Once upon a time, there lived an Akita named Hachikō, who waited for his owner, Professor Ueno, each day at the Shibuya Station in Tokyo, Japan. After the professor suffered a brain heamorrhage and died on the way home on May 21, 1925, Hachikō continued to go to the station each day at their usual time, seemingly awaiting his return — for almost ten years.
The dog’s loyalty earned him a place in Japanese culture, his image since memorialised in art, literature, the 2009 film “Hachi: A dog's tale” and via an annual ceremony held at Shibuya Railroad Station.
One could say Hachikō’s behaviour was merely ritual; others might recognise it as grief.
Many of us have witnessed animals at a loss when their human companions die, and sometimes it’s not pretty.
Ellie in mourning
Trudi Young Taylor shares that on the night her husband Rod died, his dog Ellie chewed up clothing, rolled around on the bed and defecated onto her pillow.
She describes Ellie as “part St. Bernard and something big.” At 90 pounds, Ellie was part of a pack that included a 70-pound male Doberman-Lab, a 50-pound female sheltie mix, 6’3” Rod, as well as Trudi, at a petite 5’6”.
“When Rod died, the pack had to reform and it was a scuffle. They fought and it was ugly. I tried to stay out of the way but the dogs kept ending up at the vet’s office,” she says.
It was determined that Ellie needed a strong alpha. Trudi describes the Doberman-Lab mix as “firmly attached to me. I had to keep separating them because of the damages done from their fights. It was too much. Ellie would lie on the back porch and howl for hours.”
Trudi ultimately found Ellie a home where she could run on the beach and live as an only dog. “When she was adopted by an attorney and his family, they called a few days later to say she wasn’t eating. I told them about her favourite foods and then they called to say she was fine, happy, eating. It broke my heart. Another loss.”
Any family who has experienced death can tell you that dynamics change when a member of any group is absent.
Trudi’s case is extreme, but it illustrates a human companion who made a huge sacrificed in order to make her dog and her pack’s life more humane, even while mourning her own losses.
Dealing with grief
The American Psychological Association assures us of human resilience, recommending the help of mental health professionals, if needed, to help deal with grief.
Inspired by this model, we can always seek help from dog psychologists, too. While we have no way of explaining the great mystery to our animals, there are many ways we can help them handle loss.