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My sister shared this article in Dr. Michael Fox’s column. (Dr. Fox wrote a wonderful endorsement for my book Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss.) This touching story reinforces the point of my own tale of a dog’s need to say goodbye (scroll down to read this). Please apply this to the passing of another pet, too. Animal’s need to understand what has happened when their playmate suddenly is gone. Letting them visit the body or sniff a blanket the deceased pet was wrapped in can help them process what’s going on.—Sid

My story:

Recently, I had the true pleasure of reacquainting myself with a dear friend I had not seen since high school, nearly 30 years ago! Don Rinderknecht and I had been in choir and plays together. Most notably, he was Nathan Detroit to my Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” in 1980. He remains one of my all-time favorite costars.

As we sat and blabbed the night away, the topic of our shared love of animals came up. He and his wife, Penney, own five acres in Oklahoma, on which they have five horses (three of them minis), a dog and a cat named Mr. Data (from “Star Trek”). This is a household after my own heart!

We started discussing the publication of my book and he said, “I have the topic for your next book already—how other animals grieve when one of them dies.” He shared how his cat was after affected by his fellow feline housemate’s passing.

Of their one remaining cat, Mr. Data, he said, “His mood, dare I say even personality, changed when Mr Spock died. He even took to licking my hair which Spocky did, but Data never did until Spock left us! He also seemed to be a bit more aggressive about things like he tended to bite (not terribly hard) when we were petting him… he still does this stuff today.”

That led to my sharing some stories from the book itself and, in particular, this one about my mother’s passing and Mr. Moto, her precious pug’s, response to losing her.

When my mother was dying of lung cancer in 1998, we somehow all failed to recognize that we needed to help Mr. Moto through the process as well. When she left home to go to hospice, Mr. Moto had no idea where she’d gone and became utterly despondent. I was pet-sitting him one day for my sister, Diane, who would be inheriting him, when I noticed him sitting, slumped down in the middle of my backyard. He wouldn’t come when I called. He couldn’t seem to respond in any way because he was so depressed over being separated from his human mama.

I’ll never forget the other dogs’ response to his anguish: They urinated on him as if he were a tree stump.! We knew we had to do something fast for this poor little boy or he’d lose all will to live.

Fortunately, North Memorial Hospital in Minneapolis, Minnesota, had the good sense to allow pets into their hospice unit. We brought along Mr. Moto to see his mama one more time, and he was over the moon with happiness and relief!
Please note, he had always licked people in greeting…everyone except my mom. For some reason, he never would give her face a kiss in the eight or so years she’d had him. So, you can imagine the heart-wrenching scene we witnessed as Mr. Moto jumped onto her hospital bed and incessantly, frantically licked her face for at least five full minutes! I was afraid he might wear a hole in her!

It was quite difficult to see her impassive, almost mechanical response to his love-drenching, but I understood she was having to detach from life on this side of the veil in order to cross over soon, so she couldn’t allow herself to respond as she normally would have, i.e., with tears and laughter. She looked tired and numb, merely passively accepting Moto’s kisses and devotion. My heart broke doubly at the sight and the cross purposes of these two beings who had loved each other so very much.

After that visit, though, Mr. Moto was a changed dog. He was happy and light-hearted again because he’d communicated to us dense-as-lead

humans in the only way he knew how that he simply had to be allowed to say goodbye to his dearest mama and send her off with all his love, via wet tracks on her sunken, dehydrated cheeks. His relief was palpable. I still thank those hospital administrators who had the compassion and forethought to allow companion animals to be present for both their terminally ill patients’ and their pets’ comfort and so-very-necessary closure.

Back to the present—who thought I’d be seeing someone I hadn’t seen in more than half my life and connecting over such a profound memory? We were at that moment closer than we’d probably ever been while in high school. I’m grateful to have made that connection again with a true friend. I stifled the urge to lick his face, however.

Recognizing a dog lover, Blanche planted herself at Don's feet.Recognizing a dog lover, Blanche planted herself at Don’s feet.


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