The Unbreakable Bond: Five Stories of Animals Who Made Contact After Death
Some people view animals simply as useful tools to have around the house. Perhaps they are used to frighten away would-be intruders or as rodent control. For others, however, their pets are extensions of their immediate family. They love them with all of their hearts and are loved just as much in return. It is these pet owners who feel the loss of their beloved companion animals the most and vice versa.
My father's best friend when I was a child was a man named Chuck Workman. We lived in a small town at the time and Chuck and his family were our next door neighbors. He and my father hunted and fished together for many years. They were often joined on their adventures by Chuck's dog, Tucker.
I remember that Tucker looked like a beagle, only larger. He was a friendly dog who was one of the few animals that my mother would allow into our house. She had a strict "no pets" policy at the time, much to my chagrin. Tucker, however, was always welcome.
It was on a blazing summer day that the serenity of our little neighborhood was shattered by the sound of sirens racing down the street. Something was happening next door, but we didn't know what.
My mother ran to Chuck's house to find his wife in hysterics. She said that Chuck had collapsed while working in the backyard. I wasn't allowed to go with my mother into the house so I remember sitting on our front step and watching all of the activity as it unfolded around me. The one thing that stands out in my mind is the mournful howling that was coming from somewhere in Chuck's house. It was clear that Tucker knew something that no one else did.
I'm not sure how much time passed, it could have been minutes or hours. Finally, my mom came back over to our house and told me to go inside. She followed me in, but didn't say a word. I learned what happened in the only way I could at the time, I eavesdropped.
My mother was on the phone with someone and she was obviously very upset. She told whoever was on the other end that our neighbor had died. He was being taken to the only hospital in town, but it wasn't going to do any good. He was already gone.
Later that night, my mother and father talked about the awful event that had occurred that day. My father, who was normally as hard as nails, wiped his eyes as he sat on the couch. There would be no more fishing trips or nights of playing rummy until all hours. His best friend, Chuck, was gone forever.
My father wasn't the only one who lost a friend that day. Tucker, too, was feeling the void that had been created. The howling that had begun earlier in the day continued well into the night. We heard it loud and clear, as could anyone for blocks. No one complained or mentioned the dog's cries. It wasn't the time.
My parents attended Chuck's funeral, but my siblings and I stayed with my aunt. We were too young for such things or, at least, that's what my mom said. After the burial, my mom told my aunt that Chuck's wife had brought Tucker to the cemetery. She said that the dog had leaned against the casket with his eyes closed throughout most of the ceremony. She also said that it was the saddest thing she had ever seen.
A few days later, Chuck's wife came to our house and sat at the kitchen table with my mom. She said that Tucker spent almost every minute of the day laying on the spot in the backyard where Chuck had died. She would try to entice him to come into the house with her, but he would only snuggle closer into the dirt.
Worse still, she said that the dog had not eaten a bite of food since her husband had passed. She had even made hamburgers for him, something he had always loved and would wolf down if given the chance. Now, he would sniff the meat and turn his head away.
Tucker had slept at the foot of his owner's bed for years. In the days since the tragedy, he had spent his nights in the backyard, glued to the last place he had seen Chuck. The only time he would stir would be when he would hear an ambulance, or any other kind of siren. This would make him sit up and throw his head back as he mimicked the sound.
The next time our neighbor came over to our house it was to tell my parents that Tucker had died. She had gone out to try to give him his breakfast that day and discovered that he had passed away during the night. She found him just as she had found her husband and in exactly the same place. My sister, brother and I were devastated. We had liked Chuck, but we loved Tucker. We cried like we had lost a pet of our own.
Several days later, my mother went next door to visit with Chuck's widow. When she returned home, she told a story that I would never forget. She said that the neighbor related that she had been visited by Tucker on the day after his death.
She had been sleeping on the couch when she had suddenly felt Tucker's head bump her arm. She knew the feeling right away because it was something he had always done when he wanted to be petted. He would tuck his head under her arm or hand and then nudge her until she patted him. She laid her hand on his head and felt the tufts of fur behind his ears.
She relished the moment since it was the first time Tucker had wanted to be petted since Chuck died. She was relieved that everything was back to normal. That is, until she opened her eyes and reality set in. It was only then that she remembered that Tucker was gone. Even so, she knew, with all her heart, that she had felt his head against her arm and that she had stroked his fur. It had not been a dream, she was certain of that. Tucker had taken time to pay her one last visit before heading out on his new adventure, no doubt, with his beloved Chuck by his side.
My maternal grandmother lived in a house that was, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere. In order to get to the house, you had to leave a secondary road and then drive for a couple of miles down a narrow, jutted dirt road that weaved through acres of untamed woodlands. To compare it to "Sleepy Hollow" would not be an exaggeration.
Even though my grandmother was getting up there in years, she lived in the house by herself most of the time. One of my cousins would stay with her once and awhile and relatives visited from time to time, but she was normally on her own. Except, that is, for her dogs.
My grandmother would never allow a dog into her house, but she did have what she called "porch dogs." She had several dogs over the years, but never more than one at a time. She would sit out on her porch swing, dog at her feet, and enjoy the nature that surrounded her.
Because the house was so secluded, it was not a place that one would just find by accident. If you had never been there, you would not know that the house even existed. For this reason, my grandmother didn't worry too much about her safety. She figured that no one would just happen upon the place and, if they did, the dogs would let her know.
I have written about my grandmother's house in the past. It was a spooky place in which many people, including myself, experienced unexplained phenomena. My grandmother would tell stories of being awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of someone walking on her porch. She could clearly hear the boards creaking as the heavy footsteps paced back and forth just outside of her front door.
She would also hear whichever porch dog she had at the time barking fiercely at whoever was on the porch. The trouble was that, when she peeked out of the living room window to see who was there, the porch would be vacant except for the frantic dog.
The mysterious visitor wouldn't always limit itself to simply pacing on the porch. On some nights, a loud knocking on the door would jolt my grandmother from sleep. Again, she would peer through the curtains to see who was there only to find the porch empty. All the while, her dog would be running around the perimeter of the house and barking madly at whatever was attempting to gain access into the house.
Although my grandmother never saw the source of the night time disturbances, her dogs did and they paid the ultimate price. One after the other, her dogs would disappear. They didn't run away. There would have been nowhere for them to go. They weren't stolen. No one even knew that they were there.
All my grandmother knew was that one day she would have a dog and the next day it would be gone. My uncle would bring her another dog and, eventually, it too would vanish. All that would remain would be a pile of bones and teeth, if anything.
After losing several dogs, including her favorite--a mutt she named "Pooch"--my grandmother decided that she didn't want any more dogs. Something terrible was happening to them and she no longer wished to play a part in their demise. She would now, well and truly, be all alone.
It was several weeks after she had lost her last dog when my grandmother was awakened by the familiar pacing on her front porch. The sound of footfalls could be heard loud and clear in the stillness of the night.
As my grandmother tried to see who the intruder was, she was startled by the sudden panicked barking of a dog. She listened as the shrill yelping turned into a low growling noise. She had a clear view of the porch, but couldn't see anyone there. There was no one pacing, nor was there a dog.
This scenario played itself out on various occasions for years. My grandmother never had another dog, but a dog could always be heard when the phantom footsteps and door knocking would occur.
My grandmother talked about the night caller and the dogs who came to ward it off more times than I can count. She was convinced that her dead porch dogs had, somehow, returned to protect her. She believed this because one of the dogs had a bark that was unique to her favorite companion, Pooch.
Pooch had never been able to bark normally. He had some sort of defect in his vocal cords that caused his bark to be stifled. It could still be heard, but there was a raspy quality that set his bark apart from other dogs. More that once, she had distinctly heard Pooch trying to drive away whatever was on the porch.
This went on for many years after Pooch, and the other dogs, had disappeared. It seemed that, even in death, they felt obligated to protect the only home they had ever known.
When I was in my twenties, my sister rescued a tiny kitten from a freeway underpass. I fell in love with this soft bundle of fur and knew that I would have to keep her. I named her Tabitha and she was a loyal and treasured pet for eight wonderful years.
After many happy years together, Tabitha developed diabetes and it ravaged her body in a very short amount of time. Nothing seemed to slow the progress of this dreadful disease. Despite the best medical care, her blood sugar could not be regulated and she ended up dying from cardiac arrest.
I was devastated by the loss of my beloved companion. She was buried in a local pet cemetery where I visited her grave as often as possible. She had been a very special cat and the stone marker that was placed upon her gravesite bore a testament to that fact.
In life, Tabitha had always slept on the bed with me. Every night, I would settle in underneath the blankets and she would jump up onto the bed and proceed to nestle in the crook of my legs. This was our ritual and we seldom deviated from it.
It was a few weeks after her death that I first noticed the telltale signs that my sweet kitty might still be with me in spirit. I began to find her toys lying in the middle of the floor even though I had no other cats at the time. Tabitha had always been notorious for losing her toys, they would end up underneath the sofa or bed. Sometimes, it seemed as though they would disappear into thin air, never to be seen again.
Now, after she was gone, they were turning up everywhere. Toys that I hadn't seen in years would suddenly be underfoot. I never knew how they got there or where they came from, but cat toys seemed to be coming out of the woodwork. I wanted to believe that this was a sign from Tabitha, but I didn't want get my hopes up.
I gave in one night when I felt her jump up onto the bed with me. It was as though she had never been gone. I laid down and turned over onto my side just as I had always done. I was startled when, just as she had done for years before her death, Tabitha joined me and nestled in tightly against my legs.
I would have chalked this experience up to wishful thinking or imagination except for the fact that it happened night after night for months. I became accustomed, once again, to having my cat snuggled up against me as I slept. I never felt her leave, but I always knew when she jumped onto the bed.
I never saw Tabitha during this time, but I felt her presence as surely as if she had been sitting right in front of me. Her visits brought a sense of comfort and peace that had been sorely missing since she had passed away. They were something I looked forward every night. And then, as suddenly as they had begun, the visits stopped.
I imagine now that this was my much-loved cat's way of telling me that it was time to move on, for both of us. I'm still grateful that she gave me the reassurance that love never dies, it simply turns into something else: a warm place in our hearts where lost love can rest for eternity.
An Unexpected Gift
In 2013, my aunt passed away suddenly following an accident at her home. She left behind a cat and dog, neither of which anyone seemed to want. My sister and mother took the cat and my family and I adopted the dog. Her name was Midnight.
My first impression of the scruffy canine was, I'm ashamed to admit, not a good one. She was a black lab mix who could only be described as morbidly obese. Her coat was dry and filthy and she was suffering from arthritis that was so severe she could barely walk. I would soon learn that looks can be deceiving. This dog was beautiful inside and out.
Midnight was fourteen years old when we adopted her and had spent her entire life living outdoors. She had never set foot inside of a house. She had survived blazing hot summers and frigid winters with very little shelter. All the same, she had the best disposition of any dog I had ever encountered.
We had prepared a bed for Midnight on the lower level of our house since she was not able to walk up stairs. Everything was new to her. She had only ever slept on straw. Now, she had a soft cushiony mat that was covered with blankets. She would never spend another night outside alone. She was part of a family now.
Amazingly, even though she had never been inside, she was completely housebroken from the very start. She never once had an accident in the house. We had three other dogs and she just followed whatever they did. For an older gal, she was a quick study.
Midnight spend that winter lying in front of the fireplace heater on her big, overstuffed bed like she had always been there. She was getting lots of attention and had even begun to lose weight. Her legs became stronger and she would even run along with the other dogs when they went outside. She was having the time of her life until the cruel hand of fate took it all away.
It was in July of 2014 that things went terribly wrong. Midnight always loved her snack before bedtime, but one night she refused to eat. I didn't think much of it since dogs can have their off days just like people. It was on the following morning when she wouldn't eat her breakfast that we began to worry. Homemade chicken and rice was her favorite and she wouldn't touch it. We knew that something was wrong.
To make matters worse, she didn't react at all when she saw me. Normally, she would have whimpered and wagged her stump of a tail. Not on this day. She didn't seem to want to move at all.
In spite of her condition, Midnight did manage to go outside, but she wouldn't come back in. Instead, she laid down underneath a tree and refused to get back up. We knew that she was in urgent need of medical care so my husband picked her up and carried her to the car.
At the vet's office, they performed blood tests and x-rays to determine what was making our dog behave so out of character. The news was not good. Midnight had a football sized tumor growing on her spleen that was causing her to bleed internally. There was nothing they could do to save her.
As difficult as it was, we did the only thing we could for Midnight, we let her go. She was suffering and we asked that she be put to sleep. We said our goodbyes to the dog who had been a part of our family for a short eight months. We were sad not only for her loss, but also because she was enjoying her life so much only to have it snatched away in the blink of an eye. It wasn't fair, but there was nothing we could do.
Life went on, but we had a very sad house for awhile. There was something missing and we all felt it. That is, until one night about two months after Midnight had passed. My husband was making his usual nightly raid on the kitchen while I was curled up on the couch with our three dogs who were all sleeping soundly as I watched whatever was on television.
After my husband made his sandwich, he came back into the living room and stood in front of the couch, staring at me intently. "Which dog was in the kitchen with me?" he asked. I didn't know what he was talking about. The dogs hadn't budged from the couch.
He was certain that a dog had been with him in the kitchen. He claimed that he had bumped into it several times while he was preparing his food. He hadn't paid much attention to it because he was used to at least one of the dogs following him anytime he tried to eat.
He made a habit of not turning on the light when he went into the kitchen, he didn't need to since the living room was close by and the television provided enough light to see to get around.
The whole episode got me thinking that Midnight might still be with us after all. I knew for a fact that none of the dogs had left the couch while my husband was in the kitchen. I also believed him when he said that he had bumped into a dog while he was making his snack. Who else could it have been if not Midnight?
Not long after the incident in the kitchen, my daughter and I both heard a dog walking in the hallway at a time when our three dogs were outside. The floor is linoleum and the dog's toenails make a distinct "clickety-click" when they walk on it. We knew for a fact that none of our dogs were in the house at the time and, yet, we could clearly hear a dog walking on the floor.
We sat in silence for a moment and, sure enough, it happened again. There was no doubt that a dog was in the hallway. We had heard that sound hundreds of times in the past. There was no mistaking it. Still, when we looked for the mysterious dog, it was nowhere to be found.
Midnight had hated walking on the linoleum floor while she was living. The slippery surface had terrified her. I guess everything changes in the afterlife, even a dog's fear of linoleum.
We had several instances in the months following Midnight's death that convinced us that she was still around. Sometimes, it was in the form of a shadow dog that one of us would see entering a bedroom when all of our dogs were accounted for. The phantom toenails on the linoleum also continued.
The one thing that convinced me, beyond any doubt, that Midnight was paying us the occasional visit was her scent. Midnight had possessed a very pungent doggy odor that none of our other dogs had. Most canines have a bit of a smell, but this was in a class all its own. It was overpowering at times and impossible to wash off. Once in a while, the smell would fill a room only to disappear a short time later. It was as if Midnight had stopped by for a moment and then continued along her way.
As with most visitations, Midnight eventually seemed to have moved on to whatever awaited her in the great unknown. All of the signs of her visits faded over time, much to our dismay. We were, however, grateful that we got to have her around for a bit longer. She was a special dog. One that we will never forget.
It is often said that the hardest part of having a pet is saying goodbye. The Taylor family, of Vienna, West Virginia, shared their story with me by way of a mutual friend. It recounts the very special bond that they had with their dog, Bailey, and how--even in death--his love for them continued.
The Taylors already had one dog when they adopted Bailey as a companion for their autistic son. The boy was quite withdrawn around people, but had always responded well to animals.
Bailey was a two year old chocolate colored lab mix with a long tail that fanned the floor whenever anyone approached. It was love at first at sight when they spotted him at the animal shelter. His temperament and gentle demeanor made him the perfect dog for their family.
The new arrival fit into the family dynamic from day one. He seemed to sense that the youngest son was somehow different and in need of special attention. The boy and Bailey bonded from the start and soon became the best of friends.
The boy, who communicated with his family using sign language, would become frustrated when he had trouble expressing himself. In the past, this had led to tantrums that could be terrifying in their intensity.
Bailey seemed to know when the boy was about to have an outburst and he would snuggle close to the child and nuzzle his face. This simple act would, almost immediately, calm the boy and his anxiety would wane. When no one else seemed to understand the boy's needs, Bailey was there for him.
The entire Taylor family grew attached to Bailey and showered him with attention. He never wanted for anything. He even managed to make friends with the family's other dog, a curmudgeonly cocker spaniel.
Years past and, with Bailey's help, the Taylor's young son had become much more aware of the world around him. He had also come out of his shell to the point that he could play in the yard with other kids from the neighborhood, something he had never done before.
Nothing is perfect and Bailey was no exception. He did have a few strange habits that drove the family mad at times. He would go outside several times a day to run in the fenced in yard. When he was tired and wanted to come back in, he would butt his head against the back door until someone would open it. If they weren't quick enough for his liking, he would turn around and kick the door with his hind legs like a mule.
The Taylors had never seen a dog kick a door with its hind legs before and thought that it was hilarious, that is, until the day he kicked the door so hard that he busted out the screen and cut a gash in his leg in the process. After that, they made sure that they let him in before his impatience got the better of him.
Another habit of Bailey's was that he always felt the need to spin around in circles before finally finding the perfect spot to lie down. Whether he was in a bed or on the floor, he always performed the same ritual before collapsing with a sigh.
Bailey's favorite snack in the whole world was peanut butter. Any time anyone was making a peanut butter sandwich, Bailey would beg pitifully until they gave in and shared their food with him. He would usually wash down the gooey delight with some nice cold water from his favorite drinking place--the toilet. Even though he always had fresh water available, he preferred the taste of toilet water. The family could hear him lapping it up at all hours of the day and night.
About three years after the family adopted Bailey, their other dog died. He had been suffering from renal failure and they made the difficult decision to have him euthanized. Bailey moped around for weeks, mourning his friend.
Following on the heels of that sad event, Mrs. Taylor noticed a growth behind one of Bailey's ears. It didn't seem like much, but she decided that she would mention it to the veterinarian on Bailey's next visit. As it turned out, that would come sooner than later.
The lump behind Bailey's ear grew at an alarming rate. The family made the appointment with the vet to have the growth checked out. They hoped against hope that it was nothing. It turned out to be exactly what they had feared. Bailey had cancer and it was aggressive.
The veterinarian went over all of the options available to help Bailey. The best chance of saving him was to remove the lump and the tissue that surrounded it. Unfortunately, since the tumor and appeared suddenly and grown rapidly, they were told that it would probably come back. If it did, the prognosis was bleak. Their other choice was to euthanize Bailey on the spot before things progressed any further.
The Taylors decided to have the growth removed. Bailey deserved a chance and they were going to give it to him. The surgery went well and most of the tumor was removed. Even so, it had been worse than the veterinarian had expected and she wasn't optimistic when she spoke to the family after the surgery.
She told them that she had been unable to remove all of the cancer. The surgery would probably buy Bailey some time, but the end result would not be good. Her advice to them was to enjoy the time they had left with their dog and that was exactly what they intended to do.
After Bailey had recovered from his ordeal, the whole family took time off from work and school and headed for the beach, Bailey in tow. He had never before seen the ocean or run along a sandy beach and he loved every minute of it. They also took him hiking in the mountains of West Virginia. He swam in a mountain stream and slept in a tent for the first time.
All of the adventures that the family had in the final months of Bailey's life were as much for them as they were for Bailey. They wanted to remember their sweet, funny dog happily running on the beach and drinking from a crystal clear lake surrounded by forest. He loved his life and they wanted to always think of him this way--full of joy.
Barely four months after his surgery, the tumor began to grow again, with a vengeance. To make matters worse, tumors began to appear on his abdomen. The family knew what they had to do. Bailey was still able to eat and drink, but they knew that he was going downhill rapidly. They had to do the right thing for him and soon.
The Taylors couldn't bear the thought of their beloved dog dying in a sterile animal clinic, so they asked their vet if she would come to their house and administer the injection that would allow Bailey to slip away peacefully. She agreed to their request. She would stop by the next morning and do what had to be done.
The family spent the last night of Bailey's life pampering him, brushing his fur and taking pictures of him. They ordered pizza and shared the cheesy treat with him. After they had eaten, they all settled in for the night on the living room floor in sleeping bags. They wanted to spend that final night close to their dog. No one actually got any rest, but at least they were together one last time.
It was with heavy hearts that they invited the veterinarian into their home when morning came. They all said their tearful goodbyes to Bailey as the shot was administered. It was the Taylor's youngest son, Bailey's most favored companion, who held the dog's head as he passed away.
Even though they tried to explain to the young boy what had happened to his dog, no one was sure how much he understood. The child didn't cry or react in any way. He simply held Bailey tightly until he had to let his beloved dog go.
When it was over, the vet wrapped Bailey's body in his favorite blanket and took him to be cremated at the clinic. The family watched as she drove away, taking Bailey with her. It was a sad day for everyone.
The young son, who had been Bailey's best friend, went back to being the reclusive, uncommunicative child he had been before the dog had entered their lives. Even though he never let on, everyone could see that he was mourning the loss of Bailey. The problem was that they didn't know how to help him.
It was a few weeks after Bailey had passed that they saw the first signs that their autistic child might be opening up once again. One day, as they were sitting at the dinner table, the family heard the sound of water being sloshed around in the downstairs bathroom.
They knew that noise well. It was the familiar sound of a dog drinking from the toilet. Since the Taylors no longer had dogs, they all jumped up to see who was in the bathroom. When they poked their heads into the room, it was empty. The seat was up, but there was no one there--dog or otherwise. Even though they didn't see Bailey, the look of joy on the youngest son's face said it all: Bailey had come home.
That would turn out to be the first of many visits the family would have from Bailey. Not long after the toilet incident, the Taylors were made aware of Bailey's presence once again one afternoon when their daughter heard a thumping sound at the back door. When she went to investigate, there was no one there. She had heard the sound many times before. It was exactly like the noises Bailey used to make when he would kick the door or butt his head against it.
The next time the thumping occurred on the back door, the entire family heard it. It began as a soft thud, but soon escalated into the unmistakable sound of the door being kicked. Mrs. Taylor will never forget this event because, when it happened, her young son had spoken as he jumped up from his seat. As the child bounded towards the back door, he had yelled out one of the only words he had ever uttered: "Bailey."
As the family suspected, there was no dog at the door. They did see that there were dirt marks on the bottom of the door that looked like paw prints. Bailey would dig on that exact spot sometimes when he wanted in. The yard was fenced in and they had no pets at the time. How the marks got there was a mystery since the door had been cleaned since Bailey passed away.
Bailey has been gone now, at least in body, for over two years. In spirit, he still pays the occasional visit to the Taylor family. They have since adopted a yellow lab named Maggie. She is a bit more rambunctious than Bailey, but gentle and loving towards children just as he had been.
Even though the Taylors love Maggie and enjoy every moment with her, they have never forgotten Bailey. Apparently, he hasn't forgotten them either. They still hear him, every now and then, gulping water from the toilet bowl when Maggie is present and accounted for.
On occasion, Bailey can still be heard kicking at the back door, demanding to be let in. They never see him, but they sense that he is there and, sometimes, so does Maggie. Every once in a while, she will appear to play with something that only she can see. The way she behaves reminds them very much of two dogs roughhousing with each other.
The Taylor family feel blessed to have Maggie in their lives. They are also thankful for the time they had with Bailey. He brought immeasurable joy into their lives and they welcome his visits to this day. Their home will always be his home, in life or whatever comes after.