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Experts say our four-legged friends go through an emotional process much like ours when facing loss

TORONTO -- While more than a thousand people gathered last week to mourn the passing of prized Toronto police horse Brigadier, were his stable mates grieving as well?

One of the herd is missing. And they're probably aware, says one equine behaviour expert; many companion animals share emotional responses strikingly similar to our own.

"The longer and closer their association has been, the more strongly and the longer they are likely to grieve," says Dr. Jessica Jahiel, internationally-known horse trainer and lecturer. "That's not too different from the way humans react, is it?"
The emotional lives of animals have been carefully researched and documented in books and articles, including grief which has been observed in many wild species and companion animals following the death of a pack member. A deep attachment in their social group is common among many in the animal kingdom; intricate funeral rituals are even followed by elephants, including mourning at the gravesite for hours.
A study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reveals that animals experience emotional responses to significant upheaval in their environment: 66% of dogs exhibited four or more behavioural changes after losing a pet companion.

Grieving pets may also continue to look for their dead companion, says renowned canine expert Dr. Stanley Coren, who believes social animals, especially dogs and horses, love and suffer. They form deep attachments with each other and "when grieving, they show certain behaviours similar to humans."

Owners can help the surviving pet adjust to the loss by giving them something to do, advises Coren. "Change their circumstances a bit, engage them in their favourite activity and introduce them to new friends -- the same things you'd do for a human."

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