Walking the dog

FrankieWas returning from my dog walk this morning when I ran into a couple of guys standing near the sidewalk. Plumbers, according to the sign on the van, and as it turned out, waiting for the town inspector to show up to sign off on their work on a house across the street. “What’s your dog’s name?” one man asked as he bent down to pet her. “Frankie,” I said. He told me he used to have a cocker spaniel and wondered if Frankie made a lot of noise at home. “Not much, except when the doorbell rings.”

The conversation quickly turned to how much we love dogs and how important they are and how short of a time they are with us and then one of the guys said (and I did not prompt him) that a friend of his was so torn up by the death of her dog that she just couldn’t function. Then the other guy went on to say that he knew of a woman who had to take a month off from work because of the death of her dog. This kind of intense grieving for a dead dog is news to me.

Though I first heard about this kind of debilitating reaction from Jon Katz, a writer who I interviewed in May. He said, “Our whole idea of animals is changing. They’re considered as essential to our emotional lives. They’re at the center of our homes, we give them human names and of course we’re grieving for them as if they were human. They mean that much to people.”

He also thinks that as people become more and more disconnected from the natural world around them, they find solace in the company of animals, as replacements for that other lost connection.

He did mention this notion of people grieving so deeply that they couldn’t function normally, couldn’t go to work. He’s written a number of books about dogs and one specifically about the death of dogs called Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die. He said in the interview, “At the same time I think we are losing perspective about it. If I lost a dog and couldn’t function, if I couldn’t go to work, and this happens quite a bit, and I was falling apart and I wasn’t able to do the things in life I needed to do, I think I would need to get to a shrink. Because it speaks to something in your own life. One thing I’ve learned in writing a dozen books about dogs is that people are mirroring their own lives in their relationships with dogs.”

Is this an issue that I ought to look into more for this film? Find people who are so devastated by the loss of a pet that they just quit everything for a period of time? It certainly does speak to something in our culture, since clearly this is a behavior that didn’t exist in the past. When I was a kid (in the ’60s) and a dog died, you were sad for a while but then you moved on. It was not a big deal. But now, at least according to Jon Katz, intense grieving has become a public health issue in certain communities. As Jon pointed out, “If we’re living in a culture that’s equating animals and children, we’re heading into a very strange area.”