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Why We Should Not Euthanize Pets- A Buddhist View
Euthanasia in Humans
Whether one is Buddhist or not, The Buddha has much to teach us about compassion and karma.
People in the agony of an unredeemable illness often ponder the possibility of taking their own lives or asking others to do it for them. But human life, according to The Buddha is most precious and we are born into our circumstances in accordance with our karma from previous lives. We are born so that we can resolve unsolved issues and repay kindnesses and a serious illness can very well be part of the lerning we are required to do in order to progress spiritually.
We are, after all, as someone wise said, spiritual beings in physical bodies.
Yet, we see euthanasia is a growing trend, with many fatally ill people opting for voluntary euthanasia. And of course, putting ailing pets down is rife. I have even come across people putting their pets to sleep just because the pets have become old.
The First Precept of Buddhism
Not to take life is the first and foremost precept of Buddhism. This means neither are we free to end our own lives or those of our pets.
When The Buddha discovered that some monks, disgusted by their bodies – the blood, pus, feces, innards, etc. - were killing themselves or asking other monks to kill them, he put an end to the practice by formulation the first precept which forbids the destruction of life.
Monks that were guilty of abetting this crime were excommunicated.
The Unnecessary Prolonging of Life
The reader may recall that when The Buddha become fatally ill from ingesting poisonous mushrooms, he did not seek treatment but simply allowed Death to take him.
Taking medicines to ward of inevitable death would have been immoral, as it would have artificially prolonged his life. According to The Buddha, every living soul on the planet has been accorded a certain time for birth and death. Allowing one’s death when one senses that a cure is impossible and the end is near is to go against one’s destiny and the universal flow.
Although I intend to write about pet euthanasia, I find it imperative to first to recognise and acknowledge the fact that all sentient beings are equal in that they all have karma and a particular destiny. Animals, like us are subject to the same laws of karma.
In the case of my dog Jisaw who also died of old age (at age 19 20), I decided eventually to stop giving him injections to keep him alive. These were hurting him (apart from his illness) and he had stopped eating or drinking after having been on drips a couple of times. I decided to allow him to die in peace just as the vet suggested.
Let Our Pets Resolve Their Karma
Therefore, according to Buddhism, we have no right to decided on a living being’s lifespan. Our pets, like us, are here to leran their lessons and illness is a part of it. Something they must endure in order to be reborn in better circumstances. Let us not interfere in that process and delay their self realisation.
Instead, let us look after them to their dying day, their last breath. And let us serve them and look after them without feelings of resentment or complaint. Let us bury them with the love and respect they deserve.
Besides, when we take life, we must face the negative karma we create. What goes around comes around.
Putting a Pet Down Due to Lack Of Commitment and Compassion
It’s easy to see that many pet owners decide to put old and ailing pets down because they cannot commit themselves to the welfare of their pets. They don’t want to invest the time and extra effort nursing a pet requires or simply cannot bear to watch their pets suffer. But we make a commitment to our pets when we bring them home. We know how much they love and care for us.
My spiritual mentors tell me that dogs chase away negativity and heal us all the time. They make us feel better both mentally and physically when we play with them. They take upon themselves our illnesses.
I speak from experience. My close friend Sunaina – who underwent a major gall bladder surgery and found that her liver and pancreas were also slightly damaged had a dog who became suddenly ill after her surgery. It is no coincidence that the dog had liver problems. As though she had taken on the illness of her owner.
Botched Euthanasia Attempts
I see blogs about euthanized pets that either came back to life to happy and repentant owners or froze to death in the freezers into which they were packed. The Los Angeles Times tells a story about a man who attempted to have his 11-year old dog put to sleep because he could not handle her spinal problem which required him to feed her by hand. But once the dog survived the euthanasia attempt, he said he neither had the heart or the money to try putting her down again and is looking for someone to adopt her.
I also come across posts that say that pets actually resist euthanasia which makes vets put the euthanizing agent into their food.
One dog owner writes that when the vet came to their home to put down their mini Schnauzer. that had a bad heart and was no longer eating or drinking, "he sat up and cried and acted like his leg was hurt. We felt like we had botched his death. It was traumatizing and horrible to witness."
Pets Are Our Relatives
The Buddha clearly said that our pets are our relatives from previous lives. We ourselves have been born as animals, and may go back to our animal status depending on our karma. Perhaps that dying pet suffering so much is here with us because we owe them the care and compassion. Perhaps in another life we did not look after them, and now we must make up for it.
When my dog Bismarcki died of old age a year ago, she was severely arthritic, peed and pooed in her bed at times (although she always tried to drag herself out of her bed to save me the trouble of cleaning up) and in her final days had to be fed.
Being fortunate enough to have spiritual guidance, I understood the importance of not complaining and instead, serving her. She was enabling me to learn a lesson, to be more tolerant, patient and compassionate.
I could only thank my dog Bismarcki for that.
Venerable Gonsar Rinpoche on Pet Euthanasia
From an interview with Venerable Gonsar Rinpoche:
Q. What do you recommend to western dog keepers and breeders?
A: Nowadays, there are tendencies to exaggeration. That is never good. It is selfish and childish to shape beings according to our own wishes. My recommendation is to keep the Tibetan dog breeds as they are: healthy and robust and adapted to their life-task.
I don't think it is good to feed them with much meat. Today, it always has to be meat. This can cause disease.
I also regret that dog owners are willing to put their sick dogs to sleep. That is like killing a member of the family. Of course, we should help the animal and keep him from suffering. But often it is a selfish decision, as we are not able to cope with the illness, additional work and suffering at hand. Death always causes suffering; we cannot escape that.
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