There was no Marley and Me moment (book by John Grogan, Film 2008). Friends kept telling me, they know. I watched her to see if there was any change in her behavior from the moment I had found out I was pregnant straight through the loss of that pregnancy. The plan is to only do this once, so I want to catalog everything carefully. The historian in me, the scientist, the author, needs to.
Sadie’s acknowledgement never happened.
A lot of study has gone into animal cognition. The science is fascinating. One of my favorite books is Alex and Me, by Irene Pepperberg. Dr. Pepperberg is an amazing animal psychologist. She faced a lot of opposition to her work (looking at you, primatologists). Alex was an African grey parrot, who was just amazing. He proved that birds don’t have bird brains. It opened the way for a lot of changes in the realm of animal behavior and psychology. It has changed how we interact with wild and domestic animals. I have no doubt they can sense and discern quite a lot more than we realize.
Dogs, more so than most other animals, have a heightened sense of smell. This is what is behind the belief that they can sense when you’re pregnant. Why not? They can smell cancer and low blood sugar not just drugs or explosives. They have super skilled sniffers! However, the animals that do this are trained to recognize a smell and signal the handler that they have detected it, in return for a treat. They don’t just come along and know it. Of course they smell something, but they don’t know to let you know they smell this thing, or that it matters.
When my hormones started going nuts, and my body changed (I made it to 7 weeks with a blighted ovum), there was no alteration in Sadie’s behavior. Did she smell something? You’d have to ask her that. What I saw was no behavioral shift. She still tore ass down the stairs, dragged me up the alley, and hurried over the ice with little to no care that her actions might hurt me. She carried on the same.
So, when the bad news hit, did Sadie already know? Did she not change because she had no fear that she might harm a baby, because there wasn’t anything there but an empty sac? The answers to those questions will forever be unknown. I remain fascinated about animal cognition. Cognition in general is a fascinating subject regardless.
A miscarriage is more than emotional suffering. I was lucky to not lose a baby. There was no baby there. It was disappointing, but it will never be as horrible as losing the child you’d been hoping for for the last (enter number here) years, but horrible enough because you thought maybe you’d finally achieved an all important dream.
On top of the tears and hormonal swings that render you a basket case, the pain is unreal. I was down for five days, uncomfortable for seven, and bleeding for more than 10 days (the link to the blighted ovum above, describes miscarriage symptoms as minor, and that just pisses me off. Probably written by an expert male who will never have a menstrual/pregnancy/miscarriage cramp in his life). Your body passes the tissues, letting every piece be felt for extra measure—and oh the blood. It’s unlike your period, and yet like your period, if your period were a craven terrorist stamping on your hopes and dreams and mocking you with a blackened grin of hate.
I am not sure if the medication I was given to encourage the miscarriage’s finality did or didn’t cause more pain. It does cause cramping, which is what has to happen to loosen the tissue and help it exit the body. But, I was in pain for days.
Here too, Sadie didn’t appear to register any issues with me. I spent most of my time in bed, or waddling to the bathroom. (BTW, Motrin doesn’t do a thing, go for Advil, or ask your doctor for pain meds, I wish I had—minor pain, indeed). Thankfully, I had the support of family and friends who helped me get her walked, and fed, while making sure I was fed and not having complications. Most days I was alone, but they were just a call away—as is 9-1-1 if you are concerned things are not going as they should.
Even though Sadie didn’t change her routine, and expected me to not change mine (who can blame her when she is dependent upon me for her every need), my roommate’s cat showed surprising awareness and empathy. Miss Pepper Potts came into my room every day and checked on me. She came right to my face, gave me a visual check and sniffed me. She then insisted on a cuddle. These were things she never did before. She has not continued them since. Detecting illness wasn’t part of her training. However, she must have learned it somewhere or this throws out my theory that animals need training on it. That is why cognition and behavior are so fascinating! The variables alone are an interesting puzzle.
No, I don’t believe cats are better than dogs. I believe that every individual is different. Sadie loves me very much, and is far more empathetic than Pepper under normal circumstances. She is the most intelligent dog I have ever had. She’s a peach to train. Only as far as I could tell was she oblivious, but then again, like I said above, maybe she knew nothing was coming of it…
Update: Sadie Sue passed away in April of 2018. She was only 8 years old.
Mary Rowen says
I’m so sorry you had to go through this, Kelly. xo
Captain Maiel says
In the least, it improves my empathy for all those women who have. Hopefully, my writing about it will help women who are facing the same. Turning bad to good, one step at a time.
Im so sodry for your loss im not sure if my story will supply you with any information on that can shine some light on a topic of pregnacy and dogs I’ve been looking up if my dog can tell I’ve choosen to have a abortion
I was also 7 weeks and 5 days and I had made my decision although this was the hardest choice Ive ever had to make on my own it was very heart wrenching to process my dog is 4 just a small guy LouLou and I have been inseparable from the moment we laid eyes on each other he is my world and we basically spend every minute together besides when I have be to leave the house without him. With 3-4 walks a day sluggles and lots of I need my moms attention along with let’s try and sit on her lap while she uses the toilet he definitely is one spoiled pup. I noticed no change in his behavior while he witnessed my morning sickness and fatigue he still wanted to do our normal activities. Day I came back home tired sore and emotional wondering again to my self I wonder if he knows … Well he laid calm with me threw out the evening knowing he still needs a walk off we went our walks our 20 minutes or longer el on any normal day today he took 5 minutes and guided me home we then ate and laid back down during the night he was sick to his stomach and all threw out the next day into the night he was not doing so great nose dry wouldnt eat or drink curdled up in his blanket on the couch a floor above me he sleeping so now I’m concerned he’s sick we are going to the vet tomorrow but I keep going back to maybe he knows and its affecting him what are the odds I wish I knew deep in my heart I believe it is and that yes dogs can sense these types of situations and it does affect them. What do you guys think is he sick ? Or do does he know what’s going on hope to hear back from you
Captain Maiel says
Hi, and thanks for your comment. First, I want to tell you that I support you fully in your decision. That wasn’t easy to do, and it is highly personal to every individual who may face such a dilemma. I’m glad you were able to get proper services. Where I am, those services have been codified into law, to ensure the safety of the patient. I hope you are recovering well. Don’t forget to take care of yourself emotionally, too. This was a big deal, and it can be tough to process it all.
They can definitely smell clues to your well-being and state of mind. our bodies give off different chemicals for different “emotions,” if you will. So, on some level, at least, they understand that you are stressed, not feeling so-well, and the like. Dogs were also bred to be our companions, so they do actually have the mental capacity for reading our facial expressions, and body language. They learn, just as they would in a pack (as wolves do). They certainly aren’t simple creatures. He may not know exactly what you went through, but he knows you are hurting.
His symptoms are unlikely related, probably something didn’t agree with him. Although, he could have been stressed about your behavior and what he was sensing, unsure of how to process it. Dogs are super sensitive, and it sounds like your little guy is pretty affectionate/sensitive.
They rely on us for so much, it can tax them to see us ‘hurt’ or ‘sick,’ because that might mean the loss of their caretaker. Researchers have likened their psyche to that of a 3 or 4 year old child. Imagine how worried you would get when someone you cared about was ill. You relied on them for all your needs, and it got pretty stressful in those times, wondering if things would remain the same. As much as they are not simple, they are straightforward: they need affection, food, water, air, and shelter. You supply those unless something happens to you. And, yeah, I think they can understand if that balance is threatened in anyway.
When my miscarriage happened, my parents helped with my dog, and that put her at ease, quite a bit. She was very familiar with them, and recognized them as members of her pack. She felt secure again. So her behavior remained pretty steady with her needs being met.
I hope that answered your question, or gave you some insight into what’s going on with your furbaby. Thanks for sending the question!