Last Updated on September 1, 2023
In this post, I would talk about the practice of euthanasia (in lay terms putting them down or putting them to sleep) towards pets that have fallen sick and is terminal. This post would cover both from the pet’s and spiritual perpective. I also have the personal experience of caring for two of my pet dogs who have fallen sick….I cared for them till they passed away naturally.
I felt compelled to write this post after seeing a video of a girl who chose to euthanize her pet dog went viral. Her pet dog was diagnosed with lung cancer and was given a month to live. She spent time taking the dog out to his favourite spots, treating him to his favourite food and ‘spending time and making memories’ before puttng him down. Till the last moment, her dog showed no visible suffering or pain….. he was even able to make the hike with her through a national park where she took him to ‘make memories’. My concern is her video would inspire others to do the same for their pets.
Feeling pain of animals
Let me start with a little story from my background…. hope the reader would bear with me. From a young age, I’ve very strong empathy towards animals. Often I was able to feel the pain and confusion they are experiencing.
My mom used to rear chickens and sometimes ducks when I was very young. To a young child who was lonely and often had no one to talk to, these chickens and ducks were my friends which I often went to talk to them. Whereas, my mom was raising them for food, ie she would slaugther them to be cooked for food. Each time before she slaughtered them, she would tie their legs with a string to prevent them from escaping.
The first time when I witnessed her slitting the throat of my beloved friend, I let out a loud and high pitched scream, and was crying and begging her to stop… because I felt their fear and immense pain. My dad pulled me away and locked me in a room until the ordeal was over. The next time, when I saw that their feet was being tied, I knew their end was coming and felt a lot of sadness. When she wanted to catch them and I saw and felt their fear, I cried and begged with my mom not to do it….. which again she got my dad to pull me away.
Thankfully my mom stopped this practice when my grandaunt passed away as she suddenly felt she did not want to do it anymore. The most uncanny thing is years later, my mom got diagnosed with tonsil cancer. The doctor had to do a massive neck operation which involved cutting her neck and from then on, followed by radiotherapy which caused long term effects and suffering.
From a pet’s perspective
Pets, especially dogs, trust us with all their heart. When they get sick, they feel afraid and hope that we would be there to take care of them. In the world of the pet, their lives revolve around their owners. This is not difficult for us to imagine if we put ourselves in their ‘shoes’.
The last thing they would ever expect us to do is to take them to the vet to have a lethal dose of injection administed that would bring their life to the end.
When I was young, pet euthanasia was a practice that was frowned upon because it was considered wrong to kill a pet (there is a difference between raising an animal as a pet and as a livestock). Seldom I heard of pets being put down but then again, most people don’t even take their pets to vets as they could not afford the cost.
Anyone who considered it would instinctively feel it is wrong but would usually be talked out of it by their vets that it putting them down would be the kindest thing to do. With time, especially now with asthetics and emotions that triggered by social media that made the entire practice looked ‘beautiful’ and meaningful, it has come to be an acceptable practice.
No matter how we want to sugar coat this, we cannot deny that if we choose euthanasia, then our action would bring about the immediate termination of the life of our pet. In other words, we are killing them, before their natural time on earth is up.
While it is acceptable, and often recommended practice to do on our sick pets….. it is considered totally unacceptable, unethical and even illegal to do on humans. We do not euthanize sick children, people with terminal illness or elderly even though they are in pain and suffering. Even those who are suffering and in great pain are managed using pain medication and not ‘put down’.
Note: I know this is changing and now more county and even entire countries are allowing it under certain conditions when they only looked purely from the perspective of one’s earthy existance.
I share on what I have read shared by spiritual teachers long time ago, which covers the concern that aren’t we prolonging their suffering.
Any form of suffering is a kammic consequences
Having witnessed suffering of illness of so many loved ones (humans) around me, including my beloved mom who have had a lot of physical suffering from illness for more than 20 years, I felt there is a strong kammic element that influences the occurance of illness, and the degree of suffering and pain that comes with it.
It is said that if the life of someone or an animal is being prematurely terminated before the kammic energies run its course, it would need to continue running in its afterlife. Due to the negative kammic energy, the being would likely be reborn in unfavourable plane of existance where the suffering continues, and most often in a larger extend and may due to the unfavourable condition, it may cause other bad kammic seeds to ripen as well.
In the human world, the simile we can make is that if we are born in a place where there is famine and hunger, the condition itself becomes contrusive to ripening of negative kamma because there is hardly any opportunity for positive kamma to ripen. Even that, the suffering endured in the human realm is much lesser than suffering in the hell or ghost realm. Suffering in hell are hundreds and thousands of times more painful compared to whatever suffering that one need to go through in the human realm. In the ghost realm, there is suffering that needs to happen for a long time- some are without clothing, food and worse is often no living relative could help because they could not see or hear them.
When a being had to suffer while in the human or animal realm, they will pass away when their kammic life force expires. There is nothing we can do to stop their passing when their time is up and their body could no longer house their spirit. In the case of some beings, they can move on to a better plane or have a cleaner slate to begin their next life once they exhausted the negative kammic energies.
However if their life is prematurely terminated before their time on earth is truly up, their spirit would be in a limbo or they may take rebirth in an unfavourable state of existance. Once they are in the spirit form, they would understand what had been done to them and would most likely develop resentment towards their owners. This may result in issues with illness down the line for the owner.
Imagine if our owner brings us out for a treat to our favourite food and places, kept hugging us and pampering us till we are so happy and on top of the world. Only to end in what feels like a betrayal where we were taken to a place and put to an end. I am very sure that none of these pets ever saw this coming.
Questioning our deepest motive within for putting our pets down
I also remember once a spiritual teacher said that we need to search within deeply for our real motive in putting our pets down. Is it out of love, or is it out of unwillingness to deal with uncomfortable feelings of sadness, grief and even adversion that would come about when we need to take care of them when they get sick or to hear their constant whines of pain.
You may feel this point is ridiculous. When I first heard about this, I had thought so too.
Until I had to nurse two of my dogs as they were dying (at different times). They both became incontinent, became paralysed and could hardly eat. I had to feed them liquid using a plastic syringe (those with no needles) and feed them by mouth. I also have to clean them and the surroundings that got dirty from their urine and feaces. They sometimes whimper in pain.
Both these incidents were heart wrecthing and emotionally painful for me to endure. As both of these dogs had been with us for many years and one of them, Prosper was a very special dog that till today, no dog could ever replace the special place he had in my heart. I need to face with the heartbreaking prospect of my dog was dying each moment of the day for the few weeks that I cared for him. I said daily prayers, held him as I dedicate merits to him.
When their tiime was up, both of them passed away as their body naturally expired. I remember Prosper passed away in the wee hours of the morning. He was buried in our backyard and there was light drizzle as he was being buried and I was saying a short prayer. Within a day or two, I had a dream of vivid dream of Prosper which I remember till this very day.
Prosper was exceptionally attached to my mom and followed her everywhere. I credit Prosper for playing a huge role in helping my mom in her cancer recovery as he kept her company when we went to work and loved my mom very much. In the dream, for the first time, Prosper was communicating with me- he told me that I need to pay attention and look after my mom as my mom’s danger period in her life was not over. As it turned out, what Prosper told me was true.
If we put our pets down, it is ‘convenient’ as we only need to deal with the grief there and then but need not go through the process for days, weeks and even months. For the longest time, our parents and the ancestors before them do not practice euthanasia towards sick pets. Sometimes there was hardly anytime to nurse them as they had to work to feed the family. And there was no money to bring them to the vet, as vet may not have even existed then. Also cancer in pets were seldom heard of (the pets may have it but technology did not existed then) because they were consuming natural food instead of factory processed pellets.
In the case of pets that are going through extreme forms of pains due to illness like progression of cancer that spread to the bone and nerves, it is a painful decision to made regardless of the choice we make. On this condition, it would be out of the scope of this post to address this.