Beloved pets to obtain 'nirvana' Sunday at Watsonville Buddhist Temple

By Tom Ragan, Santa Cruz Sentinel, February 23, 2007

Watsonville, CA (USA) -- Sarah Nagamine has a hard time finding the words to describe her feelings regarding the death of the family cat, Mike. But her tears tell it all as she clutches the photograph, then seeks comfort in her mother's arms.

Mike, pronounced Mee-kah, died last September after she fell and broke her hip. She was buried in the family's backyard in Watsonville. She was only 4.

Although the veterinarian said he could have operated, chances were slim she'd live free of pain. So the family decided to put her down.

On Sunday, however, her name will be read, along with dozens of other pets, by the Rev. Shousei Hanayama at a special memorial service at the Watsonville Buddhist Temple.

It's the first-ever such service to be held by the temple, but it's not an unusual ceremony in Buddhist faith, said Hanayama, who's urging everybody who's ever lost a pet to attend the ceremony — regardless of faith.

"You don't have to be a Buddhist in order for your pet to obtain nirvana," said

Hanayama, who still grieves the death of his family dog, who died 20 years ago. "All beings can obtain nirvana. Just bring a picture, we'll put it up on the board at the front of the altar, and we'll extend our appreciation. If you're sad, you need to be comforted."

A refresher on the concept of nirvana: It's not the music group from Seattle, it's the higher state of being obtained by Buddhists. In Sanskrit, the word means "to extinguish"

"In this case, it means to extinguish ignorance, hatred and earthly suffering," Hanayama said.

And all species are being accepted at the 10 a.m. service, whether dogs, cats, birds, gold fish, even lizards, said Judy Nagamine, the Sunday school teacher whose fifth-and sixth-graders came up with the idea a few weeks ago.

"Pets are people, too," said Nagamine, whose daughter, Sarah, 10, is still mourning the death of Mike, whose name means "three colors" in Japanese and was suggested by Sarah's 86-year-old grandmother Hideko.

Sarah, a Rio del Mar Elementary School student, cries at the thought of Mike, but is still at a loss for words when asked to talk about the passing of her cat.

Her tears say enough. She's not alone in her grief.

Every first Sunday of the month, obituaries of animals appear in the Sentinel, space that people pay for to remember their beloved pets.

In early February, there was one placed mourning the loss of "Pretty Boy Floyd, the Gangster of Love," an incredible canine that once roamed Pleasure Point, his spirit never to be forgotten.

Bernie Mull, the owner, is still having a hard time. "The toughest time is when I come home from work. He'd be looking out the window and his tail would be beating against the front door and his head would be going between the curtains," said Mull, 48, who drives a truck for a living. "Now there's no one. He was my best friend. He was my buddy. I have him in an urn. I'm looking at it now. It says, 'In loving memory of Pretty Boy Floyd.' Where's that temple?"

Next to Pretty Boy Floyd's remembrance was that of "Honey Saville," born in 1996, died in 2007.

"Honey never met a dog or a human that she didn't like," it read. But some people don't believe that pets should have their own obituaries, especially if they're placed alongside those of humans, which was the case involving the death of Topaz, a 13-year-old dog whose remembrance ran next to that reserved for humans.

It caused a little controversy and a handful of letters to the editor.

"Topaz," the remembrance read, "was a wise dog who taught us all about life and dignity"

If you go

WHAT: Pet Memorial Service. Bring a picture, ashes or the name of your pet.

WHEN: 10 a.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Watsonville Buddhist Temple, 423 Bridge St.

Why: So that your pet obtains nirvana.

DETAILS: 724-7860.