Dogs do not overthink the concept of death as much as we do. They know what death is, and they probably know when someone or something is dying. They probably also know when they are dying. This was certainly the case with my dog Ozzie, who passed away two weeks ago. He was living with an autoimmune disease, a disease that did not have a cure and one that often ends up being fatal. About a month and a half ago his behaviour changed completely, and I and the vet assumed it was a flare-up from his autoimmune disease. He was given cortisone and a couple of injections, which eventually got him eating again. Though his behaviour did not return to normal. Little did I know at the time, at this stage, that he was going through something that is called the last bloom.
The last bloom is a stage just before someone dies, it seems like they are recovering and getting better. And as last blooms go, it did not last long and he was back to being very sick. He would push his head into my neck and just stand there. I knew he was not going to get any better and that this was it. Unfortunately, convincing the vets was not easy; it took numerous tests and scans to confirm that there is no liver function. After all this, I could finally put him to rest.
I’ve held many many dogs while they were being euthanised because of the work I’ve done previously. It is difficult every time, but I have learned a lot from those dogs. There are signs that they are not living their best lives anymore. They do exhibit behaviours that we interpret as them saying goodbye. They interact with us, in a way, as if asking to make this illness or pain disappear. And their animal friends? They also know, so it’s useful to observe their behaviour as well. In my case, the other dogs left him alone. They did not initiate play with him as they usually would and when he approached a narrow space, they would give him the right of way. They gave him a lot of space, and for Zeke, my Retriever x GSD, giving other dogs or people space is a bit of a miracle.
When you walk a path with a sickly dog you start grieving for them before they cross the rainbow bridge and once they go, you do feel relief. Feeling relief is normal, and nothing to feel bad about. I still think I see him sometimes in my peripheral, and I’m still a bit surprised when I get home and no yoghurt or peanut butter tubs have been stolen. I have been paying close attention to my other dogs to see how they are coping with him being gone. But they’ve seen his illness and they saw him detach from them, and from me before he died. They knew he was leaving soon, one way or another. They were very quiet for about a week, and then they started to bounce back to their normal selves.
For many dogs, losing a group member can have a very big effect on them emotionally. Some dogs do need help and support to get through their grief. Give them the time to grieve but also feel free to contact a professional to help them and yourself through the loss of a furry family member.