Many years ago, when I was beginning my career as a Rabbi, the phone rang in my study.
The following conversation took place:
She: Hello, Rabbi, I have some terrible news (she said, crying)
Me: What happened?
She: Â My dog died. When can we have the funeral?
Me: (as gently as I could) Ruthie, I’m so sorry for your dog’s death. We don’t have funerals for animals, we only have them for humans.
She: (as if she didn’t hear what I just told her, she was in shock): I know, but when can we have the funeral?
The conversation continued, until she finally understood.
Part of me wondered why she didn’t “get it,” and part of me wondered why I didn’t “get it.”
I grew up with dogs. I loved them, I hugged them, I cuddled with them, I even got up at 5AM to walk them. I cried when one of them got run over and died, and I cried when the neighbor said our dog was too loud, and we had to give him away. I knew exactly how Ruthie felt.
So why was this such a moment of anxiety for me?
Answer: I was unwilling to symbolize the loss of her dog. My tradition said no funerals for animals, and that was that.
Today, I know better.
Today I know that when there arise life-and-death situations which remind us of how little real control we have in our lives, we create religious (or other) rituals to take back some of that control. It’s not everything, but it’s something. And it makes us feel better. Like when we return from a funeral.
Pets are members of our families, sometimes they are the only ones we can talk to when we need emotional help. Parents can be…well, you know what parents can be, because all of us had parents and most of us are parents.
So our animals were our best friends. All they wanted and needed was to be loved, period.
Today, I would absolutely officiate at a funeral for a pet, because I am older asd wiser, and I “get it” in a way that I did not when I was starting out as a young Rabbi
My guest this week, Judy Wright (“Auntie Artichoke”), is a pet loss expert. She will chat with us about why we used to treat our pets worse than our family members. She’s a hoot, like we used to say growing up, and you’ll love her!
I can’t wait to hear what has to say.
Join us– this Thursday at 5PM PST on VoiceAmerica Empowerment.
I’ll be listening for you!