Dor to Dor: Religious questions arise in saying goodbye to family pet



Our beautiful puppy, Snickers, passed away from bladder cancer in April of this year. True, she was 14-years old, but that didn’t make it any easier for my family as we sat around our beloved pet crying and saying “goodbye.” In fact, when friends tried to console me with the reminder that Snickers had lived a long and happy life, I remembered words I’d heard at a funeral years back; words from the late Rabbi Bernard Lipnick. The gist of what he’d said so beautifully to a group of mourners was that when someone has lived a long life, they’ve had many more years to touch many more people. Thus, their death could be considered even more tragic than the death of someone who’d only lived for a short while and touched only a few lives. In other words, just because someone was old doesn’t make their passing any less difficult for those who had loved her.

And the death of Snickers was extremely difficult for my entire family.

When our poor little puppy was finally at peace, we talked about what to do with her remains. My 10-year-old daughter Hannah was adamant that we could not have Snickers’ body cremated because it goes against the teachings of the Jewish religion. I must admit, she had a very good point. We were a Jewish family with a Jewish dog. Therefore, the decision was made to have our darling princess buried in a pet cemetery.

People seemed to find this strange. They kidded us, joking that we should have a stone dedication. Some friends even laughed at our decision to have a Star of David engraved on the tombstone. But the truth is, this was our way of dealing with the death of a dog that had been extremely important to our family for a very long time.

Fortunately, before Snickers died, my children had never been face to face with the death of a loved one. My girls had been very lucky in that regard. Thus, suddenly, with the loss of our pet, a lot of questions were now being asked at our dinner table.

“Why did Snickers have to die?”

“Where is Snickers right now? Is she with God?”

“Is there a special heaven for dogs?”

“Will I ever see Snickers again?”

These were profound and difficult questions from Hannah and Jordyn, 8; questions, I obviously couldn’t answer, at least not well. Still, I tried my hardest to help my girls deal with their pain. I told them that Snickers’ soul was in heaven, running around and barking happily. I told them that someday they would likely be with her again, but hopefully not for a really long time. I said that heaven was probably both for people and animals and was most certainly a very beautiful place. I gave answers that I thought could help my children. I told them things that I truly believed.

And yet, I could never answer their most pressing question.


Why did Snickers have to get sick and die? Why did she get cancer in the first place? And, they wanted to know, why God would even let such a thing happen.

I tried to be honest with my girls and explain that I didn’t have answers for everything; no one did. But, that didn’t sit well with them. They cried, pleading that I was there mother and I was supposed to know.

I don’t remember ever feeling as helpless as a parent as I did at that moment, realizing my kids needed an answer and I didn’t have one.

“Ask the Rabbi.” They begged me.

I didn’t need to ask, because I already knew the answer. And that answer was “We’re just not sure.” Last year, I’d gone to both a Reform and a Conservative rabbi with questions about the Jewish perspective on death. And, after hearing their words and reading books they’d recommended, all I came away with was, “We really don’t know.”

Sure, there are different theories and beliefs on the subject from various rabbis and learned men. Still, the truth is, we don’t know; we can’t know; and probably, we shouldn’t know.

Therefore, I keep telling my daughters that there is no reason why Snickers left us. It’s simply a terrible, unexplainable tragedy. Yet, we can use our faith and our belief in God to help ourselves heal, with time.

Every night as I put my daughters to bed, we say our prayers, which include both the Shema and a blessing for every person in our family. And, we have left Snickers’ name in those prayers, because no matter where she is, we still love her and want her to be OK.

With time, my entire family is finding it easier to get through our days and we’re feeling less sadness and more joy with every passing week. Still, we continue to mourn the loss of our wonderful puppy. Luckily we have a place to go and visit her, a peaceful cemetery not far away. And once her headstone is placed, we will go there, place a stone on it, as is the Jewish tradition, and say Kaddish for the doggie we loved so very much.

Judaism has not given my family answers to everything. Yet, it has certainly given us strength; strength to still trust in God and know he’s always there for us despite the bad things that might happen.

My poor little Snickers, you are loved and you are missed.

Yit’gadal v’yit’kadash sh’mei raba…

Sharon Dunski Vermont is a full-time wife and mother, part-time pediatrician, and writer. She writes a monthly column for STL Moms and Dads Magazine, a weekly online blog for St. Louis Woman Magazine, and has been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Power Moms and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad. She is currently working on her first book. The Vermonts are members of both Congregation B’nai Amoona and Congregation Shaare Emeth.

 Editor’s note: “Dor to Dor” is an intermittent series in the Jewish Light looking at various aspects of “grown-up” life and generational connections (“dor” means generation in Hebrew) through the lens of Jewish writers living in the St. Louis area. Some of these columns may deal directly with Jewish issues, other may not, but we hope you’ll find each one informative or entertaining or, better yet, both. 

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