Buddhism for Pet Lovers

Within the last seven weeks, I have seen several dogs in my practice reach end of life. This is never an easy time, as I work in the energy field of a dog that is leaving while supporting their parents who often do not recognise that their dog is failing. Eventually, the family acknowledges the reality that they will soon face a decision about euthanasia.

For Christmas 2019, I was given the book Buddhism for Pet Lovers by David Michie and it has been a wonderful resource for my practice. This book, subtitled Supporting Our Closest Companions Through Life and Death, explains our partnership with our animals through life and death using Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

When discussing end of life, the book explains the process of dying from physical dissolution to mental dissolution and it emphasises the need for us to put our pets first by being supportive and staying calm and loving. The importance of pain management is also discussed because our dogs do not show pain in the same way we do – so we need to be keen observers and use our intuition. At this stage of life, I am focused on keeping the dog comfortable and sharing my observations with my human clients. At this point, as in any point along our journey together, I am focused on the dog’s health and needs. I often find myself being an advocate for the dog at this critical point in time.

Although the Buddhist philosophy does not support the concept of euthanasia, particularly for convenience reasons, the book endorses practices such as at-home euthanasia because if the aim is a peaceful passing, then an at-home passing is greatly preferable. (This is the same reason why I choose to practice massage and rehabilitation at home – because our dogs are most comfortable there).

And for those of you who have experienced the decision to euthanise, the book explains those feelings often put into words such as ‘he told me he was ready’ or ‘I get the feeling she isn’t ready to go.’

What many dog parents may not realise is the importance of the seven weeks following physical death, a time known as the Bardo state. This is a transition period where Buddhists believe the process of re-birth takes place. Although I have not had clients who have identified themselves as Buddhists, for example, I do know that many dog parents instinctively leave the dog’s bowls and bed in place for some time as they grieve their loss. The book explains what you can do in the seven weeks following your pet’s passing to help ease the transition, as their spirit may re-visit the home as part of their journey to re-birth.

In this post, I’ve focused solely on the ninth chapter of the book. But the entire book offers some useful insights and perspectives on our lives with our pet companions. Well worth a read.

Kathleen Crisley, Fear-Free certified professional and specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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