Most of us have read human interest stories about dogs and their survival acumen. A dog not only seems to be born with these instincts, there's a multitude of stories how they use those skills to save humans. For instance, who doesn't remember Lassie, a fictionalized version that relates to this topic?
However to take one's life is a different type of awareness, and one that is hard to prove. When asked the question whether or not a dog would willingly commit suicide, I venture to say most of us would respond it's not something a canine would consider.
Yet, there appears to a few situations where dogs would willingly entertain such a sad outcome.
Suicide by depression
One of those instances would be after the death of a fellow companion. Highly bonded dogs do change their behavior when they lose a companion. For example, dogs in such situations sometimes go into a deep depression and reject food and attention until they eventually die.
However, is this a conscious form of suicide? Many would postulate that the dog experiencing such depression would not be aware of its consequences.
A Bridge too far . . .
The ideas of a depressed dog throwing himself in front of a car or jumping off a high cliff to take his life is hard to comprehend, but an example of this has been documented.
In Scotland, there are hundreds of Scotsmen who insist that their dogs have willingly thrown themselves over the Overtoun Bridge in Dumbarton, Scotland.
When Lottie Mackinnion and her Border collie, Bonnie crossed that bridge, she witnessed a tragic event.
“Something overcame Bonnie as soon as we approached the bridge,” Ms. Mackinnon said. “At first she froze, but then she became possessed by a strange energy and ran and jumped right off the parapet.”
Scots who witnessed similar deaths have described occurrences where their dogs seemed compelled to throw themselves off the gothic bridge ever since the 1950s. Many have ended up dead on the jagged rocks below.
Residents of Dumbarton now refer to the bridge as the "dog suicide bridge." In a land rife with superstitions, myths and monsters the question remains: Why do so many dogs jump?
Some say there are rational explanations involving the terrain and the scents of fellow canines in the gorge that may drive the dogs into a frenzy. This makes some sense, as dogs are born with a high-level of olfactory capabilities. A dog's brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours. So, in these cases, these dogs may have met their end as a result of death by scents.
Aligned with suicide, there is a belief that dogs possess a sixth sense which allows them to sense when someone is about to die. This has been documented widely, particularly when it pertains to their owners. Whether or not this instinct gives them enough information to understand death is still speculative.
There are stories demonstrating dogs lying dutifully near the caskets of their deceased owners, trying to revive them. We can never truly know if this provides enough insight that if dogs understood death, they could take their own lives as a result.
So, whether or not dogs can commit suicide remains a mystery. It is something to be explored and researched further. Readers, please let us know your feelings on this topic and share in the comments below. We would appreciate your perspective on the topic.
Primary Source: NY Times