Chester, an eight-year-old golden retriever, was famous for jumping the fence about once a week to “go shopping” in his neighbor’s garages and yards. He always returned home within an hour or two with a present for his owner Adam. Chester became known as the “over-retriever.” Within a year’s time in their new neighborhood, Adam was gifted with an assortment of children’s toys, miscellaneous tools, plastic pots with dirt and flowers included, and a variety of bedding and clothing left to dry on clotheslines (he especially loved socks.) Chester once brought home a frozen prime rib roast and a shiny red motorcycle helmet. Adam consequently went on weekly walks around the neighborhood with good effort to return the gifts. He made the best of friends because of Chester’s shopping addiction.

When Adam’s doctor told him he had pancreatic cancer that would most likely take his life within six months, Chester’s behavior changed. He wouldn’t leave his yard unless Adam was with him. He started a new behavior of howling when Adam was sad or uncomfortable. When Adam was nearly bedbound, Chester wouldn’t leave his side. His food and water dishes were brought into Adam’s bedroom. The neighborhood stepped in when Adam became sick. They all took turns coming over to clean, cook, offer company or to take Chester outside for a walks or to do “his business.” In the last days of Adam’s life, Chester growled at anyone who tried to take him outside.

I have seen this before with dogs, human companions do the same thing. On many occasions, I’ve also seen cats hold similar bedside vigils at the end of human life.

Do you think pets understand the dying process? Can they feel empathy for pain and suffering? Do our pets develop emotional attachments as deeply as humans do? Do they grieve the loss of their humans?

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