Losing a BFF is No Party for Dogs, Either

Our Boston terrier, Lilly, has been especially clingy lately. She also nudges us to play a lot more more and - despite our 2-mile daily walks - seems to have an inexhaustible reserve of “zoomie” energy.

Could it be that she senses our upcoming trip? During the past year, she’s learned to handle our departure (lugging out suitcases, laying out clothes, dropping stuff on the floor) better than we ever imagined she would.

No, this urgent behavior is about something bigger.

It’s maybe about Lola, the deaf pit-mix she watched grow from a pup about half her size to a gentle giant who understands doggie “sign language”and other noiseless nuances better than any hearing human could.

We try our best to understand Lilly, though I’m sure we frustrate her at times - and not just because we don’t always give her what she wants. Lola, on the other hand, seems to understand Lilly’s inner being. She knows just when to approach Lilly and when to back off, how to “rough and tumble” and how to flop down quietly; together yet apart, content. We give Lilly sustenance, Lola feeds her spirit.

Whether you walk on four legs or two, this is what a bestie does.

And now, Lola’s gone - packed up and shipped to Seattle with her human dad and his eldest daughter as part of the family split that left Lola’s grieving mom behind to find new digs with the rest of her children. It all happened so “suddenly,” yet we sensed a family disquiet for months.

The first day after Lola left, Lilly pulled me insistently toward Lola’s house (I don’t indulge pulling behavior, but in this case I made an exception). Lilly stopped where she always does to scan for Lola’s perky snout poking through the parted curtains. Lilly and I waited for several minutes. No Lola. No anybody.

Lilly whined, looked up at me, then turned back toward the black hole behind the parted curtain. “I know, baby,” I said to our girl. “That’s where Lola used to live.”

Lilly kept on staring at that void. I did not rush her off to finish our walk. She would let me know when she was ready to move on.

I was heartbroken for Lilly. Though her reactivity to certain dogs has decreased over the past year, we can count her doggie friends on one severely-arthritic hand. With Lola, Lilly thrived as she has with no other four-legged companion.

While there may not be conclusive evidence that dogs form the same kind of friendship between themselves as humans do, there is much about the behavior between bonded dogs that suggests they do, according to Dr. Stanley Coren, professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. For example, videos abound of dogs blocking lanes on busy highways to protect or try to rescue canine brethren who had been hit by a car.

Moreover, losing a dog bestie can be even more confusing for another dog given that they don’t have the human capacity for episodic memory and, therefore, cannot grasp the permanence of another’s absence. In other words, they may wait forever for their loved one to return.

We’ve adjusted our walking path since Lola left, though completely avoiding Lola’s old house is difficult. Whenever we pass by, Lilly freezes at the front gate and stares at that black rift in the curtain through which Lola poked her nose.

No dog will ever replace Lola. But, as Lilly’s social skills improve, we hope she has a shot at forging a kibble klatch with a new buddy who will alternately look and “listen” - as only another dog can.