Why people cry more for their dog than their husband or wife

Richard Coles writing for The Sunday Times has made a very wise observation about the pain felt by the owner of a dog or cat on their passing. A lot of people realise that they cried more on the death of their dog or cat than on the death of a close relative or a husband or wife.

Richard Coles. Image: MikeB based on an image in the public domain as assessed.

It applies to me. Although emotional at the passing of my mother and father I did not cry. It was sort of business as usual. When my darling female cat died in 1994, I cried and I still well up when I think of her death, almost 30 years later.

Why? I’ll quote Coles verbatim if I may:

When I was a vicar, I sometimes heard the bereaved say they cried more for their dog than their husband. I think I understand why. A dog’s life is lived entirely within the scope of your own. When it dies its absence can be experienced in its totality. People aren’t like that: human lives extend beyond the horizon of another’s knowledge….

Richard Coles

I get that. The lives of our cats and dogs are lived through us in our world. We create their world entirely. We build their environment if they are indoor cats. Even when cats are allowed outside unsupervised and temporarily become a wild cat again, they come home with eagerness and love born out of a close connection with their caregiver; their surrogate mother.

And for the dog, the caregiver is the pack leader; their guide and carer. As their world is wholly part of our lives when they go for ever, we lose a part of our world – a part of us – and it hurts; sometimes a hell of a lot.

Coles was taking his elderly dachshund, Daisy, to the vet for teeth cleaning. He understood the risk of the general anesthetic needed to carry out the procedure. As he left his dog at the clinic, his vet said, “Keep you phone on” in preparation for a possible distressing call that signalled the death of his canine companion.

As he drove home, he absent mindedly looked over his shoulder to the back seat to check on his dachshund forgetting that she was at the vet. He was ‘suddenly overwhelmed and burst into tears’. He felt the deep connection that he had with her and what it would be like to be without her.

Perhaps the most difficult decision a person makes is when to euthanize their terminally ill cat or dog. It is a drawn-out hell as you chew over the conundrum. In the end it comes down to doing what is right for the animal. Too many people drag it out because they don’t want to say goodbye.

P.S. The are other reasons why we might cry more at the passing of our dog: we might and often do love them more than we love people.

Coles’ article is entitled: ‘I trembled at the thought of a dachshund-shaped hole in my life’.


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