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I  think most of us know how deeply and emotionally linked certain songs can be for us, whether because the lyrics are particularly descriptive of what we were feeling at a certain time or because the song was simply playing at a profound moment in our lives. Last night, my husband and I went dancing to our favorite band, the Rockin’ Hollywoods, as a distraction from an otherwise emotionally heavy day (the first full day without our beloved Giles with us—see previous post).

For me, dancing provides both a physical and emotional release, so it seemed a healthy diversion for a few hours. However, midway through the band’s first set, I found myself choking back sobs right there on the dance floor, so hard was I hit by the Tokens’ “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

In my mind’s eye, I kept seeing Giles’ handsome, lion-esque profile, so regal until his end. His having just been “put to sleep” gave a whole new meaning to that song for me. I doubt I’ll ever be able to hear it again without thinking of my darling, departed cat.

Giles

Giles would have been happy to have a famous song associated with him, I’m sure—he was not without a healthy ego, gorgeous boy that he was—but I can expect my future rumbas done to that song to be emotionally challenging for some time to come. (I squelched the flood during the show, luckily, and saved my breakdown for the car ride home.)

My lion sleeps forevermore.

Coleen Ellis is a mover and a shaker. She has almost single-handedly made it possible for many people to access a pet-specific funeral home when they seek to memorialize a beloved animal’s passing. More and more, companion animals’ status in our lives is rising, as the value of their relationship with humans is lent credence by more professional associations. Read about the exciting new trends in pet funerals and even legal arenas.—Sid

Pet funeral industry undergoing major changes

Today, there are over 750 pet funeral homes, pet crematories and pet cemeteries across the country — and a lot of human funeral homes have or are looking at ways to offer services when pets die. By: Associated Press, INFORUM

Mike the Dog's Tribute Table

This 2010 photo courtesy of Coleen A. Ellis for Two Hearts Pet Loss Center shows the Tribute Table for Mike The Dog in Ellis’ home in Greenwood, Ind. Mike died in July 2010 and Ellis kept the Tribute Table up for about a month as her family honored him and all of the things that were important to him in his life. (AP Photo/Two Hearts Pet Loss Center, Coleen A. Ellis)

LOS ANGELES — Her 14-year-old dog Mico had lung cancer and Coleen A. Ellis knew she was taking her to the vet for the last time. She watched as the vet started to put the terrier schnauzer’s body in a garbage bag. “I couldn’t just walk out of there with a leash and a collar,” she said. Ellis took Mico’s body home instead. A local funeral home agreed to cremate Mico. But as she waited in the chapel, Ellis said she was told they couldn’t turn on the lights because they were having a service for “a real death” down the hall. She vowed to make changes.

A year later, in 2004, Ellis opened what is believed to be the country’s first stand-alone pet funeral home in Indianapolis. Today, there are over 750 pet funeral homes, pet crematories and pet cemeteries across the country — and a lot of human funeral homes have or are looking at ways to offer services when pets die. Ellis sold her mortuary and now runs Two Hearts Pet Loss Center, which arranges memorial services and helps people grieve the loss of a pet. In 2009, she helped start the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance as a committee of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association.

As the industry grew, so did the alliance. It’s holding its second annual conference this week in Las Vegas. The group’s goals are simple — set and maintain standards for services related to pet deaths, such as funerals, memorials, cremations and burials. Poul H. Lemasters, an attorney and president of Lemasters Consulting in Cincinnati, has worked in the funeral industry for over 15 years and is licensed as a funeral director and embalmer in Ohio and West Virginia. When he talked about pet cremation liabilities at PLPA’s inaugural meeting in San Antonio, he drew an audience of 200. More than twice that number has signed up to attend his session at this week’s PLPA conference.

Consumers need more than a handshake from pet morticians, he explained. They need transparency, including a standard cremation authorization form spelling out services, methods, choices and cost. The PLPA will vote on a proposed form during their convention.

“On the human side, the biggest issue out there is always wrongful cremation. On the pet side, it’s not wrongful cremations, but whether cremations are being done at all,” Lemasters said. There have been animal dumping cases in Arizona, Virginia and Tennessee, where pets were stored instead of cremated, then taken to a landfill or dump and dropped off, he said. He said Illinois is the frontrunner on laws governing disposition of deceased pets and pet funerals. Ninety percent of pet owners choose cremation rather than burial for their pets, he said.

But while cremation has been offered for a long time, many other types of legal issues related to the deaths of pets — and even the deaths of owners who are survived by their pets — are now getting more attention. Pets are named in wills, they receive trusts, they are part of prenuptial agreements.

In a few states, laws are being rewritten to treat pets as more than personal property, Lemasters said. California has a new law that says if your animal is killed maliciously, you can claim certain types of damages, Lemasters said. In Florida, a dog died while under a veterinarian’s care and was cremated before an autopsy could be conducted. The family was awarded more than $10,000 in punitive damages. Nevada enacted a law allowing pet-owners emotional damages from the death of a pet in certain circumstances up to $5,000. But pet owners can also sue for vet bills and funeral costs, Lemasters said. “The fact they are starting to recognize funeral costs for a pet, that’s pretty unbelievable.”

Memorial services are sometimes held for working dogs, too, whose deaths may affect not just the animal’s owner or handler, but an entire agency, business or community. When a police dog named Bo was killed in May 2007, Ellis was asked to help arrange a memorial service. Bo had been with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department for about four years when a burglar “turned around with a gun and shot Bo a couple of times. Bo went back to his handler and died in his arms,” Lt. Benny Diggs said. Bo’s service was attended by about 150 people from the police department and the community. “I really believe it helps,” Diggs said. “When you are a policeman, especially a K-9 handler, that dog becomes your partner.”

The 30-minute service was respectful, but didn’t go overboard, he added. “We keep it in perspective. We are losing soldiers daily in Afghanistan and Iraq and police officers are dying throughout the United States every week. We never want to take away from their service or what they are doing for the community,” he said.

As pets play bigger roles in people’s lives, it makes sense they will be treated more like family when they die, and that includes holding the types of funeral services that at one time were held only for people, said veterinarian Jane Shaw, who spoke at PLPA’s meeting last year. Shaw is director of the Argus Institute in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo. “Telling stories, playing music and reading poetry are all things that allow us to express what this individual meant to us,” she said, “whether it’s human or animal.”

Unbidden by anything seen, just standing in her kitchen one night, my sister had a sudden “knowing” that her beloved schnauzer mix, Chester, whom she had let outside for his nightly potty break, had died. Compelled by this same awareness, she tearfully carried his food and water bowls to her garbage can and threw them away before she crumpled to the floor and wept. Within the hour, she would discover upon searching the neighborhood that her sweet dog had been hit by a car two blocks away. This incident in my memory (and recounted in my book Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss) drew me to this article by the ever-compassionate, insightful Colleen Mihelich.—Sid

After the Memorial – What to Do With Your Pet’s Belongings

January 21st, 2011 | Author: admin

So, you’ve just struggled through the first painful months of having lost your beloved pet and adjusting to life without their friendship and presence. But now what do you do with the collar, the leash, the food and water bowls and the toys?

Some people have no problem throwing these things away or giving them to someone who needs them. This doesn’t mean that these pet owners aren’t grieving; they have simply determined this is the best course of action for them. Still others opt to keep their pet’s belongings as keepsakes, particularly if the pet was a part of their life for an extended period of time.

There is no right or wrong answer to the question of what to do with your pet’s belongings. This is a personal choice that is more about your comfort level and where you are in the grieving process than anything else. Pet loss is a life-changing event and people who have expended their time and love on their pet for long periods of time often have difficulty in letting go and reconciling their loss. This is where the issue of what do with the pet’s belongings becomes a loaded question.

One way of dealing with your pet loss is to give away some of your pet’s belongings to a local shelter or Humane Society, but in your own time. This can give you some peace of mind in knowing there are other animal’s out there benefiting from the items that once belonged to your pet. You can keep a few precious keepsakes, such as a special collar or favorite toys and display them or keep them in a special box.

A keepsake box can make a great pet memorial. Be creative and put a few items in a pet keepsake box and display it in a common area of your home. Keepsake boxes come in a variety of sizes and colors and are perfect for smaller mementos, such as collars or name tags and photos. You can also display these items in a shadow box that you can actually display on the wall of your home. You can also choose to display a shadow box in a common area, or if you want it to be a more personal expression of your love for your pet, in a bedroom area.

If you decide to donate your items to a pet-oriented charity or shelter, you might also be able to do in your pet’s memory, particularly if you also make a financial donation of sorts. Ask your local shelter or Humane Society about this option as this is a fantastic way to memorialize your pet and pay tribute to their life and the happiness which they brought to yours.

Remember, the decision on what to do with your pet belongings is in direct correlation to where you are in the grieving process. Only make decisions that you are ready to make and ensure that anything you decide to do with your pet’s belongings is something you are comfortable with and honors the life of your pet in some way.

Colleen Mihelich
Owner, Peternity…honoring your pet for eternity
http://www.peternity.com
colleen@peternity.com
877-PET-PEACE

Author: Colleen Mihelich
Article Source: EzineArticles.com

Yesterday, I got to meet a wonderful veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca McComas, whose business is Minnesota Pets Gentle Euthanasia at Home. She is a warm and gentle person with the very best attitude toward death I’ve ever encountered

Dr. Rebecca McComas

I asked her how she manages the sadness of her job and she said she understands how sad the people are who are personally losing a beloved friend, but, she said, “I LOVE my work! This is the most loving thing you can do for a pet that’s suffering.” She told me that when she’s surrounded by the animal’s human family and they’re all shedding tears for their loss, she doesn’t feel the need to cry herself because they’ve got that covered. Tears are the first stage of their honoring and saying goodbye to their pet, an indication of how much that animal had meant in their lives.

What is hardest for her to take is when the humans are all stoic and nobody’s crying at all. “That just kills me,” she said.

I shared with her the fact that I always, ALWAYS cry at a euthanasia, even when I’m accompanying someone whom I may never have met before and witness  the passing of a pet who’s also unknown to me. “I’m crying somewhat out of empathy for the grief the people are feeling, but more than that, I’m crying because of the profound beauty I’m witnessing when the pet actually transitions out of this life and into the next so peacefully.” Apparently, this made Dr. McComas’s day because she finds it difficult to explain that part of the process to people.

“It really is beautiful!” she said, eyes glowing.

I know that whenever I’ve held my own sweet animal companions and watched them gently slip away, I always think, “That’s exactly how I want to go!” They better have legalized human euthanasia by the time I’m in need of that release from my body.

Below is a video made by Dr. McComas to explain her services. If you’re facing this painful decision, this is well worth watching.—Sid

I found some of the points made here quite compelling. Perhaps you will, too.—Sid

How Can Anyone Really Know It Is Time? by Dr. Julie Reck

As a veterinarion running a mobile vet practice dedicated to providing a compassionate home euthanasia service, I face this question at least 5 times a day and sometimes I internally ask myself this throughout the day.  I recently published a book called “Facing Farewell” to help people find the answer to this question.  In the book, pet owners learn how animals perceive life and death, how to measure quality of life, and the process of the euthanasia procedure.  This is all very important information for anyone faced with making end of life decisions for their pet, but in this blog I would like to try to tackle this question on a more personal level.

The following is a statement I hear a lot from pet owners, “I am waiting for my pet to tell me it’s time.” Exactly how do we expect our pets to communicate that they are ready to go?  For many of us, the development of a lack luster attitude would be a clear indication that our pet no longer finds enjoyment in life.  Maybe he or she no longer wishes to eat, or they no longer come to greet you at the door when you arrive home.  They may stop wagging their tail or they may lose interest in their toys.  I have seen situations where a pet will demonstrate these changes in behavior, but it is important for pet parents to realize that this is NOT the normal outcome.  I know many will hesitate to believe me on this, but our pets will often not develop a continuous lack luster attitude toward life that would provide most of us with the confidence to go forward with our decision.  Surprised or perplexed?  I completely understand, but let me explain:

When we form a human animal bond with our pets, their entire perspective on life shifts.  The care, love, and attention we provide our pet causes them to view us as their “provider” or “God”.  The sun rises and sets on us; they are always happy to see us and often want to be with us as much as possible.  I see many pets in the end stages of cancer or suffering serious ailments of old age and, despite their discomfort and handicaps, they wtill “light up” when they see their owner.  They will still wag their tail, they will still be excited when their owner comes home, and they may still use their very last bit of strength to pick up a ball to make their owner happy.  Often I cannot medically explain their newfound  strength and happiness when they are so critically ill.  These moments of happiness and bursts of energy can make us doubt our end of life decisions for our pets.  I have seen this many times and the pets I have helped have provided me with valuable wisdom and insight.

For many pets to lose all interest in life, the disease process they are experiencing will have to strip them of everything they ever were.  This will often only happen at the very bitter end of their fight.  As we face the responsibility of this decision, our goal is to protect them from the discomfort and humiliation of this bitter end.  It is truly a gift to provide a peaceful and graceful exit from this world.  I have learned to find comfort if a pet is still experiencing some joy on their last day.  The pet may be able to enjoy wonderful food, have a fun car ride, or take a swim in the lake.

If you find yourself waiting for your pet to “tell you it is time”, then take a moment to reflect on the changes in your pet that you are waiting to witness.  Facing this decision is one of life’s most difficult choices, but your pet will appreciate you strength, empathy and compassion.     Dr. Julie Reck

For more assistance on end of life decision making for pets or to read more information on Dr. Reck’s helpful and informative book, “Facing Farewell” please go to http://www.facingfarewell.com

Thankfully, there are more and more options for people who seek to memorialize and honor their pet’s passing. Pet crematories, pet funeral homes, and Animal Chaplaincy Services such as those I offer, as well as innumerable pet memorial products (see that link on this blog) exist to help people give a fitting end to their animal companion’s life. However, there is the not-fun-to-think-about topic of what to do with your pet’s physical body when he or she dies. This article should help. —Sid

Burying a Cat or Dog: What You Need to Know

Posted by pet editor on August 4, 2010 · Leave a Comment

It’s the last labor of love you’ll perform for your furry friend: making arrangements for pet burial or cat or dog cremation. Those final decisions are probably something you’d rather not think about, but somebody has to make sure your pet rests in peace—and within legal limits.

<!–FOR PETS IN GENERAL–>

Dealing with Pet Loss: The Vet is the Undertaker

You can count on your veterinarian to dispose of the body if you have your animal euthanized or if the pet dies at the veterinarian’s office.

If you’re considering pet cremation, with ashes to spread in a beloved area, ask your veterinarian for a referral.

If you’d prefer to bury your animal in your yard, let the veterinarian know as you check in for your last visit.

What to Do about Pet Disposal When an Animal Dies at Home

What do you do if your pet dies at home or is killed by a car and you don’t want to deal with the remains? In a city or large town, call your local Dead Animal Disposal Unit.  Such officials will usually come and take the body for disposal. Who pays depends on city or county policy, but don’t be shy about asking whether you’ll incur any charges.

In a small town or rural area, find out whether similar services are available by calling the local Humane Society, sheriff’s office, or police department. Folks there should know or should be able to put you in touch with someone who does.

If you’re more comfortable bringing your dead animal to the vet’s office than having strangers cart off your pet, call and see whether your vet is willing to take care of the body. Most will be. Do this within a few hours of a pet’s death, as decomposition begins quickly.

Making a Pet Grave: Call Before You Dig

If you’re burying anything larger than a guinea pig, find out legal restrictions on burying animals in your yard by calling the county or city Dead Animal Disposal Unit. Most large towns and cities ban the practice because they’re worried about runoff water pollution, but you can sometimes plead for an exception to be made.

Animal burial is usually permitted in rural areas and small towns, but double-check with authorities. If you can’t find a number for the Dead Animal Disposal Unit in the town or county, call the local sheriff’s office or police department, the county health department, or the town hall to find out whom to ask.

Burial Details for a Cat or Dog Memorial

When you prepare to bury your pet, dig a hole deep enough to have at least one to three feet of dirt on top of the body. (Use the higher measure if you live in a wet climate or have light or sandy soil that washes away easily in rain.) That keeps marauding animals from disturbing the body, discourages curious kids from digging up the remains, and keeps the body from washing away in heavy storms.

It’s a good idea to keep all animal graves at least 250 feet from natural water sources such as springs and wells.

After the Pet Funeral, Let There Be New Life

Since you have the ground tilled anyway, consider planting some daffodil bulbs, a flowering bush, rosemary (to symbolize remembrance), or anything else that will commemorate your pet and give you a reason to come outside and think about the animal every now and then.

When the Cold, Cold Ground Is Too Cold

Sometimes the ground is too firmly frozen to allow burial of even the tiniest gerbil. In this case, you have two options: (1) Ask your veterinarian, the city, or the county to dispose of the body, or (2) put the body “on ice” until the ground thaws. If you choose the latter, “bury” a tiny animal in a clay or peat pot (do not use plastic) of indoor potting soil, wrap the pot in a plastic bag, and store the whole thing in a shed, unheated garage, crawl space, or unused tree house until you can “transplant” the body. After the soil thaws, take off the bag and bury the animal, pot and all. The whole thing will eventually become part of the soil. Don’t forget to take care of this as soon as the weather warms up. (Mark a reminder on your calendar!)

For a Bigger Animal, It’s a Bigger Deal

When the animal is larger than a toy breed or cat, it’s best to let the authorities take care of disposal, if that’s an option. But if you’re attached to the idea of burying your pet under his favorite tree out back and he dies in the middle of January, you can wrap the body in four layers of plastic leaf bags and place it in one of those giant handle-lock plastic garbage cans (available at home supply and discount stores). Transplant the body the second the ground can be worked, engaging a backhoe operator (look in the classified ads of your local newspaper under a heading such as “Livestock and Farm”) to dig up the area if necessary. Never proceed without first getting the approval of your city’s or county’s Dead Animal Disposal Unit or, in a small town, the local sheriff’s office or county health department.

Alternatively, check to see whether your vet might have a freezer storage area that you could use or rent until the ground thaws.

I came across this fascinating, in-depth look at many religious faiths’ stance on whether Pets Go To Heaven (similar to my book’s chapter on the topic) by Helen T. Gray – Jul. 31, 2008 02:26 PM McClatchy Newspapers (MCT) KANSAS CITY, Mo. Food for thought… —Sid

Carolyn Sharp’s beloved greyhound Starr was 4 years old when she was diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer. Sharp decided the two of them would stay together as long as Starr was not suffering too much. The greyhound received radiation treatments and pain patches for several months until the veterinarian told Sharp it was time to end it.

“When we went in for the last time, I held her in my arms for the comfort of both of us until she had left,” said Sharp, who lives in Overland Park, Kan. “I have still not really made peace with losing her so young.” Eight years later she still doesn’t understand the “why.” But she is certain she’ll hold Starr again – in an afterlife. “I believe I’ll have three cats and a whole bunch of dogs waiting for me,” Sharp said. Is there an afterlife for animals? Or as a popular question puts it, “Do all dogs go to heaven?”

Jack Vinyardi of Kansas City, Mo., an ordained interfaith chaplain of pets, said he is asked that question all the time as he comforts people about to lose or who have lost a pet. He tells them there is no faith that claims to know unquestionably what happens to animals when they die.

“It is my job to comfort,” he said. “I believe we each can find answers to divine questions if we look deeply in our own hearts and ask for guidance there. Although our answers may differ from the answers others have found, they are our own, and they will comfort us. “And there is only one religious truth I can confidently assert, that our relationships with our companion animals are both emotional and spiritual, so they never really end, wherever our bodies and souls go after death.”

One writer, mourning the loss of his dog, said recently that there are no souls or a heaven and that the departed, including his dog, exist only in people’s memories of them.

Sharp did not agree.

“If God knows the fate of a sparrow, what makes you think he wouldn’t be concerned about our pets?” asked Patricia Cox of Prairie Village, Kan. “To some people they are our children. Who are you to say they do not have souls or a heaven to go to?” We asked people of various religions how their faith answers the question of whether there is an afterlife for animals:

PROTESTANT Thor Madsen, academic dean at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, acknowledged the desire of Christians to see their pets again. But, he concluded, “We really have no biblical grounds for an assurance that our pets will be resurrected along with us.” Some Christians think heaven would be lacking something essential to their happiness if their pets are not there with them, Madsen said. “But the Scriptures imply that heaven’s overwhelming treasure for us is the fellowship that we, the followers of Christ, will have with our Creator and Savior,” he said. “… Nothing will seem to be absent at that point.”

CATHOLIC Children, and even some adults, have asked the Rev. John Schmeidler of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Lawrence, Kan., whether their pet had gone to heaven. God’s plans for animals regarding an afterlife are not fully known, he said. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about animals having a soul, but it wasn’t similar to that of humans, and St. Francis of Assisi saw animals as God’s creatures to be honored and respected, said Schmeidler, a Capuchin Franciscan. The Catholic Church traditionally teaches that animals do not go to heaven, he said. “But a lot of people have a hard time with that, and I do, too, when I see a grieving pet owner. I know God wants us to be totally happy in heaven, and if our dog will help make us fully happy, and if God can resurrect us, I’m sure he could resurrect a dog, too.”

MUSLIM The Qur’an contains no direct references to an afterlife for animals, said Muslim scholar Abdalla Idris Ali of Kansas City. But there are indirect references. One says that in paradise people will be given everything they have asked for, he said, “so indirectly, if they want their pets, they can have them with them.” Islam also teaches that God will be judge of people and animals, Ali said. “For example, he will charge an animal that has horns who took advantage of one that didn’t have horns, and that horned animal will be turned to dust after taking him to account for what the horned animal did,” he said.

JEWISH Rabbi Scott White of Congregation Ohev Sholom in Prairie Village once saw a bumper sticker that read, “Lord, please help me to become as great a person as my dog thinks I am.” “Judaism teaches that God reserves a blessed existence in the world to come for the truly virtuous,” White said. “It’s only fitting that such an existence includes the pet that inspired the greatness. “For myself, paradise with my own mutt (Rescue the Wonder Dog) is a perfect inducement to pursue virtue.”

AMERICAN INDIAN American Indians believe all creatures are interconnected, said Gary Langston of Kansas City, a Northern Cherokee. “All living things are children of the Earth,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we have feet or wings or roots. “So, yes, there is an afterlife for animals. We all are going home, back to the Creator. And, yes, people will see their pets again. The dog I had as a kid, his spirit never left me; he just moved into a different dimension.” Langston said he believes that when he dies he will move into the dimension where his dog is, and they will be in the spirit form together. The companionship, friendship and love that humans and their pets share in this life will continue to be shared in the afterlife, he said.

HINDU/VEDANTA There is a story in the Hindu epic “Mahabharata” about Yudhisthira, the eldest and noblest of five Pandava brothers. When he made his final journey to heaven, his faithful dog Dhruba followed him there, said Anand Bhattacharyya, a member of the Kansas City area Hindu community. “Yudhisthira was allowed to go to heaven, but not his dog,” he said. “But he didn’t want to enter heaven without his dog. On Yudhisthira’s insistence both were allowed to enter heaven in eternal peace.”

Still the general Hindu belief is that animals have souls but no access to eternal life, Bhattacharyya said. “Because of the soul’s inherent urge to be united with its source (God), souls in animals will ultimately evolve to the human plane. Once the soul is in a human body, it is capable of union with God in eternal bliss. But it may take many more reincarnations in human form to liberate the soul from the death-rebirth cycle.”

A similar view comes from Linda Prugh of the Vedanta Society, an organization based on a Hindu philosophy. She said animals have souls, but unlike humans they do not have the ability to reason and discriminate between right and wrong. Animals go from birth to death to birth again and slowly evolve into higher forms, eventually reaching the human plane, she said. The goal of life is to realize one’s true divine nature, which is one with Brahman (all-pervading Godhead), and to see that divinity in every being and every thing, Prugh said. “So our pets, whom we love and take care of, should be treated as manifestations of the divine,” she said.

BUDDHIST From the Buddhist perspective, “I don’t know” about an afterlife for humans or animals, said Marnie Hammer of Mid America Dharma. “The Buddha talked about being present now rather than spending a lot of time worrying about what’s out there,” she said. Buddhism teaches that the animal realm is a lower realm of existence, Hammer said. “I’ve had three cats that I’ve shared my life with and have made my life richer, but I don’t know if I’ll see them again,” she said. “That’s not the question.” The question, she said, is whether one is making life “more peaceful and generous for everyone.”

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/pets/articles/2008/07

This article was posted on the Quirky Japan Blog. I like that it’s not only Westerners who cherish their pets and want to honor them posthumously. It’s another way in which we humans are more alike than different in ways that really count. —Sid

Buddhist Pet Funerals

May 17, 2010 — qjphotos

I hear the word “pettoro-su” (pet loss) surprisingly often these days, and it seems a lot of funeral parlors and graveyards are springing up to help bereaved owners put their loved ones to rest. One of the biggest companies is called Petto Ceremoni- Makoto (Sincere Pet Ceremonies), and it offers a wide range of pet funerals and cremations.

If you want to give your pet a sendoff, they have contracts with Buddhist temples to perform ceremonies.

After the funeral, you can have your pet’s ashes stores in a charnel house. According to their brochure, “The Shou Kannon watches over the charnel house. It’s said to be a Bodhisattva with great compassion, so you’ll be able to feel confident that your beloved pet’s soul is resting in peace through it’s enfolding kindness.” The urn storage service is free the first year, and costs 5,000 yen per year after that.

Here’s an article with more information about pet funerals: http://www.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Asia/Story/A1Story20090702-152168.html

The following was a heartfelt poem my brother Doug Spagenski wrote to our sister Diane following the loss of her schnauzer Pebbles. (Scroll down for her full story “The Ultimate Sacrifice…”.)

Dear Diane,

I’m sorry to hear that God has chosen to take your Pebbles from here to there. With empathy, I pray God gives you more strength each passing day. They say time heals; well then, why does it hurt me so to write these words? I miss my [own dog] King as you too will miss Pebbles I’m sure. A best little friend has left you again with a void that only time can begin to heal, one day at a time, no bark or spark to lighten your day. I pray that peace will come your way. As you miss your loving little friend, I do believe we will see them again. I’m sorry, Diane, for I thought she was fine. No more seizures was a peace of mind. As you walk, she will be with you, and all the love you had shared, she’ll be sharing with you. So as I stop for now, I want to say I know she’s jumping and playing with all those we’ve lost up till today. (You’re a beautiful sis, and I can promise you this.) Pebbles, King and all our pets are running and playing together in a special place until we can join their bliss. So I close asking God, please be with my sis and grant her happiness today and always. Let her find the peace and contentment that surpasses all understanding from humankind. That’s a blessing from God that’s yours and mine. I love you, Diane.

Doug, King and family

I awoke this morning to see a large black bird atop my neighbor’s roof, stark against the new snow that covered the house. Immediately, the lyrics from a song by Sting, “The Lazarus Heart,” came to mind. In it, he speaks of his mother’s impending death, using the following image:

Birds on the roof of my mother’s house
I’ve no stones that chase them away.
Birds on the roof of my mother’s house,
Will sit on my roof someday.

This image is especially poignant to me this morning because, yesterday, I had to look into sweet Pebbles’ eyes (she was my sister Diane’s schnauzer) as she closed them for the final time. For well over a month, she had been having increasingly frequent grand mal seizures and mini strokes due, her vet believes, to a brain tumor.

It only makes sense to release a beloved animal companion from pain, fear and certain death when you witness his or her obvious debilitation. Trouble was, the day her euthanasia was scheduled to take place, I walked into my sister’s house to see 12-year-old Pebbles running, jumping, wagging her tail and happy as a puppy!

My sister was, quite naturally, beside herself with second-guessing. She sobbed, “How can I do this to my baby when she looks like this?!”

The vet had watched Pebbles’ symptoms progress and had told Diane quite honestly that, despite medical intervention, they would only get worse, and probably quite soon. She had already agonized over waking at night to Pebbles’ violent seizing, her heart breaking during the day as her darling girl was falling down, walking in endless circles, or just ’s having to  permanently tilt her head remained to remain upright. Diane knew what the vet had told her was true, and it was on this that she based her most painful of all decisions.

But surely this wasn’t the same dog we were seeing before us today!

If I thought Diane were making the decision to put Pebbles to sleep prematurely, I’d have told her so. What I knew in my gut was happening was “The Arby’s Effect” (see my book’s chapter by that name for a full recounting/explanation of this phenomenon). In short, Pebbles and we were being blessed by her final rallying. Humans and animals alike often have these moments of clarity, coherence, apparently spontaneous healing—only to have it followed by a swift decline and death shortly thereafter. My dad, my mom, my stepdad, my dog Tuppence and my cat Genevieve all exhibited this before they died.

I told Diane we were to be thankful for this blessing of a final memory of Pebbles as she was in her prime rather than during a grand mal. We shouldn’t cling to false hope and keep her alive long enough to fully deteriorate before our eyes. Sure, we’d be certain the decision to let her go had been right, but waiting for that, in this case, would have been totally self-serving. As it was, my sister showed astounding strength, courage and selfless love in letting Pebbles go when she did. (And she claims she’s a wimp!)

Pebbles licked away our tears and did her best to show she was OK with her upcoming transition. When her mama had said her heart-wrenching goodbyes and left the examining room, I stayed behind with this beautiful little girl who’d brought so much laughter and love into both our lives. I’m so very glad I did, too, because I was able to tell my sister, “Pebbles was ready. She wasn’t afraid; she didn’t struggle, flinch, or cry out as she got her shot.” I’d kneeled in front of her and held her head in my hands and looked into her eyes, showering her with love and prayers that our mother (“Gamma Lu,” who art in heaven with all our past pets) would lovingly gather up Pebbles in her arms. Those sweet eyes gently closed and she went on to her next life.

Alone in the room with Pebbles afterward, I sent her on with blessings and thanks (and oh, lordy, such tears) and I asked her to send us signs that she was all right.

My visit from the rooftop bird was my first sign. “The Lazarus Heart” song goes on to say, “Everyday another miracle. Only death will keep us apart.”

And that separation, in the grand scheme of things, will last only a twinkling of an eye. It’s just that in this life, it feels like we’re alternately living in slow motion, prolonging the pain of loss, and fast-forwarding through the wonderful times, making them seem all too fleeting.

I need to work on reversing that process.

Thank you, Pebbles, for opening my eyes to that need. We’ll always love you, sweet dog.

Pebbles

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