The Death of a Companion Animal

The Death of a Companion Animal

I write this brief article as we prepare once again for the day when we give permission for the veterinarian to end the life of a beloved pet.  This will signify almost the end of a 13 year long journey which started in Cyprus when Katie, a six week old puppy, was abandoned outside our home in Pervolia. We already had two rescue dogs from our time in Chile and whilst my first inclination was to ask the Nicosia Dog shelter to take her, when we learnt they had an outbreak of Parvo-virus, we decided to keep her. This will be the third time in three years that we have endured this experience, for our two rescues from Chile in 2002 – Humboldt and Ingrid, died in 2015 and 2016 respectively. I say almost the end because once her life has ended, there begins the final phase – that of mourning her death.  It is the recognition of the need to mourn for a companion animal that results in this article.

Last year I discussed with a Greek friend and psychologist, the pain I suffered when one of our pets died . She surprised me when stating that the inability to mourn and grieve for a companion animal was one reason for depression in a significant number of her patients. In her experience, the repression of grief was worst among those who identified as Christians. This repression arose soon after individuals expressed their grief, only to be dismissed with comments such as ‘it’s just a dog’ or cat, which was viewed as a belittling of the individual and a dismissal of their animal’s life as insignificant and irrelevant.  For some, the grief is internalised and gives rise to depression.  There would seem to be both an opportunity for academic research in this area but also the need to raise the subject for discussion.

In my research I have both early and contemporary Orthodox commentary from senior theologians on a number of issues and whilst this subject has not as yet been discussed, certain comments from Patristic sources may guide us.  For example, St. Irenaeus informs us that ‘among the “all things” our world must be embraced’[1]; St. Athanasius, states that ‘nothing in Creation had gone astray in its notions of God, save the human being only’[2], whilst the Psalms, the poetry of St Ephrem and St. Gregory Nazianzen and our liturgical texts inform us of a type of ‘knowing’ where all creatures recognise and worship God. [3] In contemporary commentary we are taught that everything that lives is ‘Holy and therefore, the way we treat animals is directly relevant to our living of the Christian Life’[4]; that animals should be treated with ‘reverence and respect[5] and that whilst humans are at the top of a hierarchical scale, ‘this is not to denigrate the rest of creation.  They are God’s Creation and we must respect that and treat them respectfully’.[6] Bishop Isaias teaches that

  • If you are a good Christian you will love the animals and they will love you back and there are many books showing this through the lives of the early Saints as I said before. You cannot find a Holy man who has mistreated animals.[7]

It would seem entirely Orthodox therefore to grieve for the loss of a companion animal who, for example, may have been a long-term member of the family; the only close companion of the owner; or who may have been the last link with the earlier death of a partner or child. Regardless of the reason, for many there appears to be a genuine need to grieve. There is also the need for us to show compassion to our human friend, relative or member of our congregation in this situation.

Teachings which indicate that we are to treat animals with respect when they are alive would seem to lead us to the conclusion that we are also to be mindful of them when they die.  This mindfulness may take many forms. Some owners may feel that once their animal is dead, that they can be disposed of by their vet or any other method, whilst others may wish to bury their animals in their garden. Some might also like a prayer of thanksgiving in remembrance of their animal’s love, friendship and loyalty.  Some non-Orthodox theologians have provided prayers for this ceremony[8] yet whilst Orthodoxy offers prayers for sick animals[9] there does not appear to be prayers to bring comfort to owners at the death of their companion animals. It was for this reason that Fr. Simon combined prayers from the Orthodox prayer book with an element from the Linzey text[10] in order to provide the theological context of praising God for the life of their animal. Let us know your thoughts.

Prayer at the death of companion animals

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (3)                                                            Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages.  Amen.

O God of all spirits and of every flesh, everything that has breath praises you both in this world and the next.  Heaven is full of the sounds of creaturely voices in a great cacophony of praise and thanksgiving.  Day and night your creatures praise you, without ceasing and with joy.

In your all-encompassing mercy, O God, we now commit the life of this our beloved friend and companion (name) to eternal fellowship with you.Create within us a spirit of gratitude for the life of (name) Give rest, O God, to (name) who lived among us and gave us freely of (his/her) love.

 Holy Father, your Son Jesus Christ taught us that not one sparrow is forgotten in your sight. We ask therefore for you to provide a place of green pasture where (his/her) praises will be heard in your presence and where (he/she) shall be free from suffering and pain.

God our Creator, hear our prayer and let our praise unite with those in heaven into one long song of eternal thanksgiving:

Glory to You, O Christ our God, the source and destiny of all living things.                                      Glory to You, O Christ our God, Who bears the wounds of all suffering creatures.                            Glory to You, O Christ our God, Who transforms all suffering into joy.

St. John saw the new heaven and earth; a place without pain, sorrow or crying;                            for the same God who creates, is the same God who reconciles and                                    redeems all creation.

            Glory to You, O Christ our God and Saviour of the Universe:                                                                              in Christ shall all be made alive.

Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us. (3)                                                                   Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and to the ages of ages.


Editor’s note

This morning, permission was given to end the life of our beloved dog Katie. May she rest in peace.


[1] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2:2:5.

[2] Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word 43:3.

[3] E.g., Ephrem the Syrian, Nineteen Hymns on the Nativity of Christ in the Flesh, 13:27 CANNPNF2-13;  Hymn to the God  St. Gregory Nazianzen: Selected Poems (4th Ed.) McGuckin, J. (Trans.) Oxford: SLG Press.(2005)

[4] Ware, Met. K. Oxford interview 2014.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Isaias, Bishop.  Interview, Tamasou & Orinis, Cyprus. (2014)

[7] Ibid.

[8] Linzey, Prof. Rev. A. Animal Rites: Liturgies of Animal Care, London: SCM Press.(1999) 

[9] Prayer of St. Modestos,  Mikron Euchologion i Hagiasmatarion, p. (1984:297)

[10] With Prof. Linzey’s permission.

7 Replies to “The Death of a Companion Animal”

  1. I needed to see this. First, Rutter (dog) passed away in April of last year and now my Tosca (dog) passed at the end of last month. Your article assures me that I am not crazy. Since Tosca passed at home, I buried her in the yard. As I walk by in the morning, I always say “Lord have mercy”. My parish priest said I have been a mope lately and I am sure that is true. However, when I came into Vespers this past Saturday, my priest commented on how happy I appeared. Then I told him that I had located two new dogs. He rolled his eyes and told me he was glad to see me “more” like myself. I don’t fault him because he has never had a dog. I told him he can bless the new pets when he does the next house blessing. btw – I plan on sharing this article with him.

  2. Hi David,
    Sorry this has taken a while but you got lost in the spam. We am glad this article helped you. Sadly, your priest’s response is not uncommon – hence our work. Please see the article on ‘Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Animal Suffering’ which outlines some of the material in the forthcoming book of the same name. Continue to love and care for God’s other creatures and I am confident that they will love and care for you in return.
    Dr. Chris

  3. Thank you for your articles and for the work you are doing.

    Grieving my dogs advancement toward the end of his life.
    He licked away my tears when I was in a severe period of depression.
    He helped me begin anew by forcing me to get out of bed and hike with him to a place where God helped begin to pray again.
    I pray that all of creation will be restored in Him. Including my sweet dog.

  4. There is a website claiming the Monk Isaah of Mount Athos mention an incident relating to a pet cat which had happened some centuries before, Unfortunately, this website is utterly unreachable, and nobody else who has read the works of this famous Monk has noticed this very, very, early reference to a Pet Cat. I read only English and a little French, so cannot research this reference further. I wonder if you know of anybody who has read the works of this monk and also noticed this singular reference to a domestic cat?
    Andrew Fitzherbert (in Australia)

  5. Dear Andrew,
    Thank you for this information. This particular teaching does not come to mind but i will make enquiries from others.
    I hope you look at the website for there is a lovely photograph of Fr Joseph with his cat and an animal/cat blessing in a
    church in Russia. I will also post this on the Facebook page to see if we can get help there.
    Please promote our site with your friends and check our Facebook group/page and Twitter blogs.
    Very best wishes Dr Chris

  6. My companion dog of twelve years is showing her age.
    She has been my buddy, my teacher, my hands, my protector, my consoler, my hiking partner for hundreds of miles, my wilderness companion,…a gift from God, one of the best things that has ever happened to me in my miserable life.

    Thanks for the service.
    I pray I am able to bury her with the dignity, respect, and love she has shown me.
    I will not show disrespect to God who gave her to me.

    Fact is that I am unworthy of such a gift of love. I am unworthy of Christ’s Love. But God sees all. He sees my heart. He knows my grief.
    To God be Glory forever. And I thank Him for her.
    Yup. I’m gonna be a wreck for a while when it happens, but her love is worth every tear.
    Christ’s Love is worth every tear.
    I think I get it.

  7. Dear Fr Sergius, We are glad you have written and hope this service will give you comfort and pain is part of the grief we suffer when loved ones die.
    That you care so deeply is a testament to your spirituality and God sees this and knows your heart. Do send us a photo of your dog and we shall put her on the site.
    Please also check-out our FB page and group.
    With love in Christ, Dr Chris

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