Grover Krantz was onto something when he had his remains donated to science. A professor of anthropology, he didn’t see why death should interrupt his life-long teaching. His body first went to the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center, where he contributed to the study of human decay. His skeleton was then moved to Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History, where he can be found to this day. Back when Krantz first approached the Museum about housing his remains, he was upfront about the catch: his bones were to stay with those of his late Irish Wolfhounds, Clyde, Icky and Yahoo.
Krantz and his beloved companions didn’t stay behind the scenes for long. In 2009, he and Clyde, his first and favorite dog, were put on display in the exhibition Written in Bone: Forensic Files of the 17th-Century Chesapeake. The position of the two skeletons, together in life and death, captures the mutual adoration between the two species. In fact, the skeletons were posed using a picture of Krantz and Clyde from the good old days.
Maybe you find Krantz’ final directives on the extreme side. A Washington Post piece profiling Krantz’s life (and afterlife) suggests he had always been known for eccentricities. Even so, life-and-death ties with pets run deep.
A recent study published in Anthrozoös offers a novel approach to investigating what companion animals mean to us. For the study, lead researcher Cindy Wilson and her collaborators decided to analyze a unique datasource: the obituaries. Over the course of three months, they conducted a “bi-national, exploratory, content analysis of companion animals mentioned in newspaper obituaries.” They wanted to know: when people pass, do their obituaries make mention of a pet or pet survivor, and are donations requested to a pet-related charity?
A scan of 11,818 obituaries in The Washington Post (Washington, DC), The Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia) and The Zurich (Switzerland) revealed that 2.2%, or 260 obituaries, met their criteria. Only one obituary in Switzerland mentioned an animal (in this case, a man’s surviving cat), and all others came from the States. Obituaries were roughly split between mentioning a pet survivor and requesting pet-related donations. Most non-human survivors mentioned were dogs, and the obituaries often gave the dogs’ names.
This study makes me think that many people might understand where Grover Krantz was coming from when he decided to spend eternity with his dogs. For one thing, the obituaries rarely used the word ‘pet.’ As the researchers explain, “these animals have most likely been elevated to family status…. To be listed in an obituary which is typically reserved for conventional kin extends the concept of fictive kin to these animals that appear in the last tribute to their human companions.” Fictive kin refers to non-blood relatives on equal footing with biological relatives. It seems companion animals can also serve as fictive kin.
In the obituaries, non-human animals were often listed as survivors alongside human family members. An octogenarian is described “as being survived by two nieces…a nephew…and a loyal canine companion, Shirley.” Another describes a man as leaving behind “his beloved granddogs, Brie Sherwin and Otis Huddleston. His non-furry grandchild will arrive in May.” The obituaries also contain the other side of the coin—the animals’ perceived response to the loss of a significant person. For example, “He will be sorely missed by Molly, his ever-present cocker spaniel companion.”
A study like this gives you pause. I imagine most researchers and practitioners in my field would agree: on one hand, we try to objectively study the inner world and workings of Canis familiaris (whether in their own right or as they compare to other species), but we also have personal relations with members of this species. There are some dogs who think I am the bees’ knees, and I feel the same.
When I was a kid, I used to have a reoccurring, one-sided conversation with my dog, Brandy. It usually took place at night when she was stretched out under the covers, somehow taking up three-fourths of the bed with her chihuahua-dachshund body. Before falling asleep, I’d lay out the rules, “If you ever die, I’ll kill you.” At the time, it seemed natural to couple such deep love with a threat. Like most dogs, she didn’t listen.
Picture: Krantz and Clyde via Smithsonian.com
Wilson C.C., Dennis C. Turner & Cara H. Olsen (2013). Companion Animals in Obituaries: An Exploratory Study, Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of The Interactions of People , 26 (2) 227-236. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175303713x13636846944204