There once was a young dog who was adopted into a home. When he first entered his new den, he met another dog, one who had been there for years before him. This young dog, he was excited. Another canine friend for him to play with, one he could chase around the house or wherever else he pleased. He immediately took up this new endeavor. The sound of two dogs scampering to and fro became a common occurrence.
Then, ten dog years later, something happened. The young dog’s older friend had begun to slow down, not keeping up with this newcomer. Finally, the day came when the older dog slowed down so much that he stopped moving, laying on the ground. The young dog sniffed him, looking up at his human parents with his ears down. Something strange had just happened. The young dog had run outside, full of the energy that accompanied him when he thought he was going for a trip in the car or a run on the trails. Now, he crawled next to his parents without their having to call him back. They didn’t need to. His slowness matched theirs as the diminished family made their way to the garden to bury a member that they all had known and loved. Moping slowly next to his humans, the young dog mourned for the friend he had just lost forever.
Maybe this is just anthropomorphizing. It is possible that this is a case of a human projecting his or her emotion upon an animal that is feels nothing of the sort. Using this logic mourning, an emotion perceived as a human experience, may be only the domain of homo sapiens. But by that logic, why wouldn’t any emotion that a human feels be exclusive to the human? Affection, anger, and happiness would be reserved to the human animal, and all other animals would be nothing more than automatons. In this light, a dog wagging its tail only means it is feeding time or time to mark territory somewhere.
The aforementioned young dog didn’t wag his tail after his canine friend was buried in the ground. He watched as his friend was covered with dirt, and then with his tail lowered like a flag at half mast, he proceeded to the bedroom where he slept at night even though it was daytime. With the curtains closed for privacy, the room was dark despite the day, just like his mood. There, the young dog moped with his head buried in the pillows. Even when the refrigerator was opened, a promising sign of yum-yums, he retained his vigil on the bed that he once shared with his canine friend who no longer was there. The minimal amount of dog food was all he took. Playing was something he wasn’t into either. It wasn’t until a new friend, a cat, came into the home that he seemed at all interested in wagging his tail, or being excited about anything.
So, does only the human animal mourn? I don’t really know for sure, but unless humans have some exclusive copyright on emotion, I can’t see why mourning wouldn’t be part of any pack animals emotional repertoire. What they feel exactly may be hard to determine. But then again, it’s not like humans are experts at the emotions that are part of their makeup. It may be hard to know what your spouse, friend or neighbor is feeling. For that matter, maybe someone is having trouble even understanding his or her own individual feelings. With all this emotional confusion and turmoil bandying about, whose to say that the only ones who know loss are the ones who are sometimes blind to themselves?