Do animals grieve?



This is Abba, my youngest Yorkie.  He was named after the musical group, ABBA, and when people tell me he is too petite and cute to be a male dog, I tell them he is ‘my dancing queen’ 🙂

Abba has always been part of a pack of dogs.  When Abba came into our home, I had 2 other Yorkies – Mick Jagger and Stevie Nicks.  Mick was the first, the oldest, and the alpha male.  Stevie was a female, a few years younger.  I had not planned on adding any more dogs to my household.  We were pretty content as 2 dogs and 1 human.  But a school teacher neighbor, who had adopted Abba as a young puppy, could not keep him.  So, Abba who was 7 years younger than my youngest Stevie, was added to the pack.

Mick and Stevie died a few months ago.  All 3 of my dogs became ill with a severe gastroenteritis. I suspect they became ill from a huge pokeweed plant in my neighbor’s yard that was continually dropping toxic berries into my yard.  I asked her for months to eradicate the plant and it took notification to Huntsville community development and subsequent threats of fines before she finally had the weeds removed.  But that is a story for another time.

Abba recovered but Mick and Stevie, who were much older, developed acute renal failure.  Mick was 13 and had multiple medical complications – including chronic liver disease and diabetes.  Stevie was only 2 years younger but also had her share of infirmities of the aged.  Despite keeping both Mick and Stevie on IV fluids at home for almost 10 days, they both succumbed to the complications of their illness.  I had Stevie euthanized and less than 24 hours later, Mick died in my arms.

It was a traumatic time for both me and Abba.  We are still finding our way through our grief.

The first photo is Abba standing on the outside looking in the pet door.  You see, he’s waiting for Mick to come through the pet door.  I have a studio located behind my home and I spent most of my time there in the evenings.  Stevie was always content to stay in the house, in her bed, sleeping.  But Mick and Abba always scrambled to join me as I would walk out the back door, no matter how late it might be.  Mick, being the oldest, was frequently the last through the pet door and Abba would always wait for him to come out.

Abba still waits for Mick to come out, even now, months later.  Breaks. my. heart. Everytime.

But that’s also a different story.  The story I want to tell is the one behind the other 3 photos of rawhide bones in a variety of locations in my home.  Mick was always the ‘king’ of the rawhide bones.  Whenever I brought new bones home, he would chase Stevie and Abba away from them.  The only way Stevie would be able to chew on them is if I locked her in a room by herself, where Mick couldn’t get to her.  Abba?   He never even tried to chew on a bone. He was too afraid that Mick would come charging, growling and mock-biting at him.  So, he left them alone.

But a few months ago, Abba started a strange pattern of behavior.  He would go to the dog toy boxes (of which I have 4!) and dig through the stuffed animals until he came upon one of the old rawhide bones.  Then, he would bring it to wherever I was and let me see that he had it in his mouth.  I would play with him, like I would with Mick, threatening to come and get the bone.  Abba would run off with his prize.  Then I started seeing the bones in any area of my house where there was a corner.  It could be a corner with 2 walls or it could be a corner between books or a corner between furniture and a wall.  Regardless, I started finding these old rawhide bones all over my house.  So, I started surreptitiously watching Abba.  I saw him retrieve old bones from the toy boxes and take them to a chosen corner.  He would stuff the bone into the corner with his nose, then brush over the ground with his paws.  For all the world, it looked like he was ‘burying’ the bone.  After he finished, he would walk away as tho he had completed his task.

A friend asked me if Abba had ‘buried’ his bones when Mick and Stevie were here.  She thought maybe Abba was trying to hide his bones since he was afraid of getting caught with them when Mick was around.  When I thought about it, I realized that no, Abba had never exhibited this behavior before Mick and Stevie had died.

So, in reflecting on this strange behavior that started AFTER we had lost most of our fur-family, I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, what Abba was doing was putting rawhide bones in places where Mick and Stevie, if they were still around, would be able to easily find them.  I’m sure these old rawhide bones carry Mick and Stevie’s scent.  Abba doesn’t understand why they are not around but surely he misses them.  I think my last little Yorkie is leaving gifts for the family that is gone.

I don’t know but that’s the explanation that I want to believe.

Is that so different from us?  We visit the graves of our loved ones that have gone.  We leave flowers.  We reminisce over times when they were part of our lives.  We grieve.

I think my little Abba is doing the same.

About Diana Davidson

Physician, traveler, photographer, tennis player, reader, teacher, student


  1. Emily Saile says


  2. Barbara Montgomery says

    I believe that too…I miss your tales of the fur-babies…I’m so happy you shared this, Diana..
    I’m so sorry for your loss…

  3. My heart breaks for you both every time I think of your loss. Thank you so much for sharing & opening up about this traumatic experience. We always keep you in our thoughts & prayers.

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