putting our animals to sleep: is it really an act of compassion?
Rufus has been moody lately. I attributed his swings to the new gal in the house – a rescue pup from Tennessee. Her name is Lolly but we affectionately call her “the rat.” She’s a dump puppy – predominantly rat terrier, we believe, with a sprinkle of spaniel that makes her ears flop down and her hair stick up. She’s sassy and playful. Her favorite activity is growling viciously while hanging off Rufus’ beard by her clenched teeth. If a thought bubble could magically appear above his head it would say something like, Girl, I’m too old for this. Go play in traffic.
But Rufus is too sweet. When he’s napping in his bed, he simply looks the other way when Lolly wedges her tiny body next to his. When she scarfs his food, he shuffles back quietly and seeks me out for a snuggle. When she howls at the squirrels on the fence, he lets her bark be the one that scares them away. He’s just a great animal.
A wheaten terrier, Rufus is predisposed kidney problems. At age 8 this predisposition became his reality. He hasn’t been moody because of his new little sister. He’s become moody because he’s in kidney failure – and apparently has been for some time.
I discovered the severity of his illness at the vet last month (on my birthday no less). I climbed into bed that night feeling distraught about what I’d learned that day. I meditated for a little while, creating a tiny angel version of myself that hovered above my head. Then I created a tiny angel version of Rufus that hovered above his head. And we talked for a little while. What do you want me to do, buddy? my angel asked. Let me go, his angel replied. I tried to make his angel say something different, something like, Fight for me! I can survive this! I want to live! But that’s not what happened. Let me go, was his reply. Let me go. That was it. There was no denying.
Being the creative child of the Universe I am, I wondered if I could help him through meditation. Could I do enough Reiki on him to repair his kidney damage and save his life? Could I channel my inner Christ light and heal him with my mental fortitude? What if I tried and failed? Would I lose confidence in the strength of my spirit? What if I tried and succeeded? What difference would it make? And then I remembered what Roof’s little angel guy told me. Let me go.
The next day was grey in every sense of the word. My schedule was as messy as the weather. My emotions were even messier. I made some calendar adjustments, hired a babysitter, and trucked my boy through sideways rain to the animal hospital where we spent the entire day. It went sort of like this: ultrasound, consultation, tears, prognosis, tears, privacy, tears, $530 bill, tears.
The full story? The radiologist advised me to keep Roof in the hospital for the weekend. He was incredibly dehydrated and she wanted to flush his kidneys with fluid. The idea made me uncomfortable, but as the doctor told me emphatically what was best for Rufus, that intimate angel-to-angel conversation from the night before seemed a little woo woo and ungrounded. I agreed to admit him.
She left the room to start paperwork. Roof jumped off my lap, where he’d been curled up for the past hour, and put his chin on my thigh, looking for eye contact. He’s always searching for my eyes these days. It’s amazing how much a person can learn just by looking into an animal’s eyes. We stared at each other for a long while and once he felt like he’d been heard, he squeezed under my chair, flopping down with a humph, his legs sticking out from under the chair like a frog’s.
He was hiding, nervous. He didn’t want to be there. Instead of helping Rufus by admitting him, I felt like I was making frantic, harried, desperate repairs on a sinking ship. I called my husband who was indecisive but leaned toward admission. I called my sister-in-law. She was supportive of my intuitive urge to take him home. Clearly this was my decision and mine only.
When the radiologist returned I apologized up and down for spending hours sniveling and waffling then told her I would not admit my dog. I loaded up on IV bags and Priolosec, paid the extraordinary hospital bill, and carried my furry boy back into the rain.
Rufus doesn’t understand time. He lives only in the NOW. And his NOWS have been so happy. He’s had a great life. If this is his time, it’s okay. I started thinking about the lessons we’re both here to learn and what brought us together. Why me? Why him?
People who practice Buddhism do not take life. Not even to end the struggle. Those who practice understand the karmic purpose of the struggle. We struggle through the lesson and find the wisdom in it, when we accept the wisdom, we no longer need the pain. We completely align. The pain ceases to exist. It is a delusion, just like life. I keep wondering if Rufus has chosen me because I will allow him a *full* life, with all its joy and all its pain. If I end his life early, even by a few hours or days, will he have to return to physical form again in order to learn that painful lesson? One I could allow him to learn now and possibly evolve his spirit? I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I mean, I think I know, but the norm is to provide compassion to animals in a way that relieves them of their pain. I’m just not sure if physical compassion is aligned with spiritual compassion.
Spirit is our most natural state. Our physical bodies are just the vehicles through which spirit functions in this world. We settle into the physical with discomfort and we’ll transition out of it with discomfort – if the lesson of discomfort needs to be learned. I think of childbirth, of how incredibly painful that experience was for me. When I had my first baby I thought I was going to die. My intention was to give birth naturally – no drugs, no epidural – but 3/4 of the way through I was searching for my doula’s eyes, sort of like Rufus searches for mine. Help me. Please help me. I don’t want to do this. I’m terrified. I’m not strong enough. But she looked at me and stroked my hair and said, “It’s just the baby coming. It’s just the baby coming.” I trusted her. I trusted my body. I trusted my baby’s transition into physical life. Within minutes I was fully dilated and ready to push. I had my baby naturally. It hurt like hell but I understood the purpose. I learned the lesson. I had to trust the process and let go of the fear. Paradigm shift. When I had my subsequent babies, the labors were much more manageable and free from fear. And I never once considered calling the anesthesiologist. Never once.
Can I be that person for Rufus? Can I help him through the transition naturally? I think I can. The vet has clearly told me that when the time comes, the only humane thing to do is put him to sleep. But I keep going back to these questions – What’s so wrong with death? Death is a release, a return, a reunion. Death is natural. And why are we all so afraid of pain? Through my own fear of pain am I stifling my animal’s spiritual development by disallowing him the full experience of life? Am I really helping him?
Compassion to me looks different now. Can I find the spiritual compassion to let go of my own fears of physical death in order to transition this animal to his natural state of spirit?
So we’re home, Rufus and me, riding out the storm. My vet and I are on the same page with his treatment. No extraordinary efforts. I give Roof a bag of subcutaneous fluids combined with a little Reiki three times a week plus a few inexpensive meds twice a day. This will keep him as comfortable as possible over the next few weeks or months. I will not interfere with the course of Roof’s life but I will pray for mercy. That is the plan. And just as I knew that epidural was nearby when I gave birth to my first child, I’ll have the number of my vet nearby if it all gets to be too much.
This whole experience has caused me to think more deeply about my own life. I made a birth plan for myself, I can make a death plan for myself, too. I’ve now dedicated years of my life to spiritual evolution, and every day I feel more trust in the Universe. I trust that the Universe can provide peace for me better than any clever manmade invention. I’ve begun to think of my own physical departure as just another experience in life, and I’m not sure dulling it in any way will benefit my spirit. If part of my divine plan is to suffer, I hope I can accept it and learn from it. And if I can do that, I know I will be released from the suffering with mercy.
Kind of a lot to think about. You are so welcome to join me in this conversation in the comments below.
From mine to yours,