How the Hen House Turns: For Scooter—Dealing With Loss

How the Hen House Turns:
For Scooter—Dealing With Loss

Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

Dogs seem to vary widely in their ability to create understanding from new evidence. When Turkey died, Scooter didn’t get it, but DeeDee did.

So it was not surprising that Scooter did not understand where DeeDee had gone when she died. Even the familiar body, so inert, did not trigger her curiosity, much less grief. After that day, Scooter wandered here and there looking for DeeDee. Obviously, she missed her life-long companion. We felt it was important to keep to the same familiar routine, but she couldn’t get to sleep. She couldn’t even eat alone.

We adopted both dogs at the summer 2000 multi-shelter sale in front of Safeway. They were three months old, had recognized each other in the shelter after being lost for a week. They have been taking care of each other ever since. No wonder Scooter feels lost now that DeeDee is gone.

I couldn’t replace her litter-mate, but I tried to look for ways to ease her sense of loss. Scooter was able to go to sleep the first night, but not until I lay down with her for a while. The next morning she didn’t understand that she could eat, until I sat beside her, where DeeDee would be. I handed her the dog food DeeDee had often stolen from her dish, more often as her health failed.

As DeeDee backed off from her duties, Scooter started to take the lead in patrolling the back yard when the birds were out of the Hen House pen for the day. After DeeDee died, I thought Scooter would be fine on her own. She seems to be enjoying the added attention; she has the after-dinner pan to herself, and the cushiest part of the dog bed.

Three weeks after her sister’s demise, she now goes to bed when she is tired. The pacing into each room has stopped and so has the whining at night, until last night. Healing takes time and keeping to the daily Hen House schedule helps. Scooter doesn’t retire to the back porch when she’s supposed to be bird-sitting. She patrols the backyard, keeps the birds in sight, and stands proudly when I tell her, “Good watch.”

Not all of our routine is the same. At breakfast, Scooter shares a goose egg with me. (It’s great scrambled with kale and a little salt and pepper.) Also, Scooter is now allowed to enjoy the living room fire until bed time. I try to imitate DeDee’s care by checking her eyes and ears with a gentle hand. She seems to like my poor attempts at imitation, but maybe that’s just my need, to think I can help. At least it helps me.

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