Like a mother during the time when her beloved child has died,
May I give all my merits to transmigratory beings with compassion,
By keeping in my heart all transmigratory beings, who are tormented by every suffering.
~ The Great Praise of Maitreya Buddha, called Crown of Brahma. Lama Je Tsongkhapa
Many of you know that my Australian Shepherd, Pema, suffered from chronic kidney failure over the past year. Many of you said prayers for her. My Dharma practice the past few months centered around keeping her alive. Last Tuesday, she finally passed away.
Although my dream was for Pema to die peacefully at home, I carefully read Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s advice on euthanasia on the Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives website. I offered the Four Mandala Offering Prayer to Tara and then, following Lama Zopa’s instructions, I wrote down two choices on slips of paper and threw then in the air. One rolled directly towards me, it read, “natural death at home unless she can not be humanely cared for”.
With that guidance from Tara in mind and the vet’s warning that death from kidney failure “was not going to be a pretty sight”, I watched Pema’s slow decline. In the course of a few days after a brief hospitalization, she lost power in her back legs and had to be half-carried. She grew very restless and uncomfortable and dragged herself around. Her daily subcutaneous fluid treatments and holistic medicine no longer sustained her.
At 8:30 pm last Tuesday, she suddenly had a terrible seizure — violent shaking, eyes rolling back, hyperventilating. Then, she started having some kind of sharp pain in her kidney area – agony so bad she was moaning and crying out. She seemed a little more comfortable when she was standing up, so I cradled her against me. I offered the Medicine Buddha puja, all the mantras at the time of death, the special prayer to alleviate pain (Entering the City of Vaishali) . The Medicine Buddha puja played softly in the background. Around 2:30 am, after I gave her a quarter of a dose of Tramodol – the pain reliever, she had a second seizure, so I couldn’t give her any more. By 4:00 am, her pain was continuous, she was crying louder and louder, her eyes were wild with terror and exhaustion. She was begging me for mercy.
I asked Tara for guidance and her answer was clear. By 5:00 am (the earliest I could get her there) we were in the emergency room at Pender Veterinary Hospital. Pema, once terrified of going there, was lying on a stretcher on her side. Barely conscious, I am not sure she recognized me. She didn’t look at me even when I spoke to her and touched her. The vet asked me if I wanted to spend more time with her, and I asked her to proceed with the euthanasia before another seizure or contraction started up. In a second, it was over. I pulled the hair at the top of her head, and then put the precious pill at the crown, put holy water from Nepal and precious pills in her mouth. Touched her with a special Medicine Buddha protection cord and continued whispering mantras. When I finally left her at the hospital, the sun was rising, and it was the start of a clear spring day.
The decision about euthanasia is not straight forward, at least in my mind. Clearly, Pema underwent very intense purification. Whether she will experience the ripening of some negative karma because she did not continue her purification until death due to the euthanasia, only a Buddha knows for sure. To have let her suffer such intense pain unmitigated by pain killers was inhumane, and I deeply regret it. Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s advice does not say that giving pain killers lessens the purification.
He writes, “Therefore, when one kills with a true bodhicitta heart and intention, that is whole-heartedly filled with dharma wisdom, karma, and compassion, the act actually becomes one in which it is “beneficial to kill.” He continues, “It is this pure motivation behind the altruistic decision to end another sentient being’s suffering, putting them out of their misery by ending their present life, while knowing absolutely that one could at that very moment be creating the causes of karma for themselves to be born in the hell realm that makes such a killing beneficial.”
I have faith that all of our collective prayers and Pema’s naturally gentle, loving nature will cause her to be reborn as a human, maybe even the Pure Lands some day.
So, today I am going to the hospital to pick up Pema’s ashes.
Thank you all for your prayers, love, and support.
Every morning, think with complete conviction, “I am going to die today.” In the afternoon, think “I am going to die this afternoon.” Then, in the evening, “I am going to die tonight”. The practice of Dharma begins with preparing for death. There is no solution but to practice Dharma. Then Dharma practice becomes very pure. ~ Lama Zopa Rinpoche, How to Prepare for Death.