Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Do Pets Forget About Us Over Time?

By Linda Cole

Sometimes, because of situations beyond our control, we have to find a pet a new home. An illness or change in jobs can force a loving owner to have to give their pet away. We develop such a close bond with our pets, we never forget them. But do pets forget about us over time? There's no shortage of stories recounting the adventures of pets who traveled hundreds of miles to find their family. When a close bond has been broken and pets have to form a new one with a new family, are we still in their mind? Do they forget about us or do they retain some memory of their old life?

My mom fought a lifelong battle with rheumatoid arthritis, and was in and out of the hospital for as long as I can remember, undergoing numerous surgeries to correct the damage caused by her disease. Complications from her last surgery kept her in the hospital far longer than expected. I was taking care of her pets at my house. As their extended stay turned into months, one of her dogs, Ben, began to mope around the house. Mom passed away in the hospital and I started the chore of bringing her belongings to my house. Ben perked up when he smelled familiar scents, and he burrowed under her bedding I had brought over to wash. He ran from room to room as if he were looking for something, and I always wondered if it was simply the smells he remembered or if he was looking for my mom. I do believe he remembered his life with her when he smelled familiar scents from his home.

We know a lot about dogs and cats, but whether pets forget about us when they go to a new home or become lost is still a mystery. But there are amazing examples of how a cat or dog walked hundreds of miles to get back home when they were lost, given away or relocated to a temporary home. A cat walked 1,000 miles through the Australian outback to return to his home after he was taken to stay temporarily with a family member while his owners were overseas. What's truly remarkable is how he knew which way to go, and that he survived in a region where many people have trouble surviving. It took him a year to cover his 1,000 mile trek home!

A well known example of a dog who refused to leave his master's side is Greyfriar's Bobby, a Skye terrier who became a fixture on his owner's grave for 14 years. Even though people in the community tried to adopt Bobby, he always ran away and returned to the cemetery.

Some pets seem to be more tuned into their owners than other pets. We know some dogs have the mental capacity of three year olds. Cats are much smarter than they're given credit for, and some dogs and cats do exhibit problem solving abilities. We can remember significant things that happened when we were three. So why should it surprise us if some pets can remember?

If pets do forget about us over time, then how do we explain the ones who crossed rivers and mountains to return to their homes? Some have even left their old home to find their owner who moved to a new location that was unfamiliar to the pet and yet, they were able to find them.

No one knows how pets are able to do this. It really is amazing how some pets are so connected with their owners that they will go in search of them. Some accounts of pets returning to their old home could be due to the pet wanting to be in familiar and comfortable territory. But that wouldn't explain why a pet would pull up roots, leaving their old home to go in search of an owner who moved hundreds of miles away or one who passed away.

Pets instinctively hide pain or injuries so they don't appear weak. Is it possible they're good at hiding their feelings as well? Love is a hard emotion to define when it comes to our pets. We love them, but do they love us in return? I think they do. Do pets forget about us over time? It probably depends on the pet. Some are willing to do whatever it takes to be with the ones they feel comfortable and safe with. Love, after all, is a comfortable and safe feeling. Maybe it's that simple for some pets – it’s a familiar bond with their human that remains no matter where we are.

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. I just watched a movie called Hatchi, that was about a dog whose owner dies, and he sits at the train station for 10 years waiting for him to come back. I gave away a dog and it took her two weeks but she found her way back to our old home. Have a great day.

  2. Interesting post. I think pets remember a lot more than humans sometimes give them credit, but like you said, it depends on the pet and their situation. I adopted my dog from our local shelter. He came from a neglect situation. He rarely barks and loves people. However, he barks at 1 (and only 1) of my son's friends. I think that boy reminds him of someone from his old family situation. After 1 year, my dog seems to have finally made friends with this boy.


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