A video of a dog apparently mourning the death of his owner at a funeral has gone viral, prompting an outpouring from viewers around the world.
The footage was captured by a woman whose cousin Jon Tumilson, a member of a Navy Seal team, was killed in Afghanistan when his Chinook helicopter was hit by enemy fire on Aug. 6. A funeral service was held for Mr. Tumilson in Rockford, Iowa, last week and attended by 1,500 people.
But also in attendance was Mr. Tumilson’s loyal Labrador retriever, Hawkeye. The dog wandered over to his owner’s flag-draped casket and lay beside it throughout the service.
Struck by the gripping image, Mr. Tumilson’s cousin Lisa Pembleton took a picture and shared it with relatives. The image was published in local newspapers and quickly went viral on the Internet, capturing intense interest around the globe. A video of Hawkeye beside the casket was also shown on nightly newscasts.
Ms. Pembleton told one media outlet, Home Post, a blog about military life, that Hawkeye was her cousin’s “loyal son.”
I hadn’t planned on taking any pictures other than with family. However, from my seat at the funeral, I felt compelled to take one photo to share with family members that couldn’t make it or couldn’t see what I could from the aisle. This is that photo.
Stephanie LaFarge, a psychologist and senior director of counseling at the A.S.P.C.A., said that while no one can know for sure simply by looking at the image, she believed that the dog was aware that his owner was in the casket. Many dogs go through a grieving process similar to what humans experience after the death of a spouse or friend but with some differences, she said. Some dogs have been known, for example, to stay near or return to the places where they last saw their owners, in many cases their grave sites.
“There are famous stories of dogs returning to a grave site every day for five years, and you can’t account for that by saying he can smell the body there,” she said. “In fact, dogs return to the grave sites of their companion dogs and animals that they grow up with.”
As the video and picture of Hawkeye spread, many viewers reached out to Home Post with concerns about the pet’s well-being, along with many offers of adoption. A friend of Mr. Tumilson’s later said that the dog was taken by a good friend of Mr. Tumilson’s, who often kept Hawkeye when Mr. Tumilson was deployed overseas.
Dr. LaFarge said that while concerns about a pet that shows signs of mourning are normal, dogs and cats do not typically grieve to the point where it causes harm, for example by withdrawing or not eating for long periods of time.
“In other words, they do not get depressed and stop responding to life in normal ways,” she said. “Animals can generally miss and grieve and be upset and be sad for the person that they don’t have in their lives and simultaneously live a good quality of life, enjoy life, do all the things they would normally.”
Dr. LaFarge, who runs a free pet-loss hotline, said she often gets calls from people concerned about a dog or cat after its owner or companion pet has died.
“Their questions quite often are along the lines of, ‘One of my dogs just died, what’s going to happen to the other one?’ Or they say, “My husband just died and I’m worried about what’s going to happen to his dog,’ ” she said.
“This comes up all the time,” she added, “but rarely is it captured in such dramatic fashion. I think the power of the picture is what’s really interesting. It really tells us something about human beings, that what we see in this picture is what we treasure about animals, especially dogs, which is that they’re devoted to us. We’ve bred them to be that way. It didn’t happen by accident.”