The 10 Saddest Dog Deaths in American Art History

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I’m not a huge Family Guy...guy…but it made me vaguely sad when I heard that Brian the dog died in last night’s episode. Sure, he’s fictional, and sure, he’s also animated, but even through those layers of artifice, I felt the pang of a dog’s death. It’s no fun, but because it’s such a tearjerker, we see it over and over again in movies, TV, and books. There are even songs about dogs dying, and they’re all sad.

Here now, to work through the sadness of losing Brian and reach a catharsis, are the 10 saddest dog deaths in American art history.

10. Brian, Family Guy
Look, is he going to be on this list when we make it again in ten years? Probably not. But this is so new, and so fresh, that it feels disrespectful to leave him off. He was hit by a drunk driver, and you can watch the harrowing last moments here:


9. Hooch from Turner & Hooch
I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure Tom Hanks and Beasley the Dog started the entire buddy animal cop genre. When Hooch takes a bullet for his partner, there’s not a dry eye in the house.


8. “Old King” by Neil Young
It’s not a very mournful song, at least by tone, but Young has that rare expressive voice that can convey sadness even through an upbeat country framework with dispassionate delivery. Listen:

7. Candy’s dog from Of Mice and Men
Candy is an old ranch hand with a shepherd dog that’s grown old and smelly. When Carlson and Slim convince him that the dog needs to be put down, he can’t do it himself, and Carlson takes the old dog out back. The shot rings out, and Candy’s weakness haunts him the rest of his life. “I ought to of shot that dog myself,” he says later. “I shouldn’t ought to of let no stranger shoot my dog.” Watch the film version:


6. Two Socks, Dances With Wolves
Gut-wrenching. Soldiers shoot Two Socks when the wolf tries to follow Dunbar as he’s being led away in a convoy. I couldn’t video, so check out the scene where the wolf befriends Dunbar instead:


5. “Shannon” by Henry Gross
You probably wouldn’t know this song was about a dog until you really pay attention to the lyrics, at which point it becomes devastating. Not so much for the death, which has already happened, but for the fact that nobody can find it in themselves tell the mother, who already leads a burdened life and doesn’t need another piece of terrible news.

4. Lady, Game of Thrones
Cersei and Joffrey were never anyone’s favorites, but this was when we first understood how despicable they truly were. Dark, dark scene.


3. “Good Dog,” a poem by John Updike
If you’ve never read it, gird your tear ducts. Available here.

2. Old Yeller
I loved this movie as a kid, and it was always impossible to watch the final scene. Old Yeller defends the family from a rabid wolf, but gets rabies in the process. When he nearly attacks Arliss, the younger brother, Travis has to put him down.


1. Old Dan and Little Ann, Where the Red Fern Grows
Wilson Rawls’ classic story of a boy and his raccoon-hunting dogs. Old Dan meets his end when he defends young Billy from a mountain lion, and Little Ann dies of grief just days later. This quote sums it up best:

“After the last shovel of dirt was patted in place, I sat down and let my mind drift back through the years. I thought of the old K. C. Baking Powder can, and the first time I saw my pups in the box at the depot. I thought of the fifty dollars, the nickels and dimes, and the fishermen and blackberry patches.

I looked at his grave and, with tears in my eyes, I voiced these words: “You were worth it, old friend, and a thousand times over.”

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