Chris Packham: Do dogs feel grief?

Me and My Dog presenter Chris Packham describes the pain he felt at losing his beloved dog Itchy - and how he knows that his other dog, Scratchy, shares his sense of loss.

Chris Packham on his dog

It's hard, clumsy, to be broken but still together; to be lost across a divide of species but sharing the same pitiless, punishing pain

Such fusions of emotion are so deeply bonding that in time we became a unit of three. We became dependant on the sharing of our lives. We shared food, the sofa, the bed. We shared laughter and tears, highs and lows; we built an indestructible trust and commitment that we knew would never break so long as we shared air.

My boys never failed me, never lied or hurt me, always met my expectations. I reciprocated in kind, with kindness unsurpassed and care unrivalled. My dedication to them was honest and complete.

I write in the past tense. It’s a pity there isn’t a ‘half past’ tense, because now we are two. Itchy is dead and Scratchy and I are finding a way to exist in a strange new dynamic.

It's been hard, clumsy, to be broken but still together, to be lost across a divide of species but to be obviously sharing the same pitiless and punishing pain, to have to dwell in all his dead spaces and live with his vacuum walking with us, curled by the fire , sat on the mat. To move through the woods with the sound of four fewer feet and kneel over an empty bowl, to refill the water after twice as long, to leave his lead on the hook in the hall.

I’ve worked with those who study animal cognition  - a small and disagreeably cautious faction of behaviourists who exist in fear of rebuke from their peers, terrified to pronounce on other species' emotion, empathy and sympathy, let alone ever publish their observations.

I’ll concede that theirs is a difficult science;  unrepeatable observation and analysis does not lend itself to the scrutiny of tested proof and intuition finds no favour in journals.

Yet while I don’t work in a lab, or even practice ethnology in the field, I know this: as much as mine, Scratchy’s heart was broken.

I see intensely, infinitesimally minute details rapidly observed and recorded and remembered, and I know him and his behaviours better than any other organism on this earth.

So I don’t just think he grieves the loss of his twin – I know it, as I know his depression and his confusion, and he knows mine.

And they can keep their scientific rigour and ridicule, because I am confident that over the millennia that we have shared our food, our beds and our parasites with dogs, millions of other people will have seen and known the same and, like me, found some comfort and security in the sharing of grief between our species.

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