Dear Dr. Fox • You asked about dogs knowing their owners have died. This is my story.
My husband had a bad stroke, and the determination was made to let him go. So, he went to hospice in a hospital near our home.
Our dog, Reppi, a poodle Havanese mix, was allowed to come to hospice with me each day. Reppi would lie at the bottom of the bed. When my husband — who seemed to be in an unreachable place, mentally — would put his hand out, the dog would come and lie either between his legs or at his side, and my husband would pet him. Eventually, Reppi would return to the foot of the bed and remain there.
Nurses and aides would come and go, but Reppi knew which ones were kind and tender and which ones weren’t. The kind ones were allowed to care for my husband — anything from turning his position in bed, changing the IV fluids, changing his pajamas — but with others, he would growl and sit up on guard the minute they opened the door. Then I would have to remove him from the room so the work could be done.
After 11 days of this, my husband stopped breathing. He was gone. The dog, after the last breath, got off the bed, went to the door and sat, waiting for me to take him home. He knew. Neither he nor I have been the same since, which has been three years minus one week.
The other night I decided to brush Reppi, which hadn’t been done since my husband had his stroke. It had been an evening routine: My husband would sit at a certain spot on the couch with a treat in his pocket, put a towel over his legs, and brush the dog. Reppi would jump off after being brushed, always in the same way, and wait impatiently for the treat. I decided to try the same thing: I put the towel over my legs, sitting in the same spot with the treat in same pocket, and held the brush. Without missing a beat, Reppi jumped on my lap, tolerated the brushing, jumped down and went to the same pocket, waiting for the treat to appear. This was three years later.
They know and remember. — L.A., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
DEAR L.A. •
Dogs can be good judges of human character and intentions, and can indeed help those in a semi-coma state reach out and connect. All hospices should allow companion animals to visit, as should hospitals — especially for children — because of the healing power of love that dogs, in particular, can provide.
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