I've been thinking about my beloved family dog, Bosco, and my struggle with a terrible decision: whether or not to euthanize her. Although my path led me one way, that is not to say it is for everyone. Still, I tell this story in hopes that a larger faith and vision toward natural death is possible.
Bosco was a long-haired, scruffy looking shepherd-mix dog who had a magic that made people love her immediately. My husband and I acquired her as a puppy at a humane shelter and considered her our firstborn; she was surely a family member to us. Ten years and two little human additions later, our family decided to move out of state where we could live life more as we dreamed. Unfortunately, we had to leave Bosco behind with my parents temporarily. Six months later we retrieved Bosco, only to discover a few months later that she had glandular cancer.
I remember that wretched day when I brought her home from the vets with the heartbreaking news of her terminal illness. Feeling shock and horror, I sensed the difficult decisions I was to face. Having always been against human euthanasia, I felt the same thing should apply to animals; that if it was wrong for humankind, how could it be right for animals? Would not life be as precious to them as it is for us? Would not the divine law care in its mercy for animals as it would for man?
Still I had great reservations about letting a painful death take its course. Now that the real decision faced me, I was not so sure of my beliefs. Always before me was society's belief that the right and compassionate thing would be to put her to sleep to avoid unnecessary pain. But what if pain and discomfort are necessary in the larger view of life and death that we haven't yet understood? All these questions revolved unrelentingly in my mind. My husband left the decision entirely up to me, and the only decision I could make was to take one day at a time and follow each inner direction as it came.
To help ease her discomfort I used the Bach Flower Remedies, though she never showed the symptoms described by the veterinarians. However, as her condition deteriorated I felt more heavily the struggle of mind and heart. She was a medium-large dog, and I knew that when she couldn't get outdoors to relieve herself, I would not be able to carry her. But how could I leave an indoor dog outside in the middle of winter, unsheltered, in a much colder climate than she was accustomed to? Both paths were unacceptable -- in fact, all the choices before me were unacceptable!
One day I sat on the floor observing Bosco a couple of feet away, wondering about her pain and whether I was doing the right thing in keeping her alive. The poor thing struggled to her feet with great difficulty only to move closer and lie down right next to me. I knew my answer then. I could see the situation through her eyes. It did not matter to her that she was in pain; what mattered was that she was by my side. Each minute by her master was an inner joy that I could not take away. I made a definite decision to allow my dog to die a natural death in my care, no matter what came.
The day soon arrived, though, when she could no longer get herself outside with my help. I had to trust and place her in the hands of Mother Nature and divine law, since all other avenues were closed. I placed a small carpet remnant on the grass where she could see inside, and helped her out for the last time. It was a beautiful December morning, clear and bright, with the sun shining over us from across the distant mountains. It was not too terribly cold, so I was able to spend some time with her outside as she lay on the carpet. At this point, she could only lie on her side. She ate a little and some time later relieved herself without being able to get up at all. I did what I saw to do, and did not allow myself to think about the coming times.
A short time later as I was sitting next to her, a choke rose to her throat. Not wanting her to panic, I laid my hand on the side of her head and whispered, "Don't fight it." She did not move or struggle, but laid there peacefully and died. I did not move or do anything for quite a while. I just sat there by her, in partial shock, in partial awe of the whole process -- frozen in silence from the sheer depth of the inner spiritual drama that had just taken place between master and dog. That afternoon we had her cremated, and a couple of days later scattered her ashes at the base of a waterfall.
In closing I'd like to say that we all must strive to believe ever more strongly in the processes of life and death, that the divine law in its actions has purpose and mercy for all. It is not for us to say what shall live or die, or that pain and struggle are of no value, for we do not have insight into the greater workings of things. But let us trust and find courage to let live and let die when the inner spirit so wishes.
(From Sunrise magazine, June/July 2002; copyright © 2002 Theosophical University Press)