I’m sad to report that my sweet, sweet dog Chloe (also known as Gopi) died very suddenly and very unexpectedly this morning, from hemangiosarcoma. Basically, she had tumors on her spleen and lungs which burst quite suddenly, causing severe internal hemorrhaging. Apparently this particular sarcoma is difficult to detect until it’s too late. I had no idea she was sick and thought that any lethargic behavior she had been displaying the past two weeks was related to the dog-attack in early September. (She was mauled by another dog while under the care of a dog-sitter). Anyway, when I came home from NYC late last night, she could barely walk, and didn’t give me her usual high-spirited greeting. In fact, her personality seemed to be absent. And her abdomen was bloated. And her feet were cold. My poor sweetie. I realized she was seriously ill and took her straight to an emergency veterinary clinic in Poughkeepsie.
The vet at the emergency clinic actually advised me to euthanize Chloe last night, right on the spot, but I could not do that. No way. I chose to bring her home with me instead. The vet said Chloe would likely die within twelve hours, from the hemorrhage. But still, I wanted to bring her home. I suppose it was a bit selfish of me, but I wanted to have the opportunity to say goodbye. We gave Chloe some painkillers and lifted her back into my van. Chloe was still too weak to walk once we got home, so we spent the night lying on the floor in the foyer. She panted all night long, likely in pain, while I recited mantras and prayers from the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and Jewish traditions.
I told her how much I loved her and what a good, kind, loving being she has been. I kept reminding her how pretty she is, and how sweet, and how everyone enjoyed her company so much. I thanked her for being my companion. She wasn’t 100% coherent, but I think at one point she wagged her tail. (I had gotten one kiss from her before we went to the hospital, and it was cold. As cold as death.)
Oh, Chloe. You sweet thing.
After a long night in which neither of us slept, I decided to take Chloe to our regular vet–Dr. Rothstien at Saugerties Animal Hospital. Dr. Rothstein practices TCM and acupuncture in addition to traditional veterinary medicine and I absolutely love him. As I drove to Saugerties, I started to allow myself to believe that Dr. R would have a magic herb to cure Chloe. From what the emergency clinic said, it was unlikely Chloe would survive. But I hoped that Dr. R would at least be able to do some acupuncture to ease Chloe’s suffering. I even accepted the fact that I would elect to have her euthanized if Dr. Rothstein recommended it. I had said my goodbyes, after all.
On the way to the vet I brought Chloe up to the monastery (KTD) for a very important task. There, Lama Thendup–a Tibetan monk–performed the Tibetan Buddhist version of “last rites.” He read passages from an ancient Tibetan text–none of which I understood. He fed Chloe some mantra seeds which were blessed by the Karmapa. Chloe could barely swallow at that point, or even operate her tongue, so I had to plant the seeds on her tongue, the way a priest might administer communion. Chloe’s gums were white from anemia. Her tongue was brown. I wanted to cry, but I was told it is important to make sure our animals (or any beings) remain calm at the time of death. I kept petting her, reminding her that she was going to have a very auspicious rebirth. At some point during the ritual, Chloe became semi-alert and turned her body to face Lama Thendup. He touched the text to her forehead. Did she feel it, I wonder? Did she receive some powerful, karma-clearing transmission?
Like many dog guardians, I often feel guilty that I am not “doing enough” for my dog. Yesterday, for example, I was not with Chloe during those hours in which she fell ill. I feel VERY guilty about that. As in: how dare I go sing in New York City when your dog is dying? But we all know that thoughts of guilt are silly, destructive thoughts. Plus, I didn’t know she was dying. I thought yesterday was just another day. Anyway, as I watched Lama Thendup give Chloe more mantra seeds, I thought: well, if even it’s true that I “I didn’t do enough” for her in this lifetime, at least I am making some effort to ensure that she has an even better lifetime the next time around. She will likely be reborn a human.
So then it was time to go down to the vet for our 9:00 appointment. I drove with one hand on the wheel; the other on Chloe’s cold paw. I sang Om Mani Peme Hum for her, and the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra. Could she feel it? Or was she locked in her own private place of pain? Or non-pain, if the painkiller was still working.
I found myself wishing–as I often wish–that I had a partner, because then that partner Could be the one driving the minivan, and I could be in the backseat hugging Chloe. Instead, I just held on to her paw. It felt smaller, as if she had already begun to shrink.
We were now about ten minutes away from the Saugerties Animal Hospital. Thus it was time to seriously address the issue of euthanasia. In Buddhism, there are different schools of thought about this. Some teachers feel that if you make the decision to end another’s life, you are taking on negative karma, because you are ending someone else’s cycle of suffering prematurely. Other teachers feel (as I do) that if your true desire is to ease the animal’s suffering, then the act of euthanasia is actually a benevolent one. But as I drove down the hill from the monastery, knowing what I was about to do, I considered both theories. And I decided that even if I did indeed risk taking on more negative karma for euthanizing my beloved dog, I would do it anyway. I would bring more suffering upon myself in order to ease hers.
I am not trying to toot my own horn here. It’s just that I’ve never really looked at love from that angle before. I haven’t really done any heroic or noble things in this lifetime, but in that second I realized that this thing people call sacrifice isn’t sacrifice at all. It’s just pure love.
Shortly after I had this realization, Chloe died. We had just pulled into the animal hospital parking lot. I don’t know how to describe a lifeless body–the way it sags. But those of us who believe in reincarnation trust that there is life beyond the body. This is what I told Chloe.
Was it wrong to keep her alive in her diseased body for another twelve hours? I think the soul-Chloe would say no. I think the soul-Chloe knew I would have been paralyzed with guilt for the rest of this life if I had had to make the decision to end her life. I think she also knew I would have been paranoid about the negative karma. So she, in her life-saving way, she saved me. Again. Those of you who are now thinking “Lee analyzes too much” are correct. So let me just end with this:
She knew I loved her. And I knew she loved me. We are complete. And so I say goodbye to a beloved friend.
Right now, through my window, I can see fat squirrels frolicking across the lawn. And there is no one to chase them.