Carolyn L. Higgins – Contributing Writer

Pain related to loss of a loved one is usually attributed to people. Yet, the loss of a family member can be painful and confusing to animals. When Millie Griffin shared her story about the death of her husband, Earl, she learned that Katie the family dog should have been allowed to visit Earl during his last days to ease her suffering and bereavement. Although animals had surrounded her when her children were young and had become “family” members, Griffin had never heard this before and began to research. She sought ways to help her dog Katie and pet owners who might be going through the same thing.

 When Millie’s children were young, they had numerous pets, including dogs, cats, guinea pigs, horses, ferrets, goats, mice, rabbits, parakeets, parrots, and fish. 

“If they saw it at the pet store, they wanted one,” said Griffin. “It was a lot of work for them to have the joy of being pet owners, but I never wanted them to say they were not allowed to have the pets they wanted as children.”

Griffin thinks back on those times with smiles that are easier these days as she relishes fond thoughts of the children and her late husband. The household became quite a menagerie. She never knew what the animals would do, when a cage would be left open for its residents to scurry away, or when the parrot would scream at the top of his voice. It was common to feel nibbles underfoot or to hear a big splash as some mischievous pet dove into the toilet. Whatever their oddities, however, they were always like family.

Griffin’s youngest daughter was just a toddler when she discovered the new born baby mice. Spotting the little pink northern-bean looking babies in the tank, she asked her Granny where the rat got “them” babies. Finding the best way out, Granny gave her toddler-adjusted answer.

“Well honey, God made those babies. God makes everything and everybody.”

Pets are often needed to make a family complete. Often adults transition to busy lives when their children leave home and find it becomes difficult to care for and manage a pet. Sometimes they are unable to identify the loss that is there.

“As my husband and I grew older and his health became worse, I started thinking more about getting a dog,” said Griffin. “With a big nudge from my daughter and son-in-law, I agreed to take one of their dog’s pups. What a blessing Katie turned out to be! We brought Katie home when she was eight weeks old, and she is truly loved.”

Katie was eight months old when Griffin’s husband Earl died. She was so devastated by her loss that she didn’t realize Katie was hurting, too.   

“She looked everywhere for him,” said Griffin. “She would go to all areas in the house where he would usually be, sniffing and looking. She wasn’t eating well, and would look at me and whine. I took her to our vet and asked, ‘How do you make a dog understand death and that the person she loved did not abandon her?’ He told me that a pet mourns just like people do, and it would take time for her to accept him being gone. He said, ‘If you had taken her to the funeral home and let her see him, and smell him, she would have known that he had died and would not be mourning his leaving. Dogs were wild animals, and wild animals know the smell of death.’”

When Griffin called the funeral home from her bookstore to confirm this information, a couple from Michigan approached the counter to share their experience. One of their dogs became ill and had to be put to sleep. The dogs had been inseparable, so they were concerned about the effect it would have on the survivor. They recounted to Griffin how the veterinarian (vet) had instructed them to put the deceased pet and the surviving one together in a pet carrier. After about an hour, the vet had the skeptical couple to come back for the sister dog. When they took her home, she no longer displayed grief for her friend.

Franklin resident Judy Jamison can relate to Griffin’s loss and would want to do whatever is necessary to ease her dog’s pain. 

“Tess has been with me six or seven years, but she would go with my nephew, Bob and his wife, Sharon,” said Jamison. “I would want them to take her around me [until my last days] and then take her home, because she knows they love her.”

Patricia Kendrick and her pet, D.O.G. (Deeogee), are very close. “I want someone to put her in the casket,” said Kendrick. “Just let her enjoy the last minutes at the wake and the funeral. Let her know other people love her, too and she’ll be around those people.”

Experts share that animals do grieve and mourn for their kindred animal and human friends. Vets have shown that dogs process things emotionally and intuitively and experience a profound sense of loss. Griffin noticed Katie had experienced some of the following symptoms: loss of appetite, lethargy and depression, accidents in the house, separation anxiety, whimpering and howling. [ Retrieved 08/27/18]

It is also recommended to take the dog to a vet to be sure the problem is not related to a physical illness.  

Debby Ellis lives in Franklin but spent 15 years as a veterinarian assistant for Dr. Stone in San Pedro, Calif., and others. 

“I can remember times in Beverly Hills where the clients who boarded animals sent them postcards and telephoned them,” said Ellis. 

As a teenager, when her dad’s friend was sick in the hospital, she would sneak in his little Chihuahua, “Peanut.” She knew it made them both feel better. She believes it gives the elderly a reason to get up in the morning and take care of themselves and the pet that may be their only companion.

“I honestly believe it helps the animal if they take it to funeral home. They know the person has died, and they don’t wonder ‘where did they go?’ when the ambulance takes them away. My pet is not just a pet – they all feel. Funerals are not for the dead; they are for the living. You go to say your goodbyes. Well, what about the animals because they, too, are part of the family?”