The decision to end the life of a pet can be both merciful and deeply moving and I can help you find the strength to say goodbye. If you would like, I can officiate at a Pet Memorial service. In such a ceremony, the family gathers to bid their pet farewell in a service that is rooted in a traditional funeral.
I'll never forget when my beloved Beardie, Ernie died. I was serving as Cantor in a local community and I was despondent. It happened that day that two colleagues were in a meeting and when I joined them, I mentioned that I felt as if I should say Kaddish for Ernie. I knew there was no official Jewish response to mourning a pet.
Although they both understood the way that I felt, they felt that saying Kaddish for a dog was inappropriate. "It was not in our tradition to raise an animal- even a beloved pet- to the status of a human," they said. Their response was greatly hurtful and unsatisfying. And I rejected it.
The passing of a pet is a mournful experience. For most, the intensity of emotion can be overwhelming and acknowledging and supporting an owner's need to lovingly mourn the passing of a beloved pet is indeed in the spirit of our tradition.
Jacob, Moses and David were all shepherds, people who cared for animals. The Talmud specifically states that Moses was chosen for his mission because of his skill in caring for animals. “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said ‘Since you are merciful to the flock of a human being, you shall be the shepherd of My flock, Israel.” Likewise Rebekah was chosen as a wife for Isaac because of her kindness to animals. When Abraham's servant asked for water for himself, she volunteered to water his camels as well, and thereby proved herself a worthy wife.
The laws regarding treatment of animals are referred to as Tzar Baalei Chayim, prevention of cruelty to animals.
Under Jewish law, animals have some of the same rights as humans do. Animals rest on Shabbat, as humans do. We are forbidden to muzzle an ox while it is working in the field, just as we must allow human workers to eat from the produce they are harvesting.
Several commandments demonstrate concern for the physical or psychological suffering of animals. We may not plow a field using animals of different species, because this would be a hardship to the animals. We are required to relieve an animal of its burden, even if we do not know its owner, or even if it is ownerless. We are not permitted to kill an animal in the same day as its young, and are specifically commanded to send away a mother bird when taking the eggs, because of the psychological distress this would cause the animal. In fact, the Torah specifically says that a person who sends away the mother bird will be rewarded with long life, precisely the same reward that is given for honoring mother and father. This should give some indication of the importance of this law.
We are permitted to violate the Sabbath to some extent to rescue an animal in pain or at risk of death. In the Talmud, the rabbis further dictated that a person may not purchase an animal unless he has made provisions to feed it, and a person must feed his animals before he feeds himself.
Prayer for the Death of a Beloved Pet
By Rabbi Barry H. Block
O Lord our God, we come before You this day in sadness. (Pet’s name), who brought us so much joy in life, has now died. (His/Her) happy times in our family’s embrace have come to an end. We miss (pet’s name) already.
Help us, O God, to remember the good times with (pet’s name). Remind us to rejoice in the happy times (he/she) brought to our home. Let us be thankful for the good life we were blessed to give to (him/her).
We are grateful to You, God, for creating (pet’s name), for entrusting (him/her) to our care, and for sustaining (him/her) in our love for a measure of time. We understand that all that lives must die. We knew that this day would come. And yet, O God, we would have wanted one more day of play, one more evening of love with (pet’s name).
O God, as we have taken care of (pet’s name) in life, we ask that You watch over (him/her) in death. You entrusted (pet’s name) to our care; now, we give (him/her) back to You. May (pet’s name) find a happy new home in Your loving embrace.
As we remember (pet’s name), may we love each other more dearly. May we care for all Your creatures, for every living thing, as we protected the blessed life of (pet’s name). May (his/her) memory bless our lives with love and caring forever. Amen.
TRANSLATION OF KADDISH
He who makes peace in his high holy places, may he bring
peace upon us, and upon all Israel; and say Amen.