Freud and Lun, Vienna 1937

I hesitated to tell this final chapter of the Freud-and-dogs story because of its difficult ending, but the truth isn’t always uplifting. As an antidote, I promise to continue this series with more cheering segments.

In Part 1, I discussed Freud’s late life arrival at puppy love, including how my great uncle’s butcher shop provided meat for Yofi, Freud’s culturally Jewish — if not observant — chow. In Part 2, I talked about the role the family dogs played in Anna and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic practice.

Here I explore Freud’s final months in Vienna and the last year of his life in London, a time marked by canine bonding — and betrayal.

A Dog Book Translation

A bit of background. Freud and his “Jewish science” were never in favor with Hitler — his books were burned in Berlin in 1933 — and in 1938, when the Nazis took over Austria, Freud’s life and that of his family were in danger. It was not easy to leave Vienna under the watchful eyes of the Gestapo, however, and connections had to be called in.

In a review of Mark Edmundson’s The Death of Sigmund Freud: Fascism, Psychoanalysis and the Rise of Fundamentalism [note: in the America version of this book, the subtitle is “The Legacy of His Last Days”], John Gray writes:

No one could call Freud a sentimentalist. Yet he spent some of his last months translating, from French to German, a biography of a dog, a chow like Jofi, his devoted animal companion during his final illness.

The charge of sentimentality is a bit misleading. According to Freud biographer Ernest Jones, both Freud and Anna spent the difficult days waiting until they could leave Vienna by working together on a translation from the French of Princess Marie Bonaparte’s Topsy, Chow-Chow au Poile d’Or (Topsy the Golden-Haired Chow).  But it was Bonaparte who was responsible for getting Freud, Anna, and several other family members out of Vienna. Gratitude and the chance for a distraction — as well as their love for the chows — make this father and daughter project a natural.

That said, the tale of Topsy is revealing. According to Edmundson:

Freud adored this book and it was not only because of his affection for the princess and his love for chows, but also because of the story….Like Freud, Topsy has cancer: both are afflicted with tumors on the right sides of their mouths. Like Freud, Topsy has surgery, and is treated, as Freud will be, with roentgen rays and radium.

All turns out well. Topsy survives and thrives after her struggle with cancer, finding joy in her garden, in smelling the ocean… a nice dream of escapism for Freud whose circumstances are far more dire. As Edmundson says:

Freud, sitting with Anna in his study, going over their translation of the princess’s book, had the chance to think about recovery and even perhaps about resurrection, albeit indirectly. Freud and Anna together, telling the story of Topsy, could brood on the possibility of more life.

Yofi’s Death — and Her Successor 

Freud’s struggle with mouth and jaw cancer — brought on by his addiction to cigars, which he could never quit — began in 1923 and, over the years, he underwent a series of painful surgeries. After a particularly difficult procedure, Freud wrote to Marie Bonaparte:

I wish you could have seen with me what sympathy Jofi shows me during these hellish days, as if she understood everything.

In January 1937, Yofi went into a veterinary hospital to have a pair of ovarian cysts removed. The surgery seemed successful, but three days after being released, Yofi died of a heart attack.

When his first chow, Lun-Yu, died, Freud waited 15 months before he could bear to bring another dog into his house. This time, Freud mourned deeply — he wrote “one cannot easily get over seven years of intimacy” — but brought another chow, Lün, into his home the next day.

An earlier attempt had been made introduce Lün to Yofi, but she wouldn’t brook any rivals. Now Lün, who had been staying with the friend who raised her, returned to rule the household — and Freud’s heart. Thus the description of Yofi by Gray as Freud’s “devoted animal companion during his final [emphasis mine] illness” is inaccurate.

Freud and Lün in London

When Freud and Lün arrived in London on July 6, 1938, the dog was quarantined for six months. Her master went to visit her often, in spite of being 82 and ill. The press was charmed. “Nothing could have kept the great scientist away from his dog friend,” Michael Molnar, an Australian journalist, wrote. Further, Molnar quotes the kennel’s direct as saying:

I have never seen such happiness and understanding in an animal’s eyes…[Freud] played with her, talked to her, using all sorts of little terms of endearment, for fully an hour. And though the journey is long for a man of his years, he said that he was resolute about coming to see Lün as often as he can.

But Lün’s release from quarantine brought only temporary comfort to Freud, whose health was in rapid decline. By August 1939, Freud had a large open sore in his check and a rotting jawbone that created a terrible odor. Edmundson writes:

Lün… had always adored her master. Freud had petted her, walked her, and frequently, too, talked with her; she sometimes seemed to him the sanest presence in his life. But now she cowered on the far side of the sick room because of the smell of decomposition coming from her master.

A month later, lonely, too weak to read and in too much pain to talk very much — “My world is . . . a small island of pain floating on an ocean of indifference,” as he put it — Freud called upon a friend, Max Schur, to keep his promise to help ease him out of life when things got too bad. Schur administered large doses of morphine to him on three subsequent days. Freud died on September 23, 1939.


So… this goes against every stereotype of dogs being loyal companions under all circumstances — stereotypes I’ve long had a problem with. As I wrote in What’s Unconditional Love Got to Do With It? we’re likely to be disappointed if we expect dogs to live life on our terms, including loving us when it’s not expedient to them. Still, I admit I was surprised to read about Lun’s fear of Freud’s odor of decay; I’d always assumed dogs didn’t mind bad smells — and, of course, that they provided comfort to the ill. Have you ever read about similar cases? Had similar experiences?

31 thoughts on “Psychoanalysis & Dogs, Part 3: Freud’s Last Dog”

    1. I wasn’t sure about some other stories, but I’m confident in the accuracy of this one; Edmundson cites lots of sources for all his research, including Freud’s disciple/biographer Ernest Jones and letters from the period. I’ve seen lots of references to how terrible Freud’s jaw smelled at the end, so I have no doubt that this is sad but true.

      As for my more cheery follow-up posts, I had you and your psychoanalysis in dog training posts in mind, but didn’t want to announce them without discussing them with you first. Of course, I just did 😉

      1. Thanks.

        No, I have no doubt about the smell. What I’m suggesting is the possibility that Lün’s response to her master’s condition might have had less to do with the smell (dogs love the smell of rotting flesh), and more to do with her feeling that her master was in pain and was suffering needlessly. “Yes, I love you, but you’re in pain and I need to close your eyes and go to sleep now…” That kind of thing.

        As for a dog’s unconditional love, I’m a firm believer in that idea. The problem is that many dogs will fetch our unresolved emotional issues and drop them at our feet, which can be very irritating unless and until we recognize that they’re not “misbehaving,” they’re doing what they were born to do: retrieve.

        Anyway, that’s what I think.


  1. interesting, thanks

    cici does not like it when i am ill… she is not much comfort… a couple of times when paramedics came she seemed put off that I was the center of attention not her… oh well… and then the other day she ran by me, not supposed to be running, but hey mom, gotta zoom, she was wearing her leash and it lashed my leg and I yelled OW… Cici came back to see if I was ok… awwwww… and of course licked me… I knew she did not hurt me on purpose and let her know that she was a good girl… tail wag… she shows her concern for me… after all I am her pillow… door opener, food, treat and cookie dispenser… LOL

  2. While we think of dogs has tolerating bad smells, I imagine smells have meaning for them. Poop or urine tells dogs something. So while we find it repulsive, they find it instructive.

    Decaying bone has another message and I don’t think it’s strange at all that Freud’s dog would avoid him. And dogs don’t hide their true feelings as well as humans can (or think they can).

    I’m also not big on the unconditional love thing for dog. I think dogs are so similar to human because we both put conditions on our affections.

    And like some people can handle illness better than others, I imagine it’s the same for dogs.

    This story, sad as it is for Dr. Freud, makes me like dogs even more. It’s a sign of how unique and imperfect they can be. Just like us.

  3. I’m not sure I understand what is at issue here. Many times I’ve been avoided by my dogs when I was crying – but not by my cats. I guess I learned that was the way they were going to be about it and learned to be a little cagier if I needed a kiss from them in a moment of crisis. My cats on the other hand seem more sympathetic than put off. – I would say yes, the dogs’ off-put-ness forces me to gain self-control, but is hardly by design on their part – that’s just my projection – a silver lining of some sort in that their unconditional love allows me the space to do that without feeling they are ‘judging’ me – but again, that’s me. Mirror mirror .
    a recent posting (and thanks for your eloquent comment there Edie, deeply appreciated):

    1. I guess what’s at issue is the myth of universal unconditional love — something I bought into, just a little, even though Frankie has never given me evidence of partaking. And what you’re saying goes against the other stereotype, cats as cold and self centered.

      So as yours and Celia Sue’s experience and Pamela’s comment acknowledge, dogs (and cats) are individuals. We do them no service in raising expectations about them, with many ads about adoption — and dog food — perpetuating the myth. That said, I’m still sad for both Freud and Lun, the dog for her fear, the man for his loneliness.

      You’re welcome re: my comment.

  4. I’m not so sure his dog’s reaction had anything to do with unconditional love – cowering in the corner suggests an overpowering fear, no? Maybe I look at it differently, but unconditional love means to me that they will still feel affection, gratitude, loyalty and dedication regardless of circumstances. The dog might well have still been very attached to Freud, just simply couldn’t overcome whatever the smell invoked – preventing the dog from his normal showering of attention on his master. Feeling and behavior – apples and oranges in this case?

    1. Good point, Kim. I guess the stereotype is that nothing, not even a scary smell, could prevent a dog from providing solace to her beloved master, but there’s no reason to assume that. Dogs have fears, as we do, that overcome instincts.

  5. Go back a bit further – Yofi went ahead of Freud to light the way. Luns’ karma was different. That is, if you choose to view relationship as spiritual.

    Death is something I do think the dogs understand better than we.

    1. I’m not sure that I generally do, i.e., believe in the karmic/spiritual nature of relationships, but I like the idea and find it comforting. And what do I know?

  6. Absolutely fascinating post, Edie, irrespective of one’s belief regarding unconditional love, particularly for pungent smells. As a terrier worshiper, I know that the love of a dog–well one particular dog–was conditional, yet glorious. I respect that, and it made me a better guardian, and person, than I would have been had I been able to take love for granted. And you have to give Lun credit for staying in the room when she was so frightened.

    Pamela’s observations are also enlightening: my dog made me think that rolling in decaying seagull remains was tantamount to going clubbing, but not all decay is the same….

    1. Thanks, Clare. Nice to see you back here. And you’re right about the virtues of not taking doggie love for granted. Often I think that the unconditional love is on the human side, not vice versa. But of course I have a little terrier brat of a pup 😉

  7. Well, we have a young dog here in our house who is training for Search and Rescue. A friend of ours is training her puppy to search for human remains while our puppy will be trained for live find. They store all the puppy’s toys with “source” which is basically something donated by a coroner that’s decomposing. He knows that smell and seeks it out, because his reward for getting to find it is getting to play. Our puppy has been exposed to the smell, and while he reacts, it’s more with curiosity than anything else. He certainly isn’t afraid of it. When we visit the nursing home with our dogs, they don’t react to people in a fearful way, either, even those who are clearly ill and not doing well.

    I have to wonder if there was a lot more playing into the story than just the fact that Freud smelled “off.” If the dog was quarantined, he wasn’t there to see his master’s deterioration. He may have seemed foreign to the dog because he didn’t move the same, sounded different and had just changed in general. It’s possible it was just the smell alone, but it seems unlikely.

    1. Being trained to respond to the smell of decomposition is different than being confronted with it — without reward — in a new, unfamiliar situation. And I estimate that Freud spent several months with Lun, post quarantine, before he got to the point that his jaw became necrotic. And he’d been sick with jaw cancer, and frail, for many years.

      Why can’t dogs be as individual in their responses to smells and situations as humans are?

  8. There is no question Freud loved Lün. But I wonder how during her upbringing she bonded to Freud. She spent the first months (years?) away from him with another family because Yofi didn’t want her around. And 6 months of quarantine must have left scars, I can only wonder how she really perceived Freud. Not that I want to question the myth of unconditional love.

    It is a sad ending, but glad he had a compassionate friend that could help him end the suffering.

    1. There’s a little film clip of Freud and Anna frolicking with Lun in 1937, and there’s the report from the keeper of the kennel how pleased Lun was to see Freud. And there are the months before his final illness that Lun spent happily with Freud. So I vote that she bonded with him but was unable to get over the fear/loathing of his decay. But you make an excellent point about the compassionate friend. Dogs may love us, unconditionally or conditionally, but, without opposable thumbs, are unable to administer medications that may help at the end. It’s also nice that the friend wasn’t arrested…

  9. Very interesting post … I was concerned your foreshadowing of a betrayal may have had a more sinister ending. I think dogs have different personalities and their experiences can affect them deeply. For example, Ty has been spoiled every day if his 7 years on Earth, yet he displays little loyalty and is generally not affectionate. Buster, on the other hand, was abandoned in a busy city. When I found him he was shaking with fear and I gave him shelter and took care of his needs. In the past 4 years he has rarely left me out of his site. It would be interesting to know how Ty would react to being abandoned – would he harden his heart and never trust people again? I think it’s possible, but we’re not going to test the theory.

    1. Yes, I figured people would think it was a human betrayal when I put it that way on Facebook; that’s how our minds work. And I was being a bit unfair. Lun didn’t really betray Freud; she just did what came naturally to her for whatever reason.

      Frankie, who was abandoned and is spoiled by me, adores me — but he’s irate when I’m not able to cater to him. And, just as you won’t experiment with Ty, I hope we won’t have an opportunity to test the rotting away problem…

  10. This is such a fascinating story, and the resulting discussion has been just as good. As per usual I am a late arrival.

    I just wanted to agree with everyone above in that I do believe dogs – and cats – each have unique personalities. Even though she spent the greater part of her life outdoors, my childhood dog did seem to feel some form of sympathy when I was sad or ill. Her fur was frequently covered with tears during my rocky adolescence and she never once pulled away. My current dog is completely different. The more I need to stay in bed and recover, the more she wants to jump around outside.

    I’ve read interesting stories about how some dogs and cats seem to be able to sense death. Sometimes this inspires the animal to draw near the person who is dying in comfort. I’m not sure how scientific these claims are but if this really is possible and some animals really can tell when someone is about to die, is it not equally likely that some will be afraid of this? Perhaps it wasn’t the smell that caused Lun’s fear, but the sense he was about to die.

    1. That theory, that Lun is pulling away because of sensing the imminence of death, makes a lot of sense to me, Kristine.

    1. Thank you — and thanks for coming by. I just checked out your blog — I love Commentluv! — and really enjoyed it.

  11. A little late to this conversation…..but I do have a story. I think a corollary to the idea (myth?) that dogs are unconditionally loyal to their person in life is that they also are steadfast after their person dies. Well, not so much. My friend’s mother was dying of pancreatic cancer. Prior to the onset of her illness the mother bought a miniature poodle. During the last weeks of her life, my friend’s mother was pretty much confined to bed and Moses, her dog, cuddled next to her side day and night. My friend was with with her mother when she died and reports that at the moment her mother exhaled for the last time Moses jumped off the bed and never returned tot he bedroom. He showed no interest whatsoever in his mistress’s body after she passed.

    1. Interesting story, Deborah! You’re right, that’s another common assumption — dogs staying by a body to “protect” it. I’m glad that the dog stayed by her while she was alive, though, and got comfort from Moses.

  12. Very interesting post, and a really interesting discussion here in the comments as well. It’s true that we’ve often been sold on the idea of unconditional love, and dogs staying to comfort the sick. I do think that, on the whole, dogs do seem to be much more forgiving than humans when it comes to those they love. However, I think I agree with the others above who noted that dogs are individuals and they won’t all have the same reaction to situations and stimuli.

    It’s just like people – when a family member or loved one is sick, some are bedside, while others can’t bear to be in the same room. It’s tempting for others to judge the person that stays away, but who knows what’s going on in that person’s head? Here, who knows what was making Lun react this way… the smell itself, the fear of what the smell meant, or some other factor that no one even considered?

  13. Animals prefer to die alone. Perhaps Lun was according her master the same consideration she would have wanted for herself.

  14. If this is true then Freud was a living testimony of therapeutic benefits of keeping a pet.

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