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Companion dog likely sensed his beloved owner would die

DEAR DR. FOX: A stray dog we called Rags came out of nowhere to our home. After posting signs all over the neighborhood — with no response — we took him in. He bonded to my older brother, who was in the final year of a three-year fight with leukemia.

Rags took to him as if they were meant for each other.

He followed my brother everywhere he could and slept by his side. When my brother was hospitalized, Rags chose to spend most of his time outdoors. Around the time my brother went into a coma at the hospital, Rags started howling, something he NEVER did. We could not coax him into the house, and when we returned from the hospital after my brother had died, Rags was never seen again, even though we posted signs everywhere. I've always felt he came out of nowhere to be my brother's keeper in his last year, and somehow left with him that day. — K.M., Stratford, Conn.

DEAR K.M: Rags is one of those companion animals who clearly evidenced such a deep emotional connection with his beloved human companion that he knew when your brother was actually passing on. I have linked this phenomenon with what I term the "empathosphere," a realm of awareness that transcends space through a remote sensing ability that humans also possess and on occasion experience. For details, check my Web site (www.twobitdog.com/DrFox/) and my books "Dog Body, Dog Mind" and "Cat Body, Cat Mind," where I review several cases such as your wonderful Rags. Also check out "The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion: How Feelings Link the Brain, the Body, and the Sixth Sense" (Park Street Press, 2009), a remarkable new book by Michael A. Jawer and Marc S. Micozzi.

I would appreciate hearing from other readers who have witnessed similar behavior in their animal companions when a loved one — human or other animal — was in dire straits or had just died. Photos of such animals are also appreciated.

DEAR DR. FOX: This is not exactly your area of expertise, but I am hoping you can help. I am a widow living in a condo that does not allow pets. I am lonely and depressed, having lost both of my children to cancer and my husband to Alzheimer's.

Someone told me that if a doctor writes a letter to the condo board stating that owning a pet can help his patient, the law says it is legal. I would love to acquire a small dog. Do you know if this is possible? — H.H., Lake Worth, Fla.

DEAR H.H.: I sympathize with your situation and your loss of loved ones. If you are physically active and able to get out and about for the next several years, a dog could be a good prescription for loneliness. Adopting an older, house-trained dog would be easier than housebreaking a puppy and dealing with teething, training, etc.

Alternatively, a cat could be ideal, and I would opt for two littermates. They would need less care in terms of house-training and being walked (dogs should be walked at least three times a day), since they will instinctively use a litter box for their evacuative needs.

Have your doctor write an advisory note (like a prescription) for an animal companion to help relieve your loneliness and depression (as documented in scores of scientific and medical reports and books). Present this to your condo board. Cats don't bark, so they may prefer you don't get a dog.

If that fails, hook up with a local pet-sitting agency. There's a great need for in-home pet sitters, and active retirees who have had experience caring for animals should sign up.