There is a bridge in Scotland where over fifty dogs
have inexplicably leapt to their deaths, plummeting
from parapet past green stone. Many believe it to be
possessed by the devil. Others claim the dogs are lost
in the pursuit of wild mink and tear off into mid-air,
keening for game. There have been reports of some
surviving their brush with death, only to return for a
second shot. These dogs understand what is at stake,
such leaps premeditated attempts to be closer to us
in every conceivable way.
Dogs don’t need to be taught how to smell.
They do need to be taught where to sniff -
along the seams of self-harm, underneath
a sudden calm where tense vapours settle.
Their nostrils can be trained to pick up poison
or the scent of gas, ears pin pricked for the sudden
ignition of an oven outside normal hours of use.
Suicide dogs begin building their own vocabulary
of suspicious odours, working out that ideation
will find nostrils quicker than food. Strictly speaking,
the dog smells intent. Trainers say these dogs know
when people are thinking of leaving through body cues,
electrical signals and other ways not yet named. Perhaps
a quietening of the voice. A loudening thought. Foregoing sleep.
Drastic changes in behavior, such as laughter or cleaning up a room,
result in the dogs exhibiting attention-getting behaviors:
whining, pawing, or anxious barking. Some people try
and write a final note to their companion, which these dogs
quickly intercept, licking hands until a pen is placed down.
There are signs. A dog jumping a fence forces you
to go outside and interact with the world. If it lays at your feet,
they have registered the absence of a smile. Becoming less
concerned about personal appearance, a dog will excessively
groom itself. They recognize the shapes of fragile –
slumped over, static, responding to a lack of fear
with bowed head and tucked tail. Research shows that dogs
don’t know what tears are. They do know they assist in
detecting despair on a loved one’s breath, a change in mood
triggered by the slightest tremor of the lower lip.
Dogs can be trained to stay with the person during an attempt
or to press a phone’s emergency button with a paw. Part
alarm clock, part smoke detector. Other dogs fail to go for help.
A suicide dog will bite a stranger up the road in exchange
for the authorities being contacted, never reluctant to seek
professional help. Some have appeared as willing witness
at a coronial inquest. Others have identified their owner’s remains,
refusing to leave the side of those they were sent to protect.
They will never abandon you. They will forever hold
the slender bone of hope, tender in their jaws.
Initial outcomes are encouraging. It has been found
that gun dogs are better than hunting hounds; earth dogs
tune into latent wishes; sled dogs follow a figure favouring
a fast exit. Such dogs will howl if sharp objects start calling out.
Cliffs are avoided on long walks. Once vehicles are present,
they examine exhaust pipes for trace isolation. One dog lay
on a passenger seat, refusing to exit until the car was impounded.
The handler informed the news channel this is a ‘death reaction’,
indicating a high chance that a body will be found in the vehicle
if left in its garage for another day.
Surveying a room for rafters or the height of a doorway,
barking and scratching apparent warnings against high risk activities
like taking baths, climbing chairs, or staring out to sea.
A negative view of the self requires the dog to lie still
on the threshold, one ear up in case their owner says
“If I wasn’t here, would you miss me?”
When this animal chooses not to sleep beside you
it is a sure sign for distant relatives to come close.
No one can prove conclusively what suicide dogs are thinking.
They are not yet able to make funeral arrangements.
While they note the giving away of clothes and books,
they reserve judgement as far as one can tell, pretending
to be pinned beneath furniture before it is taken.
Scientists say there are no guarantees.
Not every suicide is preventable.
Success can’t be dissected in post-mortem reports.
The number of dogs with this ability is unknown,
shining a small torch into a pack of eyes.
Scientists are certain these canines are born
with an innate sense of our purpose, our light.
They will not bury the evidence that we exist.