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By the CyberRav—Rabbi Rafi Rank

Rabbi Rafi RankDear Cyber Rav,

I have just received an e-mail from a dear friend informing me that her dog passed away on Monday from an apparent stroke.

The e-mail also includes a request that we say a prayer for the dog.  I will certainly pray that my friend will be comforted in this time of loss, but as far as the dog is concerned I really am at a loss as to what to do.

What say you?

Problem with a Prayer for a Pooch


Dear Problem with a Prayer for a Pooch,

Let me begin by saying that I am a big lover of animals and am particularly fond of dogs.  My daughter's dog lives with us now and prior to that, our cairn terrier, Coco, had a long 12 year run with us. 

For people who grow deeply involved with their animals, the animal's death can trigger an emotional trauma that needs to be acknowledged, addressed, and relieved in some way.  People do need to mourn and we need to recognize that.  But since our relationship with animals has evolved into something far beyond instruments of labor (oxen and mules, etc.), mechanisms of war (elephants and horses, etc.)  or sources for food production (milk cows and goats, etc.), there are very few if any traditions about how to go about mourning a pet.   And so, in their grief, animal lovers may request rituals that make sense in the case of a human death, but may not so easily be transferred to the death of an animal.  

I'm not really big on praying for a pet following its death.  I'm actually not even sure what it means, since it seems to assume that the animal is going to heaven, has a soul, requires our prayers, etc.  These are issues that require the deepest of faith even when applied to human beings; when applied to animals, the theological difficulties such beliefs raise are multiplied exponentially. 

I think it is possible to thank God for the gift of a pet in our lives.  I think we can pray for the pet owners that they be granted comfort in the days to come.  But as far as praying for the animal, I would need a deeper explanation as to why that is necessary, and such explanations, I'd wager, do not exist.

I would tell your friend that you wish her well, remember her dog with much fondness, and hope that the memories of her dog will continue to inspire her for days and months to come.  I hope this helps.

The Cyber Rav

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