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On Losing a Pet

My brother started studying Buddhism in college, and was struck by its approach to the idea of mortality. The thought that one could remove the fear of death by recognizing that consciousness doesn’t end at death really excited him. As in the Laws of Physics, in which energy is never destroyed but does transform, consciousness is a kind of energy that is simply transformed when the body dies. But that is only part of the story. There remains the fear of what will happen after death. Although reassured that we won’t just disappear, we need to be concerned about moving into an “unfavorable” next experience or rebirth. Since our consciousness changes moment to moment, what we become next depends on what is happening now. Experiencing negative emotions as we die propels us in a negative way into the next “phase” of a new existence. So the way we go through death makes a huge difference. In preparing for the moment of death, it is best to remain extremely positive. Then our rebirth is more likely to be a good one. For humans, we can accumulate positive energy through good deeds. For our pets, we can help them the most by creating positive energy around them.

The most famous Tibetan Mountain Yogi was known as Milarepa. He was a great poet saint because he would teach through songs of enlightenment. His compassion was so great that animals would feel at peace in his presence. Thinking of their future, he told his students that if anyone would whisper his name three times into a dying animal’s ear, the animal would be liberated to have a well-favored human rebirth. His aspiration would be for the animal to be free of obstacles, exist in positive circumstances, and attain enlightenment through meditation.

Dying in a fear-filled, anxious state is extremely detrimental to your pet. Think about it in terms of the “palliative” care model. Loved ones and familiar things create a comfortable, supportive, trusted environment for your animal at home. In a chaotic animal hospital or antiseptic vet’s office, he is in a strange, clinical environment being constantly poked and prodded. So when your pet is dying, bringing your animal home might be the best thing you can do. There, you can do the breathing practice called tonglen, a Tibetan word that means “sending and taking.” Both before and after your pet has passed, breathe in to take away any fear, confusion, or negativity. As you breathe out, send him on with peace, clarity, and contentment.

To mark your pet’s passing, you might want to get closure by reciting aspirations for him to have a good journey toward a positive rebirth, where it will be possible to hear wisdom teachings, practice mindfulness, and help others. You can have a picture on hand to burn while you are reciting, to symbolize letting go of your attachment. If you’re feeling the loss really hard, you can practice tonglen for yourself. As you breathe in, gather the pain, loneliness, and separation anxiety into your heart where it transforms so that as you breathe out you’re immersed in feelings of kindness, tranquility, and letting go.

Know that your pet’s spirit will go on in some way. He will be in a new place where he can be of benefit to others. With this closure, you can cherish the memories of your companion without continually suffering the pain of his loss.

Nancy Parent is a 20-year veteran of Disney Publishing Worldwide, editing and writing hundreds of books for the MouseWorks and Disney Press vertical imprints as well as Disney global publishers. In addition, Nancy has written and edited for DreamWorks, Simon and Schuster, Scholastic, Reader’s Digest Children’s Books, Nickelodeon, Warner Brothers, Andrews & McMeel, Fox, Suzy’s Zoo, and Lyrick Entertainment. Most recently, she collaborated on THE BEST DIET BOOK EVER (The Zen of Losting Weight) by Dr. Joseph Parent. Her picture book, Holly Bloom’s Garden, was co-written with Sarah Ashman and published by Flashlight Press. Nancy resides in Burbank, CA.