Apes and Monkeys Have an Awareness of Death

Performing Grieving Rituals and Mourning the Deceased, Study Suggests

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Researchers say non-human primates exhibit an awareness of death.

Non-human primates like monkeys and apes appear to have an awareness of death in the same way humans do, scientists have said. After analyzing over 200 years worth of research into how primates deal with death, they found common behaviors emerged—including carrying their dead, defending the deceased from threats and exhibiting a grief-like response.

There are many stories about apes and monkeys grieving for their dead. For example, a BBC documentary in 2017 appeared to show a group of langur monkeys grieving for what they believe is a dead baby—even though it was actually just a robotic spy monkey.

The same year, scientists observed a chimpanzee using tools to clean the body of a deceased group member. A female sat down with the dead male and used a firm stem of grass to clean his teeth. The practice, researchers say, suggests chimps may have a more sophisticated response to death than we currently know.

Andre Gonçalves from Japan’s Kyoto University and Susana Carvalho from the University of Oxford in the U.K. say there is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence relating to they way non-human primates deal with death—but a review of the literature to find specific characteristics and behaviors has been lacking.

“For the past two centuries, non-human primates have been reported to inspect, protect, retrieve, carry or drag the dead bodies of their conspecifics and, for nearly the same amount of time, sparse scientific attention has been paid to such behaviours,” they wrote in a study published in Biological Reviews.

In their analysis of 240 reports, Gonçalves and Carvalho showed that specific responses emerge among different non-human primate species. Often this involves carrying the dead around—especially mothers and their dead babies. Species that are unable to grasp objects—such as lemurs and tamarins—are observed trying to carry their dead even though they lack the ability.

A chimp cleaning the teeth of a deceased group member.

They also found that group members defend the bodies of the deceased and returning to the body or site of death: “Such places may hold residual information about the event which can arouse curiosity or emotional distress,” they wrote. This behavior tended to happen when an adult died, rather than a juvenile. The researchers speculate this could relate to attachments, with members needing to re-categorize from living to dead—a behavior they say is essential to the grieving process.

In one anecdote about a family of chimpanzees studied by Jane Goodall, a mother named Flo died before her son Flint had become fully independent. After her death, Flint would stare at the nest they shared and returned to the site of her death. He exhibited signs of clinical depression and stopped eating and interacting with other group members. Eventually his immune system became too weak and he also died.

In another case, an adult male howler monkey was observed staying close to the corpse of a female for five days after her death, “suggesting close proximity between these individuals in life.”

“Considering all these findings and given their cognitive abilities, we argue that non-human primates are capable of an implicit awareness of death,” Gonçalves and Carvalho wrote.

They say more research will be needed to confirm whether non-human primates are aware of death—and to what extent they are. “It’s not an all-or-nothing ability,” Gonçalves said in a statement. “Awareness of death includes things such as animate/inanimate distinction, or the sensory and contextual discrimination of living/dead. The concept of death is something we humans acquire between ages three to 10. We can infer that non-human primates have some aspects of death awareness but, thus far, only humans conceptualize it at a higher order.”

The researchers also say further investigation could help shed light on the evolution of our own funeral practices: “Given that there exists a considerable gap in the fossil and archaeological record concerning how early hominins might have interacted with their dead, extant primates may provide valuable insight into how and in which contexts thanatological behaviours would have occurred.”

Complete Article HERE!

The gifts our dying dog gave to my sons

The author’s sons, Donovan, left, and Tate, with Krypto.

By Mike Mikula

Every poem about dogs ends in tears.

Our boy Krypto’s 18-year-long poem ended early this month. He was on our porch on the nicest of Atlanta days, with just enough of a breeze to carry spring in for his last breaths. Our sons, Donovan and Tate, ages 13 and 11, whispered weepy gratitude into his ears as he slipped away. A good death for a good boy — a working dog, and his work, as they say, was done.

Much of that work involved needing an ultramarathoner’s worth of exercise, but that kept the IPAs from adding territory to my gut. Krypto also herded other animals and sometimes people, did some occasional protection detail and set the stage for us becoming a family.

The other great work of his life was teaching. He taught my wife and me how to be parents, and he taught our sons the joys of unstructured play and the art of observation. Like Albus Dumbledore, he did his greatest educating in old age, showing our family how to live with infirmities and without self-pity, and in the end, how dying and dead are different things.

My wife, Sarah, and I believed that Krypto was the first great thing we did as a couple. The rescue outfit described the Australian cattle dog-mix puppy as “not much to look at and getting picked on by the other dogs because he was kind of a jerk.”

And he was indeed a hammerhead, early on escaping our yard and chasing a high school cross-country team until he caught the slowest kid. But he quickly responded to training and copious exercise. Krypto explored the north Georgia woods with us and was a witness to our engagement on the Benton MacKaye Trail. His squared-away self convinced us that we were qualified to repeat the experiment; this time with very small humans.

The pee on the pregnancy-test stick wasn’t dry before Krypto relocated his sleeping spot from the dog bed by my nightstand to the floor next to Sarah. He did the same thing when Donovan’s brother, Tate, came around two years later.

The books about dogs and babies urged us to bring a blanket home from the hospital so Krypto could familiarize himself with Donovan’s scent, followed by Donovan. Krypto was unimpressed.

Although Krypto was outwardly ambivalent, each time Sarah got up to nurse, he followed, sitting at her feet and facing the door, acutely keyed in to her vulnerability. He did so again with colicky Tate 2½ years later. The dog was working harder than ever but the boys moved him down in the pack order, just by virtue of being humans.

The transition from stinky, furious blobs to menacing, pokey toddlers to boys who just wanted to throw a ball or Frisbee all day long took dozens of dog years. Along the way, Krypto took down a prowler who came into the house while Sarah was upstairs reading to the boys. The perp was begging for mercy when I got to him, but Krypto greedily held his ankle. Good boy.

Not long after Donovan and Tate became full partners with Krypto, his interest in athletics began to wane. Cattle dogs tend to slow down around age 13 or so. We had a soft old couch that he’d made his own, and the boys liked to bounce on it and wake him for belly rubs or ear scratches. One day their protector snapped hard at them. He was sleeping more deeply and waking up anxious. It shook us up, but the boys were made aware that not everything in life can go at their speed. A little Prozac in Krypto’s kibble helped, too.

Krypto’s decline was the one we’re all hoping for: small increments over an extended period preceding a rapid crash, followed by permanent sleep. My sons received regular lessons in patience. Walks took a while so we had to leave earlier for school. Smell became more important to Krypto than locomotion, so the boys came to understand that a walk often meant standing around while he sniffed the world.

Krypto died with the lab work of a puppy; neurological failings were his undoing. Eventually, his front and back halves had trouble communicating, and he moved like a firetruck tiller with no one driving the back end. He needed help down the three steps to get outside. Cue my sons. They listened for Krypto by the door and were always ready to help him outside and wait patiently for him to find just the right spot before assisting him back up the stairs.

There were the requisite indignities and accidents. The boys helped him up and fetched the paper towels. “Krypto never seems to feel sorry for himself,” Tate said one day while doing exactly that over a pile of crap in the hallway. My sons were paying attention to these lessons.

In his last week, Krypto’s mobility cratered and his anxiety resisted the strongest tranquilizers. He kept us up half the night telling us it was time to let him go. I wanted him to die on his own terms but his mighty heart would not quit. Donovan and Tate heard their father blubber his way through explaining what would be our last measure of devotion.

(The surreal experience of watching one’s father cry uncontrollably has been compared to the first time you see Grandma in a bathing suit.)

Krypto taught my boys to accept decline and mortality, so they had no questions for our vet when she arrived with full eyes. The boys were with Krypto on the porch as the vet eased him from his mortal coil. They are different kids and handled the intense emotions in their own ways, but they were present, holding that dog as he left us, telling him how much he’d be missed.

They fell in love with a dog and, as the contract states, they had their hearts broken. They are better people for knowing him, loving him and losing him.

And in the end, my young men carried Krypto from the house for the last time. I have never been sadder or prouder.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Natural death may not be kind, easy or peaceful for pets’

Cruel to be kind: animal hospice gives pets better way to die

To help pet owners make decisions about end-of-life care, Villalobos developed a decision tool based on seven indicators. The scale is often called the HHHHHMM scale.

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Nearly 14 years ago, my daughter and I were grieving the death of my mother, and it seemed nothing could lift our spirits. Then we got Fluffy, a bouncing bundle of gray and white puppy, and everything changed.

Fluffy kept us busy with pee pads and squeaky toys. She made us laugh in spite of our sadness, and the gray clouds of grief began to recede

Over the years, our 10lb fluff ball was a constant in our lives. We dressed her up in holiday sweaters, celebrated her birthdays and scolded her for sneaking food from the cat’s dish. But in recent weeks, as our walks slowed down and her naps grew longer, it became clear that our time together was limited. I hoped that in the end, Fluffy would have a natural death, drifting off to sleep for good on her favorite pillow

A natural death is what many of us hope for with our pets. They are members of our family, deeply enmeshed in our lives, and for many of us, thoughts of euthanasia seem unfathomable, so we cling to the notion that a natural death is desirable.

In most cases, a natural death, she said, means prolonged suffering

But my veterinarian said that my end-of-life scenario for my dog wasn’t realistic. In most cases, a natural death, she said, means prolonged suffering that we don’t always see, because dogs and cats are far more stoic than humans when it comes to pain.

Dr Alice Villalobos, an oncology veterinarian in California, said that many pet owners idealise a natural death without thinking about what a “natural” death really means. A frail animal, she noted, doesn’t linger very long in nature. “When animals were domesticated, they gave up that freedom to go under a bush and wait to die,” Villalobos said. “They become very quickly part of mother nature’s plan due to predators or the elements. And yet in our homes we protect them from everything so they can live a long time – and sometimes too long.”

I had reached out to two at-home vet services that both offered compassionate guidance and confirmed my fears that no treatments were available to improve her condition

Villalobos has dedicated her career to helping pet owners navigate end-of-life issues. She created an animal hospice program she calls “pawspice.” She coined the name because she doesn’t want to confuse end-of-life care for animals with the choices we make for human hospice.

Her program is focused on extending a pet’s quality of life. That might mean treating a cancer “in kind and gentle ways,” she said. It can mean supportive care like giving fluids, oxygen or pain medication. In some cases, it might mean hand-feeding for frail pets or carrying an animal to a water dish or litter box. And finally, she said, it means a “well death.”

Villalobos has advocated what she calls “bond-centered euthanasia,” which allows the pet owner to be present and play a comforting role during the procedure. She has also championed sedation-first euthanasia, putting the animal into a gentle sleep before administering a lethal drug.

To help pet owners make decisions about end-of-life care, Villalobos developed a decision tool based on seven indicators. The scale is often called the HHHHHMM scale, based on the first letter of each indicator. On a scale of zero to 10, with zero being very poor and 10 being best, a pet owner is asked to rate the following:

HURT Is the pet’s pain successfully managed? Is it breathing with ease or distress?
HUNGER Is the pet eating enough? Does hand-feeding help?
HYDRATION Is the patient dehydrated?
HYGIENE Is the pet able to stay clean? Is it suffering from bed sores?
HAPPINESS Does the pet express joy and interest?
MOBILITY Can the patient get up without assistance? Is it stumbling?
MORE Does your pet have more good days than bad? Is a healthy human-animal bond still possible?

Villalobos said pet owners should talk to their vet about the ways they can improve a pet’s life in each category. When pet owners approach end of life this way, they are often surprised at how much they can do to improve a pet’s quality of life, she said.

By revisiting the scale frequently, pet owners can better assess the quality of the pet’s hospice care and gauge an animal’s decline. The goal should be to keep the total at 35 or higher. And as the numbers begin to decline below 35, the scale can be used to help a pet owner make a final decision about euthanasia.

“Natural death, as much as many people wish it would happen, may not be kind and may not be easy and may not be peaceful,” Villalobos said. “Most people would prefer to assure a peaceful passing. You’re just helping the pet separate from the pack just as he would have done in nature.”

Complete Article HERE!

8 Ways To Help Your Grieving Pet

Do Pets Grieve? The loss of a beloved family pet can overwhelm everyone in the household.  Your remaining pets can also be deeply affected by the loss of a companion animal. They may show immediate signs of depression or other behavioral changes. Some pets become so despondent, they die soon after their companion of what seems like a broken heart. Although it is not intentional, […]

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Do Pets Grieve?

The loss of a beloved family pet can overwhelm everyone in the household. Your remaining pets can also be deeply affected by the loss of a companion animal. They may show immediate signs of depression or other behavioral changes. Some pets become so despondent, they die soon after their companion of what seems like a broken heart. Although it is not intentional, their needs are often overlooked as you struggle through your own painful feelings of grief. With just a few simple steps you can help your remaining pets understand what happened to their best friend so you can all move through your grief and into healing.

What are the signs of pet grief?

After a pet dies, the hierarchy within the home shifts as the remaining pets adjust to the loss. Some pets will react immediately to the loss of a companion animal while others carry on as if nothing happened. Some pets will suddenly lose interest in food or treats while others will hide or sulk around in a sorrowful way. Many grieving pets will whine, meow, or yowl as they search the house looking for their companion who suddenly disappeared. If the pet that died was more dominant or self-confident the remaining pet can become fearful of things that never bothered them before. If your pets were together for a long time their grief may be more pronounced lasting for days, months, or longer. There are many signs of grief but listed below are a few of the most common behavioral changes.

Signs your pet may be grieving:

– Loss of appetite
– Restlessness
– Lethargic or no interest in toys
– Vocalizations – yowling, crying or whining
– Neediness
– Avoidance
– Changes in normal sleeping patterns
– Inappropriate elimination or marking
– Destructive behavior
– Aggression/dominance
– Sudden fearfulness/anxiety

How to help your pets understand the loss of a companion animal

Our remaining pets are often excluded from the final moments of another pet’s passing. Many become confused about what happened to their companion as they are not able to see the body after death. In the wild, animals inspect the body of their companion which provides closure and an understanding that the life force of the animal is gone. But what happens if you are not able to let them inspect the body? What else can you do?

The best way to help your pet understand what happened is to talk about it. When you communicate openly with your pet, images will flash across your mind as you speak. Those images play like a mini-movie in your head and your pets will be able to intercept those images.
Hearing your voice and watching the images will give them a better sense of the changes that have taken place. Speak slowly and softly as you would to a child of about nine or ten years of age. Another option is to allow the remaining pet to inspect a towel or blanket with the deceased pet’s scent on it. Ideally, try to give your remaining pet the opportunity to sense their companion has died.

Would it help to get another pet?

Every situation is different so decide wisely before bringing a new pet into your home. Some pets are very excited about a new companion while others are not. If the resident pet is older, weaker, or not in the best of health then it may be best to leave well enough alone and not add any new pets to the household. However, a new pet can breathe new life and laughter into a depressed situation and draw some pets out of their grief. Be mindful that a new pet will change the energy within the household and care should be taken to make sure the new pet is a good match for your family. Trust your intuition and if it feels right then it will likely be okay. If it doesn’t feel right, then wait for a better time.

Openly express your feelings
The best way to help your remaining pet is to openly share your feelings. If you are sad and missing your other pet, tell them exactly how you feel. They may not understand all the details about what happened but hearing your words will ease their mind and help them heal faster. Although it is a painful and difficult time, honor your grief and allow yourself to feel all of your emotions. As you move through your grief into healing your pets will likely do so too. They can absorb your emotions like a sponge and will naturally feel more balanced when you do. Watch your pet closely and consult with a trusted veterinarian if their condition continues or worsens.

Embrace every precious moment

When you are ready, celebrate your memories of the pet you lost and remember to make their life more important than their death. Your remaining pet will feel the love in your heart and know that their beloved companion has left this life with dignity and peace.

The 8 steps to help your grieving pet heal faster

1. Spend more time with them and focus on their needs with extra love and TLC

2. Talk openly about the pet you lost and share all of your favorite memories

3. Bring home a new toy, cat tree, or a new, cushy bed

4. Take more walks or engage in playful activities to help them release pent up emotions

5. Do not leave them alone for long periods of time after the loss of a companion pet

6. Tell them you will grieve together and you will move into healing together too

7. Picture the outcome you desire such as all of you being happy, healthy, and living life to the fullest

8. Keep their routine as normal as possible and avoid any trips, changes in diet, or other disruptions to their schedule

Complete Article HERE!

Knowing the Right Time to Say Goodbye to a Pet

End-of-life decisions for animals are difficult. A veterinarian has developed a scale to help clear up the confusion.

By Tara Parker-Pope

Nearly 14 years ago, my daughter and I were grieving the death of my mother, and it seemed nothing could lift our spirits. Then we got Fluffy, a bouncing bundle of gray and white puppy, and everything changed.

Fluffy kept us busy with pee pads and squeaky toys. She made us laugh in spite of our sadness, and the gray clouds of grief began to recede.

Over the years, our 10-pound fluff ball was a constant in our lives. We dressed her up in holiday sweaters, celebrated her birthdays and scolded her for sneaking food from the cat’s dish. But in recent weeks, as our walks slowed down and her naps grew longer, it became clear that our time together was limited. I hoped that in the end, Fluffy would have a natural death, drifting off to sleep for good on her favorite soft pillow.

A natural death is what many of us hope for with our pets. They are members of our family, deeply enmeshed in our lives, and for many of us, thoughts of euthanasia seem unfathomable, so we cling to the notion that a natural death is desirable.

But my veterinarian advised me that my end-of-life scenario for my dog wasn’t realistic. In most cases, a natural death, she told me, means prolonged suffering that we don’t always see, because dogs and cats are far more stoic than humans when it comes to pain.

Dr. Alice Villalobos, a nationally recognized oncology veterinarian based in Hermosa Beach, Calif., said that many pet owners idealize a natural death without thinking about what a “natural” death really means. A frail animal, she noted, doesn’t linger very long in nature.

“When animals were domesticated they gave up that freedom to go under a bush and wait to die,” said Dr. Villalobos. “They become very quickly part of mother nature’s plan due to predators or the elements. And yet in our homes we protect them from everything so they can live a long time — and sometimes too long.”

Dr. Villalobos has dedicated her career to helping pet owners navigate end-of-life issues. She created an animal hospice program she calls “pawspice.” She coined the name because she doesn’t want to confuse end-of-life care for animals with the choices we make for human hospice.

Her program is focused on extending a pet’s quality of life. That might mean treating a cancer “in kind and gentle ways,” she said. It can mean supportive care like giving fluids, oxygen or pain medication. In some cases, it might mean hand-feeding for frail pets or carrying an animal to a water dish or litter box. And finally, she said, it means a “well death.”

Dr. Villalobos has advocated what she calls “bond-centered euthanasia,” which allows the pet owner to be present and play a comforting role during the procedure. She has also championed sedation-first euthanasia, putting the animal into a gentle sleep before administering a lethal drug.

To help pet owners make decisions about end-of-life care, Dr. Villalobos developed a decision tool based on seven indicators. The scale is often called the HHHHHMM scale, based on the first letter of each indicator. On a scale of zero to 10, with zero being very poor and 10 being best, a pet owner is asked to rate the following:

Hurt: Is the pet’s pain successfully managed? Is it breathing with ease or distress?

Hunger: Is the pet eating enough? Does hand-feeding help?

Hydration: Is the patient dehydrated?

Hygiene: Is the pet able to stay clean? Is it suffering from bed sores?

Happiness: Does the pet express joy and interest?

Mobility: Can the patient get up without assistance? Is it stumbling?

More: Does your pet have more good days than bad? Is a healthy human-animal bond still possible?

Dr. Villalobos says pet owners should talk to their vet about the ways they can improve a pet’s life in each category. When pet owners approach end of life this way, they often are surprised at how much they can do to improve a pet’s quality of life, she said.

By revisiting the scale frequently, pet owners can better assess the quality of the pet’s hospice care and gauge an animal’s decline. The goal should be to keep the total at 35 or higher. And as the numbers begin to decline below 35, the scale can be used to help a pet owner make a final decision about euthanasia.

“Natural death, as much as many people wish it would happen, may not be kind and may not be easy and may not be peaceful,” Dr. Villalobos said. “Most people would prefer to assure a peaceful passing. You’re just helping the pet separate from the pack just as he would have done in nature.”

I discovered Dr. Villalobos’s scale as I was searching for answers for Fluffy in her final weeks. When she did get up, she often stumbled and seemed confused. Sometimes at night, I heard her whimper.

I had reached out to two at-home vet services, VettedPetCare.com and Instavet.com, that both offered compassionate guidance and confirmed my fears that no treatments were available to improve her condition. Fluffy was a very old dog, and they suspected her decline was a result of some combination of kidney and liver failure, but discouraged extensive testing since the physical symptoms were obvious. One visiting vet gave Fluffy subcutaneous fluids to help with dehydration and make her more comfortable and advised me to spend a final happy day with my dog before calling her for a final visit to end her suffering.

I trusted her judgment, but my tears and the fact that Fluffy still ate a little and wagged her tail when I stroked her clouded my thinking. I turned to the end-of-life scale and was able to see how poorly she was doing, despite the tail wag. I took my vet’s advice and spent a quiet day with Fluffy, giving her the cat food treats she so loved, without any scolding. I revisited the scale several times, just to remind myself that I was doing the right thing. The scale allowed me to make a more detached assessment of Fluffy, and it was a tremendous source of comfort during a very difficult time.

It wasn’t an easy decision or a pleasant one. But it was the right decision. And in the end Fluffy did drift away on her favorite soft pillow, just as I had hoped.

Complete Article HERE!

The animal lover giving a peaceful end of life to terminally ill creatures

– while defying death herself

 


 
Alexis Flemming has dedicated herself to giving terminally ill animals the best last days of their lives – despite recently almost dying herself.

The animal lover, who lives with autoimmune diseases, was recently given only a few days to live before an operation helped control her condition.

Now recovering, she is back giving care to the variety of animals she has taken in at her animal hospice and sanctuary in Scotland.

She was inspired to set up the Maggie Flemming Animal Hospice in 2016 after her beloved bullmastiff Maggie died suddenly at the vets.

Alexis’s beloved bullmastiff Maggie died while away from her at the vets in 2016.

“Not being able to be with someone you love when they die can be quite traumatic,” she says.

As she walks through the sanctuary to the hospice, she knows every pig, sheep and chicken by name.

She wants all the animals to have a dignified end.

“They come here to spend however long they have left, a few days, a few weeks – sometimes even a few years – and I do end-of-life care to give them peace, comfort and friendship,” she says.

Alexis works hard to see which activities the animals enjoy most.

At the hospice, situated just outside Kirkcudbright in Dumfries and Galloway, Alexis makes a point of discovering what the animals like.

For some it’s sweets and reading. For her 19-year-old pal Bran, it’s adventures in the car.

“Bran was dumped on the street when he was about 17, he had a tumour on his spleen. Bran came to us with just six weeks to live and that was two and a half years ago,” she explains.

Bran is still going strong at 19, defying the terminal prediction of vets two years ago.

Bran is still going strong but Alexis admits her own health problems have made it harder to keep up with the care demands.

“It’s very hard to deal with that much grief. There was a time last year when I did 10 end-of-life cares in one month, that really took its toll. I was really ill at the end of that because my health isn’t very good anyway,” she says.

Inevitably her own recent doomed diagnosis – while thankfully avoided – has made her re-evaluate her life and work.

Bran enjoys a new lease of life, after being taken in by Alexis, that involves adventures out in the car.

“I almost died twice. Even if you think you’re the most life-grabbing, go-getting person, when you’re told you’ve only got a few days left and you survive that, every day is just… you make the most of it,” she says.

On dealing with the mortality of her farmyard friends, she says: “I know how I felt thinking it was almost my end and I know it’s almost their end so let’s just make the most of it, let’s not hang around and think of the sadness.”

She is now developing what is the first purpose-built animal hospice in the UK. She believes it could be one of the first of its kind in the world.

“We try to never turn anyone away if we can help it, but it’s very important to do end-of-life care properly, so we have very small numbers [and] we only do end-of-life for three animals at any time,” she says.

The passionate animals rights advocate believes “most animals in our society are denied a peaceful life and death”.

But she says she remains focused on helping the animals living out their final days in her care.

“Doing this kind of work you realise anything can happen at anytime and it could be today, it could be tomorrow, it could be a month from now, I just don’t know,” she says. “I try not to dwell on it too much.”

Complete Article HERE!

A cartoonist drew a touching tribute to his dying dog.

His readers gave him an outpouring of sympathy.

Stephan Pastis’s tribute to his dog, Edee.

By Michael Cavna

Stephan Pastis ducked into an Arizona coffeehouse last September and began to grieve. He sketched and cried as he wrote the words, “We put our dog to sleep on Wednesday.” The plot twist was, about 800 miles away, Pastis’s dog was still alive, though her time drew near.

Edee, a loving and gentle springer spaniel, was the only dog Pastis had ever had. Now here he was, a cartoonist who uses drawing as a coping technique, on a personal trip far from his Northern California home, unable to comfort Edee and say goodbye to her one last time before she was put down.

The resulting art was not the sort of sentiment that readers usually expect from Pastis, a former lawyer. As the creator of the popular comic “Pearls Before Swine,” he entertains millions of fans by often trafficking in darker and snarkier human emotions, as channeled through a gallery of animal characters, including the self-serving Rat and the wide-eyed innocent Pig.

Although some comic-strip creators draw upon events from their personal lives for inspiration, most cartoonists don’t share their experiences directly through their work, free of fictive elements or filtering techniques. But on that emotional day in Phoenix — where Pastis was visiting his father, who has Alzheimer’s disease — the cartoonist decided to get as directly personal as an artist can get. “I’ve always run to my creativity to cope with life,” Pastis says.

The main characters in “Pearls Before Swine,” by Stephan Pastis.

So he wrote that Edee had cancer. He wrote that she was so sweet that “even kids that were afraid of dogs would pet her.” He wrote that she would “protect” him from squirrels and a stuffed mallard duck while he worked in his Santa Rosa studio. And he wrote of the “hurt” in the hearts of his family, including his wife, their 21-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter.

The punchline-free purity of that comic strip, published in December, struck a chord. Hundreds of readers contacted Pastis. And this week, his syndicate, Kansas City-based Andrews McMeel, announced that the Edee strip was its most buzzed-about comic of 2018, with nearly 500 comments and almost 1,200 “likes.”

That speaks, his syndicate says, to the power of going personal.

“It connects the readers to the comic at a whole different level,” says John Glynn, president and editorial director of Andrews McMeel Syndication. “It can, however, be jarring if the audience isn’t used to it.

“Stephan has done it well and regularly enough over the years,” Glynn continues, “that his readers know that they see a version of the cartoonist that you don’t see in most comics.”

A recurring character in “Pearls Before Swine” is an avatar of Pastis, comedically depicted as a beer-bellied, stubble-faced, overambitious and pun-happy hack whose work is insulted by the very characters he has created. But on occasion, Pastis the avatar will share an honest, true-life slice of himself.

When those genuine ideas come, Pastis says, he typically tries to draw them, even if he ultimately doesn’t publish them — because he doesn’t want to gum up the creative flow.

“When I sit down to write,” he says, “what’s there is there. When something tragic has happened” — from the death of a relative, say, to the enormity of a terrorist act — “the ideas seem to have a narrow spigot, and what’s there is something you have to get out — you have to write it.”

Last September, though, Pastis was feeling especially emotional. He had just come from being on set for a Disney film adaptation of his kids’ book series, “Timmy Failure.” Now here he was in Phoenix, where his father did not recognize him, and then his wife called to say that Edee would need to be put to sleep within hours to minimize the pet’s suffering — much sooner than they had expected.

“I was all by myself out there,” he says.

Edee, the family pet of “Pearls Before Swine” creator Stephan Pastis.

The cartoonist walked to the Lux Central cafe, pulled his ball cap down low and got lost in his art, listening to such mournful music as “To Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra. He was trying to communicate through pictures both his love for his pet — he never had a dog as a boy and had come to fear dogs after once being bitten — and the degree to which Edee had become a part of the family over six years.

Edee was due to be put down at 11 a.m. Pastis finished drawing and headed to the Phoenix Art Museum — where he gazed at Frida Kahlo’s 1938 painting, “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale” — before calling his wife to hear how Edee’s final moments went.

Pastis had touched many readers in 2003, when he created a heart-wrenching comic after watching a news report about a bus attack in Jerusalem that killed six children. And the cartoonist got especially personal in 2012 when a poignant “Pearls” strip eulogized his father-in-law.

For Edee, Pastis let that creative spigot again flow.

“Sometimes when you write from the heart, in a moment like that, it has a way of distilling the essence of what is in you in a very straight, direct way,” Pastis says. “What comes out is sometimes pretty meaningful.”

When the strip ran Dec. 9, the immediate response was strong and uncommonly large, the cartoonist says. Many of the readers who contacted him had recently lost their pets.

Wrote one commenter on the syndicate’s GoComics.com site: “Your comic is really hard to read. I can tell because my eyes are starting to sweat.” Some readers offered thanks and condolences and spoke of a pet’s afterlife across “the Rainbow Bridge.” Another commenter said: “Sometimes the best comics are the sad ones.”

A comic strip like that, Pastis says, “provides a sort of release of emotion — it becomes this thing they can connect to.”

And comics have the ability, he continues, “to comment on your life in a way that helps you and the people around you.”

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