine.” Other signs of a dog’s suffering include loss of appetite, lack of energy, clinginess, and weight loss. Miss Cocoa’s emotions have been all over the place lately, and she’s incredibly clingy. She used to get pretty excited when I came home after work, but now she carries on like she hasn’t seen me in years. That being said, while we were sitting on the sofa last night, she completely turned her back to me and rolled up into a sulky ball. Heavy sigh.A prime example of what a death in the family can do to a dog, is “Mr. B,” who was surrendered to ARF earlier this month. Mr. B is a Chihuahua-Terrier mix, with an adorable underbite and eyes that are little pools of chocolate. Mr. B’s owner passed away, and the family was unable to care for him. Sporting a blue jacket that reads “Belly Rub Club,” this friendly senior is a sweetheart, and considers himself a lap dog. He craves attention and is always happy to see our volunteers. Just by looks alone, you’d think Mr. B didn’t have a care in the world, but as soon as he throws his head back and mournfully howls to the sky, your heart breaks for him. When Mr. B was sitting on my lap one Saturday, it literally brought me to tears, bringing up all the emotions I was feeling about my dad. It felt like we were both waiting for our loved ones to walk through the gate, and say it was all a bad dream. I whispered to Mr. B, “I know how you feel, little man, I know exactly how you feel.” What Mr. B needs is love, affection, and patience while he’s grieving for his owner. But what he really needs is a forever home and a family that will help him through the process. Maybe you have a spare spot on your couch?
Many people don’t believe that dogs have feelings and emotions. But many experts disagree, like veterinarian Jennifer Coates, who says, “When a member of that family unit is gone, there is a huge void in the dog’s life, and he may need help in dealing with loss.” During this time, some dogs may sleep more than usual, and maybe not in their usual spot. Cocoa still likes to snuggle under her blanket next to my dad’s seat on the couch. Dr. Coates has several suggestions for assisting your dog in the grieving process. If your dog is seeking attention, give it to him, but if he prefers some time alone, don’t take it personally. If there’s a particular human or canine your dog enjoys spending time with, invite them over. A play date can do wonders for a people and pets. But most importantly, don’t rush the process. Remember, the million pieces of a broken heart take time to put back together.
For Mr. B, life is getting easier at ARF with each day. He enjoys running around the yard with his buddies, rolling in the grass, and getting kisses from volunteers. It’s not the same as a real home, but it will do for now. Since he enjoys riding in the car, Mr. B would be a great travel buddy for someone.
Remember, summer will be here before you know it, so how about a trip to the beach? And since he prefers people to toys, Mr. B would give every ounce of love and affection to his new person. Think of all the money you WON’T be spending on tennis balls and stuffed pigs. I dream of the day Mr. B meets his new family because I know they will fall in love with him. I hope they buy him another jacket that reads, “Just adopted.” Mr. B really deserves a second chance at happiness. The memories of his former best friend will stay with him forever, but now he can make some new ones.
My father was a good man in suspenders. He proudly wore the ARF shirts I bought him, and he was never on the sofa without Cocoa glued to his side. Even though they were together for just over a year, those two had a very special bond. I’m sure Mr. B was a great comfort to his owner during those last days, just as Miss Cocoa was for my dad. She brought him great joy and gave him a reason to smile every single day. I have never seen such anguish and confusion on a dog’s face as when they laid the stars and stripes across my father and quietly carried him out the front door. In that moment, I think Cocoa knew her life would never be the same again, and so did I. Anyone who tells you that dogs can’t feel emotional pain and loss is a damned fool.
“The bond with a dog is as lasting as the ties of this Earth can ever be.”
– Konrad Lorenz
Animal Rescue of Fresno
4545 E Dakota Ave.
Fresno, CA 93726
Check out more animal rescue stories in our Pet Perspective section and check back every month for another animal rescue adventure from ARF. Advertise in KRL and 10% of your advertising fees can go to a local animal rescue.
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