A heartbreaking photo of a dog waiting for his deceased owner to return went viral over the weekend — but the story has a happy ending.
The picture, posted to the Facebook page of animal nonprofit Eleventh Hour Rescue on June 17, showed the dog, Moose, waiting at the side of a hospital bed.
According to Linda Barish, a member of the New Jersey-based rescue organization's executive committee, Moose spent a lot of time in a very sad state after his owner died.
The owner's caretaker said that Moose "was waiting by the door, waiting for his owner to come home," according to Barish. "Moose saw that his owner wasn't in the hospital bed and was waiting for him to come home. She tried to console him as best as she could, but she couldn't, so she gave him back to us."
This was the second time the loyal dog had been brought to Eleventh Hour Rescue. He had originally been found tied to a railroad crossing sign in rural Georgia, and brought to a municipal shelter there in August 2017.
At risk of being euthanized, the dog was transported into the care of the no-kill Eleventh Hour Rescue, and put up for adoption. After several months, he was adopted in April 2018, and Barish said it had seemed like it would be a happy ending — until his owner passed away after a serious illness, leaving the 3-year-old Labrador mix distressed and in need of a new caretaker.
According to Barbara J. King, author of "How Animals Grieve," this sort of reaction from pets who have lost their owners isn't unusual. While it's hard to say exactly how a pet might react, since it's important to compare their behavior before and after a death, she said there are some common behaviors, such as social withdrawal, failure to eat or sleep, or other kinds of visible distress.
"It seems to me that there's certainly abundant reason to see Moose's behavior as yearning for reunion with 'his person,' so a kind of grief over separation, rather than death, necessarily, is the way I might put it," King explained, saying that she's hesitant to characterize Moose's reactions as "grief" without knowing whether he was present at the death or interacted with the body of the owner after death. "I wouldn't be able to know if Moose has any awareness of the finality of what happened, or if, instead, he is still hoping for the person to reappear."
Once Moose returned to Eleventh Hour Rescue, the group shared his story on Facebook in the same way it always does with its animals. Moose's story quickly went viral, attracting "tons" of adoption applications from all over the country — and even Australia.
While the New Jersey-based family who eventually adopted Moose on June 22 was one of the first to submit applications, Barish emphasized that the shelter did not adopt on "first come, first served" terms.
"We look for the best match for our dogs," Barish said. While she declined to name the adopter, she said that Moose would be going to a home with a four-person family who could give him lots of love, and that the family had recently lost their own dog of 14 years. They were also mourning and "looking for a dog that they could give a home to," a trait that Barish said made them a good match for the grieving dog.
"In my own experience, it's perfectly possible for people and companion animals to recover together after losses are experienced, even when they are different sets of losses," said King, though she clarified that her experience had been with cats, not dogs.
King said that owners who are dealing with grieving or sad pets should be sure to spend plenty of time with them and provide extra attention, love and patience, and said that in extreme cases owners should consider checking in with a veterinarian to make sure the animals are getting the care they need.
Barish said that while they haven't had an official update on Moose yet — the rescue checks in with new families a week after adoption — she's heard "through the grapevine" that Moose is doing well in his new home.
"The family is a friend of a volunteer, so we know, kind of third-party, that he's doing well," she said.