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Published July 30, 2010, 08:25 AM

Gravesite visit helps grieving canine

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.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

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 walked. 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, who 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.


Dear Dr. Fox: Which causes the least trauma – a no-kill kennel for an inadaptable cat that hates kennels or a big barn in Virginia for a cat that likes people?

After my dad passed away, I found a home for his cat, but it turns out he doesn’t do well with other cats. My landlord let me keep him this past year as I searched for a new companion with no luck. I’m shipping out in a month, and I can’t keep the cat.

How can I do right by this creature who was such a comfort to my dad? I know this isn’t your usual type of question, but I hope you’ll have some advice. – M.G., San Francisco, Calif.

Dear M.G.: Many good souls like you who are taking care of relatives’ pets after they have died, been hospitalized, or placed in a nursing home that allows no pets are often in a serious predicament. There are shelters for such animals, but they can be far from ideal for cats and dogs who do not adapt to group living or worse – life in a solitary cage. The farm-barn situation can work out well for cats, provided those who are attached to humans get some human contact on a regular basis.

Your local animal shelter/humane society should have some leads for you, including names of people who offer temporary in-home living as a halfway house or foster home prior to adoption.

It is always wise to make some provisions in one’s will when companion animals might outlive their owners.


Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.

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