Mourn Like a Dog

After my beloved partner, Tony, died without warning early one morning in 2017, I lived for the occasional sense that his spirit was near.

Our dogs never reacted to the unseen energy I felt, but they did express loss. The black lab mix, Bape, drooped immediately. His master’s long absence on a trip the previous fall hadn’t fazed this boisterous dog, but after Tony’s death, Bape moped on the dog bed for about ten days before starting to act like himself.

Our other dog, Jazz, didn’t seem to react at all for a week. No surprise there. He’d been my dog for years before meeting Tony, and he always disdained the house to spend most time outdoors, even in sub-zero weather. But one evening my aloof, would-be wolf came in through the dog door, climbed up, and curled next to me on the couch.

Dogs Grieve in Their Own Way

Shocked, I asked him, “What are you doing in here?” Maybe he’d heard thunder I hadn’t. Storms and fireworks were his only motivations for ever seeking refuge in the house. It comforted me to have him there beside me, however, and maybe he knew I needed it.

It happened again the next night. And the next. He spent an hour or two next to me every evening for three solid weeks. Three weeks! That was easily the most time he’d voluntarily spent indoors over the entire decade I’d had him.

Just as I got used to his new routine, he returned to more usual behavior. Then, as our first month without Tony was ending, I headed out to the woodshed, blinked, and stopped short. There was Jazz, curled in the rain shelter I’d asked Tony to build him.

The House Tony Built

The dog hated enclosed or small spaces, which was partly why he shunned the house. I always assumed he’d been traumatized by being shut in a bathroom or closet as a puppy. I’d hoped a lean-to might protect him from bad weather without making him feel trapped. After Tony built it, I coaxed Jazz into the finished lean-to twice, but he skulked out again the instant I let him. In the eighteen months since, he’d never set a paw inside that I knew. So spotting him there was even more startling than his coming indoors. In disbelief, I took a photo to give myself proof.

Two or three more times, and never during a rain, I stepped outside to find the dog in the house Tony had built. It must’ve been the dog’s way of mourning his alpha male.

Jazz didn’t go inside it again.

Talk to me all you want about the dogs reacting to a sudden absence and my often-apparent distress. I wouldn’t argue. Jazz’s behavior still convinced me that dogs know more than we credit them for. We could probably learn from their attention to subtle forces. We should probably learn to mourn like a dog.

In particular, the short time they mourn offers comfort. I don’t believe it’s because their memories are weak. There’s evidence they know littermates years down the road.

Besides, if dogs’ memories were short, Jazz wouldn’t have remembered who built that lean-to. I’d rather believe they don’t mourn very long because they have a clearer sense than we do of deeper connections or even a spiritual plane beyond this one.

Maybe we should mourn like a dog.


Excerpted from Feeling Fate: A Memoir of Love, Intuition, and Spirit (April 2022). To order a copy, click here.

Visit Joni Sensel’s website at

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Joni Sensel

Joni Sensel is the author of Feeling Fate: A Memoir of Love, Intuition, and Spirit (2022). She’s also the author of more than a dozen nonfiction titles for adults, five award-winning novels for young readers, and articles in a variety of print and online magazines. A certified grief educator, she has recently focused her teaching and writing on creativity, spirituality, and experiencing grief. Sensel's adventures have taken her to the corners of fifteen countries, the heights of the Cascade Mountains, the length of an Irish marathon, and the depths of love. A Pacific Northwest native, she lives at the knees of Mount Rainier in Washington State with a puppy who came into her life as a gift that reflected afterlife influence.

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