88% of pet owners consider their pet a part of the family. When such a companion animal dies, however, the comforting rituals which typically accompany the death of a human family member are rarely available to the bereaved. Things are changing for the better. BBUUC offers a Companion Animal Grief Support group on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at 7:30 pm at the church. Animal Chaplain Elizabeth DeCoux facilitates that group and is also available to speak by telephone or in person about grief for a companion animal.
One of the comforting rituals typically unavailable to those grieving the loss of a companion animal is an obituary—a published account of the life of the deceased, with mention of survivors and accomplishments. That, too, is changing. On February 21, 2022, the New York Times, for the first time, published the obituary of a nonhuman animal: the dog Finnegan Horowitz Shea. Finnegan was the animal companion of Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist who observes the play and sniffing behavior of dogs. Although the Obituary Editor declined to include Finnegan in the newspaper’s death notices, Ms. Horowitz published the obituary as a guest column in the opinion pages. The headline read, “Finnegan, Dog Known for His Exemplary Nose, Dies at 14.”
Included in the column was this description of Finnegan: “He lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, frequenting both Riverside and Central Parks, where he was admired for his running and twirling speed, his winsome look formed by a panting face and wagging tail, and stealing other dogs’ squeaky ball toys and refusing to give them back.” Ms. Horowitz noted that the Times declined to include Finnegan’s obituary where it rightfully belonged and presented a strong argument for the appearance of such notices in the obituary columns. She wrote, “Obituaries index the values of our culture — and in this culture we have increasingly learned the value of nonhuman life. It is high time that news sources consider the possibility of acknowledging the reality of animal lives alongside our own.” It is likely that animal obituaries will accompany human obituaries in future decades or centuries, and at that time the current refusal to honor these animals will likely be viewed as petty. Please contact Elizabeth DeCoux for support in your grief for an animal, whether the death was recent or long ago.