Empty Nesting Animals

Are you an Empty Nester or perhaps just one chick down?  Either way, it’s a time of change in the family dynamics and often not in the way anticipated.  Our first chick flew off to Liverpool in September of last year amid great excitement, planning and packing.  OK, the accommodation was awful when we arrived but a few posters, a couple of strategically placed lamps and a few treasures from home soon made the barren, cream painted breeze blocked room seem cheerier.

I left daughter to step into her future and drove the 147 miles home.  It felt odd and I couldn’t identify what emotions I was feeling.  It took a while to realise it was a sense of loss; loss of the daily (sometimes stroppy but never boring) presence.  Our home was now an all male bastion; even the cat and dog are male.

But one aspect of the fledging I hadn’t even considered was that animals feel loss too.

As I arrived home that night and opened the door huge brown eyes fleetingly met mine and then stared straight ahead, scanning the space behind me, looking for them, either of them, it really didn’t matter.  I’d said my usual cheery greeting upon entering our home but it wasn’t enough to distract from the task of assessing who else may have arrived home in the car.  Sadly, from the dog’s perspective, it was only me.

It must be very strange to have one’s life dismantled suddenly, and without warning but for the mini mountains of strange belongings which appeared around the house prior to departure.  Having lost his mother months earlier, and one of his cat pals suddenly just weeks before, to lose another constant in life has been enough to cause emotional trauma.  A once voracious appetite was gone and long spells were spent in his basket when before the fledging it was just for sleeping or recovering after one of the long walks on the Beacon they used to share.   His girl had gone.

The emptiness and lessened playfulness was compounded by the fact his boy was also away for a couple of weeks on a school trip.  But he didn’t know it was only a temporary loss.  At around 3.45pm each afternoon, he’d jump up expectantly, awaiting the sound of his boy’s car.  It didn’t come for days as it hadn’t left the drive in the morning.  More loss.  And more confusion.  Biscuits didn’t seem to help.

I discovered animals feel the loss but without the benefit of knowing fledglings return periodically, refuelling before migrating again.  This subject has been engaging me for a while, both prior to daughter’s departure and since and I’m writing a book about it.  Would love to hear your experiences, if you’d like to share?

  • Well, Janet, as you know my nest has always been empty. Just how I like it. But I have had various furry companions de temps en temps over the years.

    In my accountancy days, my lodger used to say that my cat would go to the front door and hop up on a good viewing point and watch for me at approximately close of biz. Apparently she (the cat, not the lodger) could also detect the glamorous yet efficient whine of the cliche accountant’s BMW 5 series.

    Did you hear that they have put CCTV on pets while we are out, and the moment we stand up from dinner with the intention of going home, they know and leap excitedly to their feet in glad anticipation of our return? I don’t doubt it.


  • Our darling boy, Pepper also feels the loss of our girls when they go off temporarily. He’s much quieter, sad even when he doesn’t have his girls to cuddle and play with him, or even groom him. He’s constantly by my side when they’re not there. Funny isn’t it? That’s life I guess.

    • Yes, Yvonne, it’s life and love which makes everything so much richer. Don’t be sad, Pepper, your girls will always return! Janet

  • Hi Judith. Yes, our animal friends have far greater abilities than perhaps give them credit for. I did read some research where it was established that a dog was aware his owner was starting the car from six miles away. Our furry friends know more about us than we realise, responding to our moods and thoughts. It’s a fascinating subject. Janet

  • Such a heart warming story. Yes, animals do feel loss. One of my daughters’ goldfish, Big Cassidy was unwell (he has since died) and struggling to breathe, throughout his illness, Little Cassidy (the other goldfish) floated/staid by Big Cassidy’s side and at times their mouths were touching and other times Little Cassidy literally tried to lift Big Cassidy from bottom of tank or nozzle her up the right way. Whoever said goldfish have no feelings or memories is mistaken as Little Cassidy showed such love.

    Thanks for sharing

    • Hi Ntathu. I was watching a programme the other day when it was discovered that fish have the special spindle cells which convey emotion – yes, there is no doubt they do feel emotion. How sad that Big Cassidy didn’t make it but so heartwarming that his friend helped and supported him until the end. We can learn so much from the Animal Kingdom and Nature. Janet

  • Jan

    I could feel your dog’s loss as I read your words. It’s opened my eyes as to how animals feel pain just as much as we do.

    My dog used to go into kennels when we went away and he used to give us the cold shoulder treatment for a few days when we collected him. His way of showing that he missed us I guess. Missing him now he’s gone.

  • Our black labrador, Freddie, had to be put to sleep last November. The following week, one of our two spaniels cut his leg badly and ended up in the vet’s for the day. The other spaniel refused to come in the house when he returned home. He wouldn’t budge and had to be carried in. He looked so sad. Fortunately, he was delighted to see his younger brother when he returned home later that day. Animals, bless. Loads of stories about them. Love them.
    Great post, Janet. Very evoking. Thank you, Sally

  • Oh Sally, I so understand the pain of losing an animal but at least we understand what’s happened. I’m so pleased your spaniels still have each other. Animals are part of the family and experience the whole spectrum of emotions with us. Thanks for sharing your story. Janet

  • I don’t have pets Janet but I can relate on the human side of your story. I moved in with my partner six months ago which meant letting go of my 22 year old son (he had the option to move with me but chose to stay local and get a place with one of his friends). It also meant acquiring my partner’s two offspring – an 18 year old full time and a part time 13 year old. I think I have felt the loss of my son more keenly because at the same time I was trying to fit in to a new family.
    But it’s all good now, now that we’ve got through that initial adjustment.
    Thanks for a lovely post.

  • This post has made me really smile. Love that …” from the dog’s perspective…”
    Well this nest has been considering a dog for quite some time now. This post only brings us a little closer. I’ll keep you in the doggy loop. Would love to hear some more stories about your animals. Fab! Amanda x