On the extreme southeast corner of the Caribbean island of
Aruba, there is a wind-swept patch of grass and vine covered sand dunes,
about an acre in size, known simply as The Animal Cemetery. It is here on
this beautiful little plot of oceanside beach that loving pet owners who
live on this happy island come to lay to eternal rest their cherished pets.
Inscribed on the
hundreds of simple wooden crosses and grave markers are names like Ladre,
Touckey, Erica, Fiel, Dun Dun, and Argento; on many of these markers,
written in either Papiamento (the local language of the island of Aruba) or
Dutch, is a grieving ownerís last good-bye to their departed
friends. Tenderly placed at the base of most markers is a petís favorite toy
or simple bouquet of plastic flowers.
On one of the highest promontories within the ancient walls of Scotlandís
Edinburgh Castle, in a position of high honor, lie the remains, from over
the last five centuries, of British military unitís mascots, both dogs and
cats, who had distinguished themselves or had fallen in battle during their
nationís seemingly endless wars or military campaigns.
In a book of Greek literature on my library shelf is a poem written in 400
B.C. by an unknown author:
Stranger by the roadside, do not smile
When you see this grave, though it is only a dogís.
My master wept when I died, and his own hand
Laid me in earth and wrote these lines on my tomb.
In an old National Geographic (and Iím sorry I donít know which one; I had
torn out the
picture so I wouldnít lose it, but did so anyway) there was a photograph of
a ten thousand year
old dog burial sight located somewhere in southern Europe. Careful
excavation by archeologist
revealed that the dog had been tenderly placed into the ground with flowers,
food, and a few wooden objects, probably his or her favorite toys.
As the above four examples illustrate, the expression of grief at the loss
of oneís treasured
pet is as boundless and universal, in both time and space, as that of the
anguish suffered for the
loss of a fellow human being. Just from what Iíve seen regarding the
heartache of pet loss in my
veterinary practice alone would take me weeks to describe. This sense of
grief has always greatly
moved me and I often ponder the subject during moments of quiet reflection.
Books Iíve read on pet loss have one, or both, of the following explanations
intense feeling we experience when a pet dies. The first says, that in a
span of fifteen or so years
(barring any accidents), we watch our dog or cat grow from infancy to
adulthood to old age. And
then, it seems that at the moment we finally get to really know them,
theyíre taken away from us.
A second reason we feel such loss is that our petís love for us is absolute
and totally nonjudgmental;
they love us if weíre happy, and they love us if weíre miserable. Iíve often
said our pets have all of the qualities we all wish we could find in our
These are good reasons, but I think the answer is far, far, deeper. I personally feel that
because our cats or dogs canít communicate with us in precise words like our
fellow humans can,
we must then learn to Ďtalkí to them on a different, more intimate level.
Weíre forced to pay
closer attention to each other and be especially sensitive to the subtle
details: facial expressions,
body language, behaviors, etc. We almost have to be able to read each others
sounding too New Age-like, I think it is because of this deeper level of
communication, that we
grieve so when a beloved pet dies. For an all too short period of time, we
establish such a
powerful cosmic connection with one another, that when this bond is broken
by death, a large
part of us dies as well.
Copyright 2008 by Richard Orzeck, DVM.
information in this article is based upon the authorís personal
experiences, his opinions, and his best interpretation of the data at
the time of writing. It is not intended to render veterinary advice or
service. Specific needs and questions concerning your petís health
should always, always, always, be addressed by his or her best friend,
their local veterinarian.