Q & A: Ask the Rabbi

How Do I get Over the Loss of My Dog (Who was My Best Friend)?

Moran asks: “It’s well known that the animals most people raise at home are dogs. They get very attached to them as in Hebrew the word dog is ‘celev’ meaning ‘culo lev’, he’s all heart. Someone who has a dog at home for a few years grows very attached to it, he feels the dog loves him sometimes more than people do. So my question is how do I get over the loss of my dog when I know how much he loved me and now he died leaving a void? My next question related to this is why don’t animals have a continued life in the next world like we do?”


Moran Shalom to you,

Thank you for your question. I share in your pain but you should bear in mind that this pain is an important lesson for your soul reminding you that our existence in this world is only temporary and transient, so one should invest his life’s efforts in eternal values.

As far as getting over the pain the best healer is time. Every creature or item someone has for a long time makes a person feel attached to it. The item or in your case the dog created a long set of memories and experiences in your life and losing it creates a feeling of loss when it occurs mainly because we got used to it and feel its lack now that it’s gone. Therefore only time can heal this feeling of great loss that you’re presently experiencing. Investing in activities that create new memories can also help.

That being said, it’s worthwhile for you to understand that your emotional attachment is based to a large extent on the common practice we engage in ‘humanizing’ our pets. I imagine that to a certain extent you feel as if you lost a close relative not just a pet. This humanizing makes your loss heavier in your heart.

When we see a dog or a cat and try to understand how they feel and experience the world we automatically imagine ourselves in its body moving with its motions and actions. This is the only experience we can dream up based on our life’s experiences. We have no other way to imagine what really is going on inside them. People have difficulty understanding that inside of an animal is an entirely different system and method of experiencing the world around them than what we’re familiar with. It lacks free choice. Concepts like compassion or cruelty don’t at all exist in their world. Animals function as the creator programmed them to do and feel as G-d enabled them to feel.

Animals are creatures that function according to the laws of nature without a true understanding of their lives or the ‘choices’ they make. Thus they are not any different than the world around them; they are part of nature itself and not something separate from it. A zebra getting attacked and killed by a lion doesn’t ask itself ‘why is this happening to me?’ It doesn’t have free thinking in its brain. It lives according to an established pattern and is getting torn up by the lion right now just as he ate some grass a few minutes before. The zebra may feel pain but doesn’t think about the pain. Since it has no independent thoughts of its own or free choice it’s really an integral part of its surrounding natural habitat.

Therefore animals don’t think and feel in the same manner we do. It’s a well-known scientific fact that animals behave according to their inborn instincts. This is why a cat will never be as loyal to its master as a dog and a dog will make and not cover it up like a cat does. These are inborn behaviors established when they were created and they no choice but to behave within their inborn behaviors.

These instincts establish their whole way of life and their behaviors from the moment they are born to the moment they die. Ants never went to school to learn how to go in a straight line or to protect their queen. An ant knows its job from the moment it hatched, how to build the nest, how to protect the queen or look after the eggs or gather food for the winter. They function without any individual thought.

Wildlife research has shown that migrating birds can fly all the way to Finland though they didn’t know how to fly beforehand and never saw it and they could fly there even with their eyes closed. In other words they have an inborn map and navigating instinct inside them.

Salmon go upstream into inland streams to lay their eggs and die there. They fulfill their job from the moment they’re hatched until they die automatically without any thoughts or fear of dying. This is the way the Creator made His creations with inborn laws and instincts which also explains what we perceive as love and loyalty. A cat worried about her kittens can starve herself to feed them to the point of self-sacrifice but are you aware that a short 5 months later she ‘couldn’t care less’ about them and might even fight with them for some food? The cat automatically ‘loves’ its young at a given time and automatically stopped loving them at a certain time later. She can even mate with her offspring as if they were total strangers as this can increase the ability for their species to survive in nature.

Now you may be able to understand that when a dog ‘loves’ you he doesn’t really choose to love you and doesn’t decide to what extent he will ‘love’ you. He is programmed by G-d to ‘love’ in a predictable and established way. Since this trait is in their DNA, all dogs will love their masters in a similar way. Your dog could have ‘loved’ someone else who gives it food and takes care of it in exactly the same way it ‘loved’ you. His love is in his nature and not by his own free choice.   Thus is why people are able to train animals, since they don’t have free choice they can be trained.

Scientifically speaking, the dog’s instinct for loyalty comes from the pack behavior of wolves and dogs out in the wild. All the dogs instinctively listen to and protect the strongest alpha male which leads them and even decides how much food each dog will receive from the spoils of their hunt. No dog will go near the food until the alpha male allows them to.

You may have noticed what happens when you put your hand next to your dog’s plate or his dog house. He may growl threateningly or even attack his master because of his territorial instincts. A dog that gets to do what it wants will be spoiled and bark threateningly at his master in these instances. It doesn’t consider his master an alpha male. But if the dog gets disciplining he will fall into line and recognize the authority of his master and stop barking at him.

There’s a saying that “a dog is a man’s best friend.” But the truth must be told, dogs don’t naturally love people. That’s why dogs bark at people they aren’t familiar with who approach their master’s house; it’s their territorial instinct. He loves the members of ‘his pack’ meaning family members but not from a true human love for you. You may imagine that he loves you more than a stranger but this is humanizing his instinct. His loyalty and his happiness in your company is something you think is his loving you back just as 2 people love each other. But a dog does this out of instinct and not from true human type of love.

As humans we decide how much to love or hold back from loving someone and how much we’re willing to sacrifice out of love for someone. A man can choose to love his wife and sacrifice for her though he may feel emotionally weak at the time. A couple can rekindle their love for one another and maintain it through deeds, compliments and a lot of compromise. A mother can love her child and expend great efforts for him though she may be furious with him. A man can be faithful to his friend or turn his back on him.

Love is a great power that every human can use for good or for bad and we have control over it. We can decide to distance ourselves emotionally from someone or choose to love them and help them. That is why the Torah commands us: “Don’t hate your brother in your heart… Don’t take revenge or bear a grudge against your nation Love your fellow friend as you love yourself, I am G-d, (Leviticus 19, 17-18).”

These concepts depend on us and we control our actions. It’s obvious that you can’t command an animal to keep a mitzvah like loving his neighbor for their love or hate solely depend on their involuntary instinct with no way for them understand the difference between bad and good and change their ways.

Only a man can love someone he hates, break his character traits and be kind to him and even increase love and unity in the nation of Israel. Therefore a man’s love will always be far greater than an animal’s love. For the animal’s love depends on his instinct and is involuntary whereas man’s love depends on his will and ability to give or take. A man can truly give since he has the awareness of what giving and taking is and he can choose whether to give or to take. A dog’s conduct stems from his instinct and he has no idea why he does what he does, he just does it.

All this will not help you forget your pain but it will help you get a perspective on it and give it proportion.

In our next letter we will discuss and expand on your question why animals don’t have a portion in the world to come.


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