This letter appeared in the Washington Post on August 12, 2010. It was written to Dr. Michael Fox, who writes a regular column for the newspaper.
Dear Dr. Fox,
Your recent column about how a “dog’s devotion to master can lead to the grave” is similar to what occurred with our golden retriever more than 20 years ago, when my husband died at 46 after a four-year battle with cancer. During my husband’s illness, Friday lay beside his bed, provided support when my husband walked and never left his side. Friday obviously knew that something was wrong. He was devoted to his master.
Before my husband became ill, he was a senior sports-and-news cameraman for a major TV station. Because of the nature of his assignments, my husband’s work hours were unpredictable. Regardless of the hour, Friday always knew when my husband was headed home. He ran to the front door, wagging his tail, and he sat patiently until my husband’s car pulled into the driveway.
After my husband’s death, which took place in a hospital, Friday sat at the front door all day, every day, whining and waiting for my husband to return. He stopped eating and wouldn’t leave the front hallway. He refused to play with our children, whom he loved, because “guard duty” was his only purpose. He left his post only when he needed to be walked. My heart was breaking for this dog.
After one week of watching Friday’s vigil, I decided to help him understand what had happened. Hesitantly, Friday left his post and got into the car with me. His car behavior was unusual: He paced from window to window, looking everywhere for my husband. I drove to the cemetery, and we walked together toward my husband’s grave. As we got closer, Friday pulled away from me and ran directly to the grave. He lay down atop it, closed his eyes and just stayed there, quietly. I didn’t try to talk to Friday or disturb him. He needed to grieve, too. After an hour, Friday got up and walked over to me, using his mouth to hand me his leash. He was ready to go home.
On the way back home, Friday lay quietly in the back seat. After we arrived home, he kept kissing my hands as if to say “thank you,” and he never again sat by the front door waiting for my husband to return home. He now understood. Although obviously sad, his behavior returned to normal around the children and he began eating again. In time, he healed, as did we.
Lake Worth, Fla.
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