Why people are lying about their dead dogs online.

"This is Summer," read the caption on the picture of a gorgeous golden retriever, sprawled out on a dog bed looking sweetly up into the camera.

"She died on June 24, 2024 at the age of 16 years and 2 months and 3 days old. I miss her so much. Picture taken two weeks before she passed."

My heart clenched into a fist.

Having said goodbye to our own senior dog in December last year, I've been blindsided by just how much the grief can still floor every member of our family out of the blue. 

I clicked on the 'care' emoji reaction and opened the comment section to send my condolences to a woman in America I'd never met. We were both part of the Golden Retriever Lovers Facebook group, and had both had to say goodbye to much-loved family members. Connection enough for me to send her some well-wishes, I reasoned. 

"Save your tears, this woman is a SCAMMER," read the first comment.

"She has a different dead dog every day," agreed another, "Admin, please block and delete."

I clicked on the name of the profile who'd posted about Summer. Indeed, there were several posts in the group, dating back several months, where she’d claimed to have just lost a dog.

"It happens all the time," says Gold Coast woman Sally, who is a member of half-a-dozen online dog-lover groups.

"I have no idea why these people do it — what is there to gain? It’s not like your traditional scam where they’re asking for money or anything?"


Psychotherapist Julie Sweet from Sydney’s Seaway Counselling and Psychotherapy has a theory.

"Munchausen syndrome, now officially known as Factitious disorder imposed on self, is a rare type of mental disorder where a person fakes illness to gain attention and sympathy," she explains. 

Watch: Things dogs never say. Post continues after video.

Video via Mamamia.

"It is a mental disorder in which a person repeatedly and deliberately acts as if they have a mental or physical illness when they are not really sick."

There's also its darker sibling: Munchausen by proxy or the decidedly less-catchy 'factitious disorder imposed on another,' in which someone — usually the mother of a child- either lies about the child’s illness, or worse, intentionally makes that child sick.

The high-profile case of Gypsy Rose Blanchard is an extreme example of Munchausen by proxy.

So, is that what's going on here? Are we looking at the emergence of a kind of canine Munchausen by proxy?

Sweet thinks it's possible, and while she can’t comment on a specific individual's mental health circumstances, agrees that one reason behind the trend could be a search for belonging. 


"The reasons for the behaviour vary and can be complex, however a strong desire for attention and sympathy is known to be an underlying issue in factitious disorders," she says.

"People want to be seen and heard. If someone is isolated or without support, they can often be more susceptible to compromised mental health."

"In the instance of falsely sharing that their dog had died, this could occur for reasons of seeking inclusivity. An individual may feel that by lying about their dog dying, they could gain access to a closely connected community, or a collective group of like-minded people to ultimately feel accepted and like they belong."

Image: Supplied.

While there is something decidedly icky about faking something as heartbreaking as the death of a much-loved dog in order to garner sympathy (shout out to anyone who's called in a dead relative to phone in sick), the idea that our increasingly-isolated society might be leading to this kind of behaviour makes it hard to muster too much anger towards these people. 


Margaret, who is one admin of a popular Facebook group for dog-lovers with over 100K members, says that while it used to make her "see red", she now has a slightly more compassionate take on the troubling trend. 

"I would say I'd remove a post about once a week from a scammer," she says, "and it's frustrating, and no doubt upsetting for our genuine members who have lost pets and understand the grief it causes — and resurfaces for them."

But, she continues, there's another perspective too. 

"I have often wondered though, if perhaps some of these repeat offenders, who post a different pup each week, might have actually experienced that grief and are unable to let it go, so do it as a kind of desperate bid to keep hold of their furbaby."

"It's sick, but also sad. I wouldn't want to think of someone dealing with that level of pain all alone."

*Mamamia reached out to the profiles behind some of the fake posts mentioned, they did not respond for requests for comment by the time the article was published.

Feature Image: Canva.

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