How Our Family Dog Made Us Appreciate the Divinity in All

I still remember April 19, 2008, as the day my family's life was forever changed by the addition of a 20-pound, four-legged family member.

As a birthday gift for my younger brother, I adopted a small rat terrier-dachshund from a local shelter and brought him to my house, where my folks and my sister had come to visit. My dad expressed shock and immediately begged me to return the dog. Within hours, however, the little guy had won over my parents and became an integral part of the family.

Bhaskar, as we named him, would become the glue that held our family together. He was my mom's constant companion, and as she dealt with the breast cancer that would ultimately take her life, he provided her comfort and non-stop affection. When my mom passed away, Bhaskar - who would eat anything and everything - refused to eat for several days, simply hanging his head and sniffing around in search of her.

As my family struggled to cope with her loss, Bhaskar became an emotional bedrock for us. More importantly, he was at my father's side, so much so that his friends and family teased him for having a 24-7 sidekick. My dad, in return would quip that Bhaskar was the only one of his children who never talked back to him.

As Hindus, we often talk about seeing the divinity in all beings, but we more than occasionally don't practice what we preach. Dogs have special importance within Hinduism, as they are often seen as the living embodiment of Dharma. A famous story from the Mahabharata involves King Yudhisthira refusing to enter heaven without his dog, who stayed his loyal and trustworthy companion. From a religious perspective, Bhaskar's presence reminded us of that divinity, and his actions - including his empathy for us and his unswerving devotion - helped us conceptualize the idea of an eternal soul. Bhaskar, we felt, was put on this earth to help us, to heal us, and ultimately make our family stronger when we were in the throes of grief and loss.

Bhaskar made me into a significantly better person, and in many ways, forced me to change my self-centered views on life. I went from someone who enjoyed the nightlife to someone who looked forward to spending evenings on the couch with him on my lap, just appreciating the moment. Caring for him made me more empathetic, and reminded me that love must be unconditional. I credit him for helping me to become a better husband, brother, and son.

Last month, Bhaskar was diagnosed with cancer, and it shook our family to the core. Over the next few weeks, we did everything we could to make his life comfortable, even as we tried to search (in vain) for alternative treatments. For what it's worth, he seemed to appreciate our efforts to pamper him. On Monday, I was at my dad's house, and it was clear that Bhaskar's time was near. Yet he was still happy.

On Tuesday, the start of the Hindu celebration of Navratri, Bhaskar let my family know it was his time to go. He refused the one thing he never could get enough of - food. We all said our goodbyes, prayed, and took him to the vet. After he passed away, friends and relatives called my family to offer their condolences, each expressing how Bhaskar had personally impacted them. He had an uncanny ability to make those afraid of dogs comfortable around him, and some of those same friends and relatives were now calling in tears.

The last day has been incredibly tough, and I've taken comfort in a passage from the Bhagavad Gita on the indestructibility of the soul:

vaasaamsi jeernaani yathaa vihaaya navaani gr.hnaathi naro' paraani |
thathaa sareeraani vihaaya jeernany-anyaani samyaathi navaani de'hi ||

"As a man casts off worn-out garments and puts on new ones, so the embodied soul casts off the worn-out body and enters other new ones."

However, even appreciating Bhaskar's life and death as part of the natural cycle of the soul's journey doesn't mitigate his loss. We're just going to recycle our memories of him, hoping that each one recreates his life in our minds, and bolsters his presence in our hearts.

Thank you, Bhaskar, for saving my family and helping us see your true divinity. You will always be a part of us.

Perhaps somewhere, my mom has been reunited with her "favorite son."