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Is It Okay to Grieve for a Pet?

by Rabbi Rami ShapiroJuly 21, 2019
Pink pet collar empty on fence

gregbunbury/Getty Images

A comforting prayer to use when releasing a pet from this life.

Have you ever had to put your dog to sleep? (I hate that euphemism but asking if you ever had to kill your dog seems too harsh.)

I have. Several times. And I will have to yet again. Murphy, my Goldendoodle, is 11 years old and tiring. When the time comes, I will hold her head in my arms, stroke her back, whisper my love into her ear, and cry as the vet ends her life with a lethal injection. But then what?

In Judaism we mark the death of a parent, sibling, or child with a week-long period of mourning when friends and family visit, bring food, and make themselves available for conversation and comfort-giving. I suggest we do something similar for our deceased animal friends as well.

When Murphy dies, I want to grieve my loss with loved ones and friends. I want people to drop by that day with food (human food, not dog food), and stick around to talk. I want my living room filled with photos of Murph. I want to tell stories of her life. I want to confess my love and share my loss in public. (See our story “Support for the Bereaved Animal Lover.”)

When I have shared this idea, people often object that I am treating my dog as I would a person. Is my love of Murphy the same as my love for my dad who died a few years ago?

The same? No. My love for my dad is in spite of difficult memories. My love for Murphy has no such memories.

For example, my dad and I would play catch in our backyard. My dad played first base when he was in the Army, and he was as loyal to his beloved Yankees as he was to his no less beloved Jews. He wanted me to grow up to be a solid ball player and playing catch with him was always a test of my forever lagging abilities. Murphy and I also play catch, but with her there is no test and nothing to prove. We play for the sheer joy of me throwing something and her catching it, racing it back to me, then wrestling with me to get it out of her mouth. Honestly, in many ways my love for Murphy is purer than my love for my dad.

This is on my mind because someone emailed me asking for a prayer to offer when “I have to release my dog from this life.” I sent her the following. She found it helpful; perhaps you will as well:

Return home, beloved.

Return to the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

Return with my love surrounding you.

Return with my tears dampening your head.

Return with the pure being, consciousness and bliss you embodied while alive. Thank you for loving me.

Thank you for caring for me and allowing me to care for you.

Thank you for showing me I am needed.

Thank you for cultivating a love in me so deep that

even heartbreak and grief cannot quell it.

Lech b’shalom, beloved friend, go in peace. 

Rabbi Rami Shipiro

Rabbi Rami Shapiro is an award-winning author, essayist, poet, and teacher. His spiritual advice column, “Roadside Assistance for the Spiritual Traveler,” addresses reader questions pertaining to religion, spirituality, faith, family, God, social issues, and more. His latest book is Surrendered—The Sacred Art: Shattering the Illusion of Control and Falling into Grace with Twelve-Step Spirituality.

He has this to say about religion: “To me, religions are like languages: no language is true or false; all languages are of human origin; each language reflects and shapes the mindset of the civilization that speaks it; there are things you can say in one language that you cannot say or cannot say as well in another; and the more languages you know, the more nuanced your understanding of life. Judaism is my mother tongue, yet in matters of the spirit I strive to be multi-lingual. In the end, however, the deepest language of the soul is silence.”

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