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Do People Show More Sympathy for the Loss of a Dog Than a Cat?

Our dog recently passed, and people were much more concerned than when my cats have died.

Catherine Holm  |  Sep 29th 2014


Last week, we had to help our dog Corona pass over the Rainbow Bridge. With this huge event came some huge realizations. Her death hit my husband and I very hard, even though we had known it was coming.

Over Corona’s last years, I had also come to more deeply appreciate dogs in general, even though I believe I understand cats better. Corona had a long life, starting out as an abused dog who we rescued, and gradually developing security and a sense of humor and love. As she reached her final years and became more of an indoor dog (due in part to a move, and to some very harsh winters), our bond with Corona became even deeper.

I’m not writing this with the mindset that cat people and dog people shall never be one and the same. Nor do I think cats are better, or that dogs are better — I believe they can be different. I have learned, thanks to Corona, about the depths of love I can have for a dog and that my dog had for both of us.

What I found interesting about Corona’s final months (from diagnosis of osteosarcoma in her leg, to decline, and eventually her passing) was that people seemed genuinely concerned and upset. I was surprised at the magnitude of this. We’ve had many more cats than dogs in this household, so I’ve been through the goodbye process a lot — with cats and less so with dogs. Somehow, there seemed to be more of an outpouring of concern and sympathy when Corona got ill, more so than when I’ve been saying goodbye to a cat.

Is this true or is it simply because this goodbye is very fresh? It’s too soon to tell. I remember a Catster commenter once saying something to this effect to something I had written, that it seemed that less support had been offered in her life when a cat was departing, as compared to when a dog was ill or dying. That remark stuck with me, and I have seen it play out recently.

My really good friends seem equal on the matter. They’ve been concerned for me, whether a cat or a dog was leaving or had passed. The many other people I know — acquaintances, for example — gave me a surprising outpouring of concern and love with Corona’s passing.

It does not bother me that it seems that my dog solicited more concern from others. I only find it interesting.

How does the relationship we have with a dog differ from that which we have with a cat?

Maybe that’s the question I should be asking. Yes, we’ve all heard the cliches — a dog is our “best friend.” A cat is “independent.” Sometimes cliches are overdone, and sometimes they also have truth in them.

Maybe part of the difference is in the way we commonly relate to a dog versus a cat. Generally (and I know there’s always an exception to any of this), people can take their dogs many places. They can walk great distances with their dog; they can take the dog on car trips. This is less so the case with cats — car rides can stress some cats, and many cats have never been trained to walk on a harness. I know that one of the huge things I miss about Corona is having a walking partner. She loved long walks and I liked the company. I feel a little naked now, walking down the street without her.

And this sounds weird, but maybe it has to with the size and energy of a dog. I’ll qualify that by saying that I’ve never had a small dog. Corona was a medium sized dog — about 50 pounds at most. I have been present at all euthanizations of our pets (I always wanted to be present). Having gone through this, I’ll say that there’s something different about watching the life force leave a larger body. It may have more impact on me, though I don’t know why it should. Maybe people intrinsically know this. I don’t know.

Maybe it simply has to do with the particular animal

Like the cat at the shelter who sells herself and the other cat who hides in her cage, some animals simply get more notice. Perhaps the general way of dogs (their energy, their need to be part of a pack) cause more humans to connect with them. Corona was not an aloof dog, though she was certainly more “businesslike” (the only term I can think of) and less cuddly when she was an outdoor dog. When she came inside, it was really lovely to begin to bond more with her physically. Even a few nights before she passed on, she laid down next to me (I was seated on the floor) and put her head on my leg. That meant a lot.

I had always thought of myself more of a cat person than a dog person, though Corona (especially in her later life) taught me to really appreciate dogs. I have been surprised at the outpouring of love and good wishes that come with her passing. It does not bother me that it seems bigger and stronger than the support I get when my cats die. I only find it interesting. And, I think the outpouring of any support is a good thing. People like to feel as if they can help, or give something. Like having children or going through childbirth, having a dog seems to be a thing that moves a lot of people. I’d like to think that this trend would continue and would grow for cats.

Have you found this to be true? Why do you think so? Do people show more support at the loss of a dog versus that of a cat? Tell us in the comments.

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr (cat fantasy novel out June 1), the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.