19 Nov What do dogs know and when do they know It?
“Why is she barking?” I asked my husband, never clear about what our extremely docile Tibetan Terrier knew about us or anything else. Why had she suddenly started to bark? Moments later, there was a rumble, and I realized we were having another Los Angeles earthquake. Obviously the dog got some kind of instant message before it started.
There seemed to be no way to know what went on in her mind or even what she noticed. But on one occasion, she was stretched out on my bed while I was talking on the phone. Preparing to hang up, I said, “Okay, then.” At that moment, Z.C., who sprang up and jumped off the bed. I realized then that even if I didn’t know how I ended every phone call, she did. My tone must have changed also, cuing her that I would soon be heading into another room.
During her last days, she was in New York’s Animal Medical Center. My husband and I were aware she was critically ill. But did she? Those who study animal behavior believe that animals understand the concept of death. Whales won’t leave their dead babies behind and elephants grieve when they lose a herd member. It’s less clear if animals understand that they themselves die. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian who specializes in end-of-life-care, reports having seen a dying pet’s animal friends behave as if they had some comprehension of the situation. She tells of placing an intravenous catheter into a family dog in order to give the final injection of euthanasia solution and having the family’s cat then approach the dog, lie down and place a paw on the dog’s leg as if to be comforting.
It’s likely we’ll never know if are aware they will die. All we can do is give them love and meet their needs while they’re with us. When they die, which is when we need them most, we’re left to lick our own wounds. I hope the pet urns I design help grieving owners. They can be seen on my website, www.personalized-urns.com.