Help! My dog’s dying

(From correspondence with an old friend.)
Sent: Friday, November 30, 2012
Subject: Please think good thoughts…
Dear Ayye, Please think good thoughts for my 13 year old chihuahua. She’s very sick and she’s like my little girl.
My heart is breaking despite what my Buddhist reasoning tells me.
Kindest regards,Tom (name changed)

Nov 30, 2012

Dear Tom,
Blessings…! Entering this life isn’t easy, and exiting can be even harder. Much compassion to your little friend!

The main thing to hope for is a good rebirth; i.e., palliative care and lots of acceptance and love is the key. It is good to stay involved and clearly approving, not looking away due to the difficulty of seeing her in pain, for that can look like rejection which is a dog’s great fear (much worse than pain). I’ve heard that vets are leery of giving enough pain killers to dogs due to risk of human owners abusing the stuff; you may want to push for strong narcotics if she’s in pain; they are available and legal, and can bring great relief and comfort to her last days.
Ayya Sudhamma

Sent: Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Subject: Re: Please think good thoughts…

Ayye,Just a quick update. Our chihuahua with heart disease had a suspected stroke last weekend. She has been hospitalized since Sunday but should get to come tonight. We got to spend some time with her yesterday and she was very happy to see us. She hasn’t given up the fight

Your continued good thoughts are most appreciated.

Kindest Regards, Tom

Dear Tom,

Okay, I’ll hold you in my thoughts. You mentioned earlier that your heartbreak — feelings of grief & resistance to what’s happening — happens despite what your Buddhist reasoning tells you. That’s okay, don’t feel disappointed. An end result of Buddhist practices is a reduction of grief in challenging situations, but we cannot reason ourselves into that end result, nor push ourselves to it nor guilt ourselves into it. We can only nurture the causes that lead to reduction of grief.

When hit hard by the pain of a loved one’s suffering or loss, one can shift the situation into being a cause for wisdom/relief by applying one’s attention in certain ways. A good start is to 1st decide to honor the dear one by making their pain/loss meaningful (in the sense of a longterm benefit to the world): that is, make a determination to make good use of this painful situation.

Then you have a number of options of how to do that. One is how you focus your attention:

  • develop compassion for all in this world who right now have even more causes for overwhelming grief;
  • develop compassion for yourself, your little friend & all beings who go through these scenes of pain & loss lifetime after lifetime;
  • develop gratitude that things are not even worse for your chihuahua (the body can turn into a torture chamber with seemingly no end to the possibilities for worse misery, so just apply your imagination a little bit to see how bad everything could be for her right now if she weren’t so lucky);
  • develop gratitude that things are not even worse for yourself (you have a home, food, loved ones, heat/cooling, good water, stability in your life, financial ability to take care of your dog, etc.)

Another approach is to give or do charitable work in her honor.

Another is to use her situation to reflect upon the predicament of all beings that are subject to impermanence and suffering. Or to reflect upon inevitability of decline & death, and what that means in your life.

When you step back to do these things you become less lost in the situation, and thus diminish your grief a little bit, right then and there. When you reach out to others in your heart or with your hands, you take the (self-centered) momentum out of your feelings of grief. When you wisely focus your attention, your mind — in those moments — cannot stray into unwise trains of thought that would create waves of pain; you give yourself a bit of a break from them. When you deepen your understanding of the way things really are for us all (impermanent etc) you stop investing in all the little story lines that hurt so much. You walk through the stages of grief more lightly and much more quickly than you otherwise would have done.

Hence grief naturally diminishes as a result of these kinds of efforts.

Ayya Sudhamma

Sent: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 2:53 PM
Subject: Re: Please think good thoughts…

Dear Ayye, Those are all excellent points. I realized that a lot of my misery was coming from the “what ifs”. What if she has another stroke, what if something happens during the day when we aren’t home, etc. So, most of my pain was a result of fantasy.

I made good use of your previous advice regarding “fear of rejection”. When we got to spend time with her yesterday I made sure I stayed in her field of vision (she lost part of her vision due to the stroke) and spoke in supportive, encouraging tones. I really think she appreciated that. I was rewarded with a kiss on the nose.

My biggest challenge is to separate my selfish clinging from the true compassion that I feel for her situation. I tell myself that a lot these days but it harder to put in practice in reality. The two mingle quite easily and turn into a potent force.

I also like your idea of doing something in B.s honor. My becoming vegetarian was my contribution to leading a harmless life and it has kept me true to the cause. I will have to ponder this one a while.

Thanks again for your most excellent advice! Kindest Regards, Tom

Dear Tom,
Yeah, “what if’s” worry is very painful. Good that you see it so clearly. Re compassion versus selfish clinging: “The two mingle quite easily and turn into a potent force.” Yes. (Excellent way to express it.) Their combination can shift into a potent aversive force, or a potent beautiful healing force, depending on how you hold them.

The kiss on the nose reward — wow. Glad to hear that my advice was well taken and so effective for her comfort. Real comfort in the way needed them most. Today I read something online about the practice of tying dogs up outside being painful for them even if they have water & shelter etc. since as pack animals they perceive the separation as a punishment.

Ayya S.

Dear Ayye,

I am sad to report that G. [wife] and I had to make the decision to put B. down this early Thursday morning. Her little body was shutting down and had starting rejecting every medication the vets tried to give her. Her doctor told us Wednesday night that he as very worried about her condition. He was concerned that without the meds she would have an additional stroke and said at best she had two weeks left.

We took her home and hoped she could rest peacefully, but she was miserable for most of the night. She was so tired but she couldn’t sleep because her breath was so rapid and shallow. We stayed up all night with her and did our best to comfort her. We told her repeatedly how much we loved her and appreciated what she given to us over the past 13 years. By morning we realized that neither wanted her to have to struggle that way for the next two weeks. We wanted her to have a peaceful exit.

Her doctor concurred that our decision was the compassionate one. I was allowed to hold her in my arms while the medication was administered. I spoke in soothing tones and told her over and over how much she was loved. G. was able to look her in the eyes during the procedure and reassure her as well.

She passed away so peacefully. Her breathing smoothed and she very gently drifted off to sleep. I held her for several minutes after.

We are having her cremated with one of her favorite toys. We plan to spread her ashes in one her favorite spots in the mountains.

I feel so empty but I know that will pass with time. I am trying not to get mired in the grief but boy is it tough. B. was such a bright light in the world.

In the meantime we are concentrating on showering our other dog, Andre, with all the love we can give him and comforting one another.

Thanks again for your counsel and kindness. It means a lot to both G. and me.

Kindest Regards, Tom

*     .     *     .     *     .     *     .     *     .     *     .    *     .     *    .    *     .     *

Dear Readers,

With this last email Tom raised the perplexing topic of compassionate killing. These situations and decisions are not easy. I’m glad that Tom and his wife feel comfortable with the way in which their dear friend passed away. Tom’s account makes an appealing case for euthanizing a suffering pet.

Yet I generally do not encourage euthanasia, for intentional killing, even in kindness, has consequences, usually bringing unwanted karma and deepening wrong views that propel a person into continued pain in future. The wish to reduce the beloved one’s suffering may be generous, compassionate, and in some cases heroic, but nonetheless misplaced, based on a not-fully-informed view of the situation.

Pet owners often fail to see that their own discomfort, craving, ill will or fear may motivate the decision — not really the ultimate good of the other being. If you haven’t first made yourself quiet, soft and sensitive, taken time to pause and listen inside, then the decision is premature. How the memory sits later in a sensitive person’s intuition helps indicate whether the decision was truly altruistic. I would guess that most cases of euthanasia were premature decisions, made too quickly without first becoming emotionally balanced and deeply sensitive to the pet’s own wish. If the pet owner did proceed with such caution, patience and sensitivity, then perhaps it was for the best.

On a Buddhist discussion forum one pet owner, “harlan”, related her experience that after she put down her ill cat, her other cat cringed whenever Harlan tried to pet him, though he remained friendly to visitors; but later, when that cat had become mortally ill and suffering, he accepted Harlan’s touch willingly, and purred as Harlan gave him the shot.

Some additional Buddhist voices:

If you are reading this blog post because you are in pain, I wish you comfort and love, sending you waves of compassionate understanding. Remember that whatever happens, all pain will pass. May you and your friend receive every blessing, and may you both step forward with gratitude, gladness and confidence.

Kind regards,

Ayya Sudhamma

Have a question about Buddhism, ethics or life in general? Write to DearAyye [~at~] gmail [~dot~] com. 


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