Why We Cry When the Movie Dog Dies

How could you not love a face like this?

Celine Kiner

How could you not love a face like this?

  Warning: this story contains major spoilers. Beware.

“Marley and Me,” “Old Yeller,” “I Am Legend,” even “Big Hero 6:” the dog (or the robot) dies. And it’s devastating. Most of the time I cry, and not to make assumptions, but I’m guessing you do too. How could they kill off the most lovable character in the movie?
But here’s the thing. When was the last time you cried over a human’s movie death? I can’t remember. I may have teared up a little when Rue died, but I’ve never heard anyone cry in the theater the way my aunt did during Marley and Me. She had read the book, and she knew what was going to happen, but I swear she went through an entire three boxes of tissues. We struggle a lot more with pet deaths than with human deaths, maybe because human deaths seem more commonplace to us now.
It seems that empathy is lacking a little, and yes, it comes from our technology-centered lifestyle. Everything circles around the media, and since almost every day you hear about an accident or an illness, it has begun to mean less to us. The media is always reporting on death-related accidents, and so to an extent we have become used to hearing it. We’re exposed to such a huge amount of tragedies in our world that in order to cope properly, we must emote less. It’s not that we’re heartless; it’s just that to fully comprehend and grieve every loss would be devastating and impossibly painful. So we brush off the intense things, attempting not to process them.
Then the dog dies, which is something we don’t hear about on the news too often. We’re not ready for it. Plus, the dog is cute. While we become attached to a hero or a heroine, they must have flaws. Dogs, on the other hand, are loyal companions, and often perfect in their owners’ eyes, mostly because they’re adorable. Our attachment to them is much more maternal or paternal, and since we see ourselves as their caretaker or parent, the tragedy is much more real when a dog dies than when a human does (onscreen, at least).

Psychologist John Archer notes, “Pet owners treat pets like children, for example, playing with them…talking to them in motherese or baby-talk…and holding and cuddling them as one would a baby,” and if you deny doing any of these things with your pet, we all know it’s not true. Who doesn’t use baby talk with their pet?

This happens with other things too, not just pets. If it’s fluffy or has big eyes, it’s a lot cuter and we’ll associate it more with our pet than another human. So we cry a lot over the loss of our beloved pets. If only there were a way to prepare ourselves for the movie dog’s death.
Luckily, there’s a website for that. It goes by the URL doesthedogdie.com, and it’ll tell you just about everything you need to know: whether the dog is unharmed, gets injured or appears dead, or dies. There are icons that correspond to each; they’re very helpful in determining the amount of tissues you’ll need in the theater. If you’re a dog person, I would definitely recommend checking it out; at least having a warning is nice.

Whether you’re mourning the loss of your favorite movie dog or your favorite movie cat, keep in mind that it’s perfectly normal; we love our pets, and losing them hits us pretty hard. Think of it as an indication that you can still feel, despite the desensitized world of news that surrounds us.