A friend of mine posted this on Facebook recently and it struck a chord:
It is just so much more painful and emotionally draining for me to let go of a relationship with a dog over a human. I faced the fact a long time ago that I am wired differently. It simply does not bother me to end human relationships, yet the pain of losing an animal I have built a relationship with seems to stay raw.
While it does bother me to end human relationships, I, too, am more emotionally invested in my relationships to animals in general (a handful of humans being notable exceptions… you know who you are). I don’t know if the friend who stated this and I are both wired differently, or if we are just more aware of our relationships with animals because we both spend so much time with our own and other peoples’ animals. Changing companies necessitated that I end my relationship with dogs, some of whom I had known since they were puppies, others I had been with for years. Not only had I grown to love them dearly, but I had been through events, sicknesses, life, and aging: *stuff* with them that builds a trust and comfort level one strives for in a marriage… when their mere energy in your daily life is part of the air you need to breathe. It was gut-wrenching to force my way through the last weeks, knowing those would be my last hours with these beings. I had to intellectualize myself out of the overwhelming sorrow. And I’m still not over them. I am admittedly jealous of the people who now care for them.
I was trying to liken this to some human interactions. When I taught, I loved my students and looked forward to seeing them daily for a semester, or two, or three. I’d see them around campus until they graduated and found a great comfort in the familiarity, but also a sense of pride in and joy for them as they moved on with their lives and careers. I’m in touch with many, but not all, of the students who really attached themselves to my soul, and I really miss the ones that are lost to me… still. After 20+ years, some of them. But, while I loved them while I had them, and miss so very many of them, the emotional detachment happened in a regular student/teacher kind of way. They grow up and get on with having babies and buying houses, starting careers and paying off their student loans. They barely needed me even then, but certainly don’t at all now, notwithstanding the sheer joy of catching up with the odd one face-to-face in the decades since I taught them.
And yet, it is different with animals, especially dogs. I knew early on that I felt differently about dogs than most people (at least than many people own up to). As a child, I preferred spending the day with the family pet than members of the family. As an adult, someone would bring their newborn child around. I’d watch the other women and some of the men RUN to coddle and coo over the infant. Me? Nope. No interest. Bring in a puppy, however, and I’d practically start lactating. Puppy breath and well-used horse bridle are my two favorite smells in the world. I think dogs bond to a few select humans strongly, and they never forget that love. The hug I get from a dog I’ve not seen in a while with whom I am strongly bonded melts my heart. Some even go to great lengths to entice me to stay beyond what they know to be my visit length, like pulling the sheets down on the bed for me, initiating our favorite game, starting to give me a thorough microdermabrasion facial, or physically barring me from leaving by sitting on me. We become part of each other’s permanent pack.
But back to the original thought. Why is the grief of losing an animal friend so much more raw than losing a human friend? My response to her post was to employ Occam’s Razor (which holds that the simplest answer most often approximates the truth). The relationship between a human and an animal involves only one ego.