May is National Pet Month, a time to celebrate the benefits that dogs, cats and other animals bring to our lives. However, with the limited life spans of pets, owners often suffer the loss of their beloved canine or feline companion. This week's clergy discuss how to appropriately express grief when the inevitable happens.
Venerable Kottawe Nanda, head monk, Long Island Buddhist Meditation Center, Port Jefferson:
When a pet dies, we feel sadness and grief -- that is our nature. The reason is that they are very dear to us and we are attached to them. We have shared many years together, and we are sad when they depart. Dhamma, Buddhist teaching, helps us to accept their passing with less sadness, because when we go deeply into Buddhism, we realize that attachment for mundane things is not a good thing -- it increases our suffering. But when we are attached to good deeds, when we are attached to the practice of meditation, when we practice generosity and morality and other wholesome deeds, it is a good thing. That is what dhammachanda means, the desire to cultivate good deeds, a desire that arises from wisdom and intelligence. If you have fed your pets well, and taken care of them very well, and loved them, you have to be happy thinking of the security and happiness you gave them. Sadness comes upon you, but you have to think of the nature of impermanence. Everything is ever changing. You can continue to care for them by doing a good deed so they will have a favorable rebirth. Give flowers to your parents who love and care for you. Make a donation to an animal shelter, a food pantry or any charitable organization. Give a gift to a teacher or spiritual director. Plant a tree. Any kindness done with the intention of bringing well-being to others will also be a kindness for your departed pet.
The Rev. Susumu Ando, pastor, North Shore United Methodist Church, Wading River:
Yes, it definitely is. The reason is that pets are family members. In Genesis chapter 1, verse 24, it says, "And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind. And it was so.' And in verse 25 it continues, "God saw that it was good." Because God created all creatures, including human beings and God blessed them as well, the loss of pets or any other creature is a loss of God's family. We have compassion and love for not only human beings but also all other creatures, as God does. If a member of our congregation comes to me and says they have lost a beloved family pet, I begin by comforting them. I tell them that I am so sorry you lost a family member and this is a very difficult time for you, and we pray for their family member. I tell them now your pet is peacefully in heaven. Often when a pet is suffering as a human is, especially at the end of its life, it is an awful situation. But now there isn't pain anymore. But still that's a big loss for a family. I tell them this whether their pet is a horse, a dog, a cat, a bird, a rabbit or a turtle because God saw that it was good when God created animals.
Rabbi Alan Lucas, Temple Beth Sholom, Roslyn Heights:
It is appropriate to mourn for pets, but it's not appropriate to mourn for pets the way we mourn for people. I think there is a clear recognition that people have a deep emotional connection and they almost at times feel these pets are part of their family, and there should be a recognition that something significant has been lost when they die. I certainly think it's appropriate, whether there are some prayers or rituals or some kind of recognition within the context of religion. However, animals are not people, and I think that it would elevate an animal a little too much, or denigrate people, if we started using the same ritual that we use for people when a beloved pet dies. Domesticated pets are a fairly modern phenomenon. I don't think ancient times had any parallel to the concept of pets we have today. We're creating new structure to respond to these needs. I don't think it's inappropriate to bury a pet, and I don't think it's inappropriate to mark the loss of a pet with prayers as long as we don't use the same structure that we use to mourn for people. I have worked with families to find appropriate ways to express their loss. I can suggest a number of wonderful books, which contain generic, nondenominational prayers, and which help families deal appropriately with the loss of a pet.