Dogs have long held the distinction of "man's best friend," ever-cheerful companions with whom we share our homes and our lives. But the most revealing proof of their love and faithfulness isn't seen only in the happiest of times, but also when things are at their bleakest.
Members from the animal welfare organization Blue Cross of India recently witnessed a remarkable testament to the bonds of loyalty between people and their pets - one which endures even after death.
The organization explains on their Facebook page that while driving through the city of Chennai earlier this month, Blue Cross general manager Dawn Williams noticed a dog sitting off the road next to a fresh grave.
There are an estimated 35 million stray dogs in India, so Williams didn't stop to give it much thought. Little could he have known then that the animal wasn't in fact a stray; he was still sitting with his owner.
About two weeks later, another group of Blue Cross volunteers saw the dog sitting exactly where Williams had seen him earlier, only this time he looked worryingly thin. They decided to stop and offer the animal some food, but he refused to eat or even move from the grave. Instead, he only whimpered.
After asking some merchants nearby, the volunteers came to learn that the dog had been rescued from the streets by a local teenager who'd made him his pet. Sadly, however, the boy had died in an accident and been buried weeks earlier - and since then, the loyal pet had yet to leave his side.
When Williams learned of the story, he returned to the area and tracked down the boy's grief-stricken mother. She had assumed that the dog, whose name is Tommy, had run away when her son died. Williams knew just where to find the dog, they walked together back to the grave.
"When he saw her, Tommy got up and went slowly to her. It was obvious that he hadn't eaten much (if anything at all) in days," writes the Blue Cross. "Tommy rested his head on her feet and cried some more, as the mother bent down and, lifting his head up, kissed him, before burying her face against his neck and crying."
But in their shared grief over the boy, the mother and dog seemed to form a new bond:
"The mother picked up Tommy and carried him back to her house, telling our team, as she left, that she had wrongfully thought, because her only child had died, that she had nothing to live for."
She said something else, too - that despite her loss, she still had a son in Tommy.
The Times of India tried to reach out to the mother, but she is said to have moved back to her hometown, taking Tommy with her.
This is not the first time that the bonds between people and their pets have lasted long after the former has passed away. Perhaps the best-known example of this is the story of Hachikō, a dog in Japan who, in the early part of the last century, waited for nearly 10 years at a train station for his deceased owner to return.
All too often, dogs whose owners have died are left with no other place to go, and they wind up in shelters where their lives might be cut short. To learn about adopting a pet in need of a forever home, visit your local Humane Society or the ASPCA.