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Death in the Pack
How does it change the dynamics?
Renzo (left) just isn't the same since Lulu (right) died in August.

I spent this morning at my veterinarian’s office with my dog Renzo, as the result of an early morning counter-surf operation. Returning home from meeting a friend for coffee, I found in his bed: one coffee mug (the broken handle and the dregs of the coffee were on the kitchen floor), a decimated spatula, a tattered New York Times, a torn-up milk jug (which had been drying out before going into the recycling bin) and a Raisin Bran box and pristine plastic liner. After a call to the vet, we headed straight in to deal with potential raisin toxicity. Although the chances are good that the amount of raisins Renzo ate won’t cause serious problems, renal failure is not something I want to risk.

I’ll be bringing him home in a few hours, but that’s not the end of our challenges. This counter surfing is a new thing. It started a couple months ago, a week or two after our 13-year-old Husky-mix Lulu died. Since her departure, Renzo has been clingier when we’re home, anxious when we make moves to leave and, in more and more frequent cases, he’s gone on these little blitzkriegs when left alone. We might go a couple days with no problems, but then it will happen again.

He’s getting plenty of exercise and we’ve been working on new skills, so I don’t think that’s the problem. I work at home, so he’s not alone and/or inactive for long periods, so I don’t think he’s acting out of boredom.

I think it’s a reaction to Lulu being gone. He was bigger, stronger and younger, but he deferred to her in most everything—from hopping on the bed to waiting for his dinner or treats. I often noticed him following her lead when we were out walking. She discovered the cool thing to sniff, and he always had to check it out as well. In the few instances she would go somewhere without him, he was always upset until she returned. Of course, now she’ll never return.

I don’t have any answers just yet. That’s why I’m writing this. I’m wondering if any of you readers have experienced shifts like this in your pack when one of two or more dogs dies. If so, did the surviving dog or dogs adjust to the new role? How did you help the process along? I’d appreciate any observations or advice.

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom. lisawogan.com

Photo by Chris Chang.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Littleblackshark | November 16 2011 |

When my 12yo Aussie girl passed, my corgi was devastated. His personality changed, he became very anxious and a year and a half later we're still working on it. They were very close.

Submitted by Bev | November 17 2011 |

My female Rottweiler and dominant female, Storm, was inconsolable and moped day/night after the loss of our male Rottie, Bear -- her lifelong companion. She even began to howl mournfully several times a day, as if to be calling him back from some unknown, faraway location. My heart was shattered at the loss of Bear, as he was my first dog and truly my best friend. I simply was not ready to replace him and give my heart to a new dog. Nevertheless, the opportunity arose within two weeks to foster a 6 year old Rottie/hound male who had been in rescue and boarding far too long. My heart protested, but I loved Storm so much that I wanted HER to be happier than I was. The foster was submissive to her immediately, not to mention he was clearly and profoundly grateful to be in a comfortable home. Storm's personality changed within two days...she was happily bossing him around and relishing the presence of her new sibling. Needless to say, the "foster" became an official and permanently adopted member of the pack within several weeks. I couldn't ignore that I was falling for him quickly too - especially so soon after Bear's passing. Now, three years later, Storm is approaching 13 years of age, and "Marley" our sweet, precious adopted boy, brings us happiness each and every day. I thank God for him. If I had waited until "I" was ready and healed from Bear's loss, we all would have missed out on so-much-happiness!

Submitted by J.L. | November 16 2011 |

When my dog Stinky died after a surgery to fix an intestinal obstruction, I brought my other dog with me to the vet when I saw her body. Goofy walked up to her cold body, which was covered with a blanket with just her head sticking out. He took one sniff, his eyes grew very wide, his tail went down and he backed away. For days he would stare at her dog bed because I didn't have the heart to move it. It was only after we got a new puppy to cheer him up is when he stopped mourning Stinky.

Submitted by Allison | November 16 2011 |

About 1 month before our 3y/o German Shepherd died of Lymphoma earlier this year, our Lab started having Focal Seizures(a very minor seizure where they "Fly Bite") and had one or two a month which was no big deal. The about 1 hour before Petey passed away, Ozzy's seizures came back with a vengeance, worse than ever and no medication seemed to help. They continued almost constantly for 2 weeks until we caved and rescued a 6month Aussie mix, where the seizures stopped the night we brought her home. Stress can certainly do funny things to dogs!

Submitted by Christi | November 16 2011 |

My Scottie, Ceilidh, stopped eating and turned mopey and depressed when her best friend, my Saint Bernard Sammy, died. I couldn't console her. This went on for weeks. The only thing that I could think of was to get her a new friend. I adopted a lab/border collie puppy, Avery. He managed to do what no human could do, which was make Ceilidh happy again. As it turned out, Avery made me very happy as well...

Submitted by Chris | November 16 2011 |

Our pack went from 3 to 1 in less than 12 hours - it was the worst day of our lives. We had 2 15yr old smaller mixes and a 4yr old Rhodesian Ridgeback mix. They were the leaders and our youngest followed. His anxiety level increased exponentially after they passed. Whining, pacing, and insecurity dominated his behavior. No matter what we did, it only got better once we brought home a new rescue: a younger sister who was confident and playful. Though it took us a few months to feel ready, it was obvious once she arrived that he had needed her more than we did. She has helped bring the family back together.

Submitted by Therese | November 16 2011 |

Hi Lisa,
So sorry to hear of Renzo's distress - I do agree with you that he is grieving the loss of his life companion :(
You don't mention how old Renzo is,how old he was when he came to live with you, nor how long you have had him. I feel all these things have a bearing on his reaction to Lulu's demise. I had a similar experience, but without the destruction. Simba was 11yrs old when his BFF, Lady, went to Rainbow Bridge, and had lived with us for 10.5yrs. Like Renzo, he deferred to Lady in all things. Nothing I did could comfort him even though I, too, was at home with him all day and he came everywhere with me; he lost the mischievous sparkle in his eyes, never to return again; it was heartbreaking to watch him grieve. After 4 months I got Shelley, aged 8 weeks, but he never really took to her. While not aggressive to her, I think he just tolerated her, and although he lived for a further 5 years his personality changed.
The reason I ask about Renzo's age is that Lady was 7 months old when my older dog passed - she was depressed for about 3 weeks and was then fine; Simba was 11yrs old and never quite got over losing Lady; Shelley was 4.5yrs when Simba passed and never really missed him! Apart from the ages at which loss occured, the major difference was that Simba was a rescue I found one night when he was about 5 months old whereas I had all my other dogs from 6-8 weeks.
Does this info help or is it relevant to Renzo's situation? Will getting another dog enable him to adjust? - only you can say but whatever the answer is, and whatever you decide to do, you have my heartfelt good wishes for a successful outcome. I would be very interested in hearing how things pan out for Renzo in the next few weeks/months. He's a very handsome dog :)

Submitted by Lor | November 16 2011 |

When I lost my 15 1/2 year old collie-lab to a twisted stomach Oct. 26th, my 5 1/2 year old pit mix was devastated. Crying and jumping all over me when I came home without her. I had to run back out shortly after -- poor timing for a mid-term. My neighbors came over and comforted him; they said he was not himself at all: freaked out and nervous, howling... awful. They took a picture of him that day: a portrait of absolute canine grief. He's getting better, and having a foster sister certainly helps, but there are still moments when he needs that extra hug.

Submitted by Laura P. | November 16 2011 |

When my dog Charlie died of Lupus, my dog Cocoa reacted almost immediately. When he didn't come home from the vet that night she couldn't stop pacing the house. They had never spent a day apart in 9 years until then. Cocoa had been the healthiest dog we had ever had. She never got sick nor needed any kind of medicine until the day after Charlie die. My mother let her out in the back yard and out of nowhere she had a seizure. We didn't understand why such a healthy dog was now having a seizure. We soon realized it was because she was experiencing the loss of her best friend, Charlie. The vet explained to us that this may or may not happen again. When a storm came soon after she had another seizure. She had always been afraid of storms but this was different. Before Charlie had passed, he was Cocoa's comforter and protector. Whenever a storm would hit she would lay by his side and he would ease her stress. Since then the vet put Cocoa on Phenobarbital, a sedative that helps prevent the seizures and calms her. Also, we make sure that we give her extra medicine and stay by her side if we know a storm is coming.
I work at a vet’s office and we often see dogs coming in that are coping with the loss of a companion, be it human or animal. Dogs often feel the loss of a loved one just as humans do. They are a social animal. They just express it differently. Sometimes it is physical and sometimes it behavioral. It takes time to transition. I think it is great that you are keeping him busy and spending plenty of time at home with him. I think that dogs can get lonely too. Also, something else to keep in mind is that there are anti-anxiety drugs, like Elavil, that help a lot of dogs deal with anxiety. I am sure your vet would also have some helpful suggestions if you are looking into medication.
I apologize for being long winded. I hope this helps.

Submitted by Carmen | November 17 2011 |

I had to put Jenna one of my dogs down in June. It happened so quick there was an accident. Drea has not been the same since. They were together since she was a year old. She cry's when I leave the house everyday. A friend suggested doggie daycare, looking into it now. I hope this works.

Submitted by Becky | November 17 2011 |

I'm very sorry for your loss. This summer our Mastiff rescue passed away suddenly at home. Our Lab was there when it happened and he took it very hard. Although he had been with us longer, he was always the follower, never the leader. His depression only seemed to worsen. He became very clingy and started to exhibit separation anxiety. We ended up getting two mastiff puppies!! Even though they are only 7 months, they are already bigger than him and love him immensely. They are a pack now and do everything together.

Submitted by Carolyn | November 17 2011 |

I don't have any experience in this area ... but I did want to say how sorry I am for your loss, and how much I enjoyed seeing them in your photo.

Submitted by Anonymous | December 22 2011 |

Last Christmas two of our dogs had to be put down within two months. Trouble, my husky mix was 14 and Rosie our corgi mix was 12. Trouble was my best friend and I was crushed. That left Bogie our 10 year old terrier. Bogie lost his two best friends and he was mourning. He slept a lot, had no energy, looked sad and just wasn't right. We deccided to get a puppy to take his mind off of his loss. For two months, no matter how hard the puppy tried, Bogie would not play with her. One day he decided to give it a try and has been playing with her ever since.
It just took time with Bogie, like us he just needed some time to heal and eventually it hurt a little less.

(Lulu looks so much like my Trouble.)

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