I’ve written about the overwhelming feelings of grief we sometimes experience when a beloved pet dies. It’s understandable considering they can be closer to us than many members of our family! But what about the loss animals feel after the death of a fellow pet or human being?
This is often a real concern with owners after I put down one of a multiple pet household, or if a human caregiver close to the pet has passed away. In animals I’ve seen the stress of a loss manifest in the form of depression, anorexia, and even serious illness days to months after the event.
I’m writing this blog post to create awareness of this phenomenon and to warn owners that pets show signs of grieving similar to humans, but mainly to tell a story that hit close to home here in my little Irish village.
The village on the river where we live is the home to Husband and his ancestors going back seven generations. In Father-in-law’s younger days (or Farmer-in-law as referenced in previous posts), the village was a bustling little road near our local pub that’s been running for over 200 years. Most families had well over five children under one roof, so it was called a “village” for a reason. Now it’s more of a quiet road with a pub at the end of it, many of the houses have become vacant, and only a handful of kids live nearby, rarely playing along the river or in their yards. The one thing, however, that still thrives are a few bedraggled stray cats.
Farmer-in-law grew up with the hoard of local children who’ve long since moved away, but one that remained went by the name of Padraic. A red-headed rogue of a boy, he never worked a day in his life, but remained and lived alone in his family’s home in the village. He could be seen every day walking the road and having a friendly chat with locals and visitors to the pub. Red hair faded to white, never clean-shaven, and missing the odd tooth, he was a character to say the least.
Though Padraic was very much a loner, he took it upon himself to feed the stray village cats that found their way to his back door—one of the few responsibilities he imposed upon himself, but took very seriously.
He was aged 62 when he was found dead lying on the ground outside his house a few weeks ago. Farmer-in-law and Husband were shocked at the abrupt and sudden nature of his death. We all suspected a heart attack, and were saddened that he’d been alone.
When Padraic was found, though, he was most certainly not alone. Not one, but three cats vigilantly flanked him; two on either side of his body, and one perched dutifully on top of his chest. They were chased away, but crept back to their posts and resolutely remained until the authorities came to remove the body.
How long had they been with Padraic after he died? We don’t know. But he wasn’t absolutely alone in the end.
We think of our pets as company for ourselves, but we don’t usually consider what we are to them. Yes, we are food dispensers and poop scoopers, but I think they derive a very real sense of camaraderie from us as well. And Padraic’s three cats convey this poignant point perfectly.