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dog-open-mouthA friend sent me an email yesterday saying that he had to put his dog down. He added that the dog was gentle to the last and ended with “No more dogs for me.” I could tell that his heart was broken.
Our pets touch us like no one else does; perhaps it is because their love is so unconditional – which is a rare experience for most of us. A dog’s loyalty and devotion are hard to find in our everyday world. Our pets do not judge us or try to ‘improve’ us. They accept us the way we are, warts and all.

When a pet dies and that source of love is gone, we can feel bereft and like my friend, say we will not let our hearts be open to that kind of loss again. That is the big drawback to pets – we almost always outlive them. But it is also their greatest gift to us for they can teach us how to face death with acceptance if we are strong enough to stay till the end.

Over the years I had many dogs and cats but it has only been in the last ten years or so that I was strong enough (brave enough?) to sit beside them as they died. Before that I was too afraid. It is a privilege to be there at the end for what can be more intimate than the moments of birth and death – and these our pets are willing to share with us.

It seems as if death can be a long time coming but when it does arrive it is very swift and sure. Towards the end, the eyes are already traveling homeward while the body waits in stillness. Then as suddenly as a stolen kiss the light blinks out and the soul flies. Ah! … and we are left to continue without them.

And yet they ask: does a dog have a Buddha nature.

My little dog, a heartbeat at my feet. Edith Wharton