A Traumatic, Buddhist Cremation For My Cat
After a year-long battle with an inflamed gallbladder, pancreas, and liver, I decided it was time to have my beloved cat, Varla, euthanized at the vet.
It is important to note that vets in Thailand typically do not euthanize animals due to their Buddhist beliefs. It is considered bad karma to euthanize an animal. There are a few vets who will do it but you need to ask around to find them. I was able to find two vets in Bangkok after talking to PAWS to prepare myself for the worst.
Dr. Bird was not a vet who euthanized animals, so he pushed for more medical care for Varla instead of euthanasia.
In hindsight, I appreciated this, because he was able to prolong Varla’s life an extra eight months. When I first took Varla to see Dr. Bird, she was going to die soon without the right medicine.
Vets in the U.S. push to euthanize too soon and vets in Thailand don’t suggest euthanasia at all. As someone responsible for an animal companion, it can be confusing and difficult to know when it is time.
I learned a lot from Mark dying painfully because the vet did not tell me he was as bad as he was and I still thought there was the hope of him getting better. With Varla, I was more prepared and knew what to look for to know it was her time.
Varla had many close calls, and moments where I thought she would die, but she pulled through. This last time, when her health began to seriously decline, I knew it was time because she was already very skinny, and in a precarious place where there was no chance she would recover, it was just about managing her symptoms and monitoring her to make sure she did not get any worse.
Varla, her two vets, and I were able to manage Varla’s symptoms for eight months. Even during the times when I thought it would be time to put her down, Varla told me she still had some fight left in her.
So we kept going to the vet for her steroid treatments and she kept living. She had bad days where she was really hungry but too nauseous to eat, and good days where she was happy, relaxed, and ate well.
This roller coaster continued for eight months up until mid-February when Varla started to get weak and then did a scary thing where she fell over while eating and became very scared and disoriented. It happened twice and I knew it was her time.
It was so hard but I had been preparing mentally for this to happen. I knew that she would never fully recover from her illness and that she was at a point where if her health worsened, I needed to put her down so that she would not suffer.
I hated the thought of taking her to the vet and having her die on the cold, steel table but it was the only choice because house calls are more expensive and I did not want to wait hours for the vet to arrive. I wanted to get it over with so I decided to take her to the vet and made the appointment for 2 pm the next day.
On Varla’s last night alive, we had a nice night. She cuddled next to me and purred. She had become so needy after Mark died and always wanted me to pet her and give her attention. She was just skin and bones despite eating up to two cans a day. I tried to pet the parts of her that were not so bony but all of her was.
Even as she purred and turned around to keep being pet, she looked weak and was losing her balance and stumbling. I knew it was her time but I was also in denial at the same time. I still thought there might be hope and maybe this wasn’t her last night.
In the last eight months, she had so many close calls only to be fine the next day. Maybe this was one of those times again.
On Varla’s last night alive, she purred and slept on my legs, while my other cat, Cersei slept on my legs next to her. She was so weak that I hoped she stayed on the bed all night and didn’t try to jump off the bed. I didn’t want her to get hurt. She stayed on the bed all night which was not like her.
On her last morning, Varla ate, went to the bathroom, and hung out on the balcony which was her usual routine. But things were different this time, she was weaker and swaying a bit as if it was hard to keep her balance. It also looked like she was either in pain or had stomach cramps.
I laid out a blanket on the floor so that she did not need to jump on anything high to be comfortable. She laid on that blanket for most of the morning and I took videos of her and pet her and told her that I loved her and was really sorry that I had to put her down.
When 2 pm was near, Varla asked for food. She ate and wanted to go to the balcony but I put her in the carrier instead. I wish I had let her go on the balcony one last time but I rushed to get out of the door to get it over with. I didn’t want to linger in the pain of what was about to happen.
Varla moved around in her carrier on the taxi ride to the vet. She used to be very still on the ride to the vet but had recently started moving around. She scratched the carrier a bit but she was really weak so it was very gentle. I felt awful and tried my best to comfort her.
At the vet, her doctor felt her kidney area and said they felt shrunken. As soon as he said that, I knew it was her time. Any denial or hope I had that she would last a bit longer, flew out the window. My eyes started to tear up.
I asked him if she was having kidney failure and he said he would need to run tests to be sure. I didn’t want any more tests. She had been poked and prodded enough. He agreed that she looked skinnier and weaker but left it up to me to decide if I wanted to continue treating her symptoms or put her down.
I said it was time and I began to cry on Varla’s head as the doctor left to prepare for her euthanasia.
I kept telling Varla that I loved her and that I was so sorry. The doctor came with three injections, one with a clear serum and two filled with a white liquid. He gave her the clear one first to put her to sleep and relax her. I asked if she would feel any pain and he assured me that serum would make sure that she did not feel any pain.
I don’t know what the second injection was for, I was too busy looking at Varla and telling her that I loved her. Then he injected her with the final serum. I kept crying on Varla and kept telling her that I loved her.
The vet checked her to see if her heart stopped and it seemed to take forever for her heart to stop but it finally did at 2:16 pm. I checked the time to see when he declared her dead and have it written down on my phone so that I never forget.
I told the vet that I would take her to Wat That Thong, a nearby Buddhist temple to cremate her. That was the closest temple that does animal cremation. I had taken Mark there last year and had a terrible experience. There were other temples I could go to, but they were further away and I didn’t want to deal with trying to figure out where they were, at least I knew where that temple was and where to go to have her cremated. I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible.
The vet called the crematorium to let them know I would be arriving soon. He wrapped Varla in a wee pad since she would start leaking soon and then wrapped her in a thick, white sheet and put her back in the carrier.
I paid 2,000 baht and left the vet with my dead cat and took a motorcycle taxi to the temple.
Wat That Thong is a large area with different temples and areas for Buddhist funerals. There is an area in the front of the temple with different Buddhist statues that people visit to pray for things. Walking through there was comforting. I’m spiritual and do not label my spirituality, but there is some overlap with my beliefs and Buddhism. I believe in karma and reincarnation and that we must respect and love all life and nature.
I found the animal cremation room easily since I had been there before but it was a bit of a walk and it was hot. The person who cremates animals wasn’t there, so I laid Varla’s body out on the table and pet her. She still looked alive and like she was breathing a little. She also started leaking on the wee pad but even though she ate a bit that day, she didn’t defecate.
I told Varla that I loved her and that she was such a beautiful cat. I kept petting her and talking to her until the cremation guy arrived and made an already difficult time much worse.
He didn’t speak English and I only speak a little bit of Thai so that was a big problem. There is a fragrant oil that Buddhists put on dead bodies to bless the body and say goodbye. I hadn’t put that oil on Varla yet and kept gesturing towards the oil but the guy kept rushing me. He wrapped Varla, wee pad and all, and just plopped her in the cremation oven before I could put the fragrant oil on her.
I had wanted to remove the pad and fabric first and put her in there myself to say “goodbye” and have some kind of ceremony, but he robbed me of that since he was a dick and didn’t give a fuck about me or Varla. I asked him to remove the pad from under her but he said the oven was too hot.
To the left of the oven door, there was a basket of paper flowers with candles tied to each flower that people drop onto the body before it is cremated. This is another Buddhist tradition and I at least had a chance to quickly toss a paper flower on Varla before that fucking asshole shooed me away and closed the oven. I didn’t get to say any last words.
I asked the cremation prick if I could see Varla through the door in the back of the oven. I had looked there before to see Mark being cremated. He nodded and rushed me to the back and opened the door. I saw Varla’s little body burning in the oven for a few seconds before I was pushed towards the waiting room.
It felt like I was in the waiting room forever. I don’t remember Mark taking that long to get cremated. The guy took more care cleaning the waiting room and spraying me with rubbing alcohol than he took care of Varla’s body. He then disappeared for what seemed like a long time and finally came back, gesturing me to hurry up and check her remains.
I looked into the oven and still saw a lot of big pieces of Varla’s skeleton, including most of her skull. I wanted her to be burned down more and tried to tell him in Thai but he thought I said I only want a few of her remains.
So he scraped a tiny bit of her remains and was ready to hand that to me and get me the fuck out of there. I have no idea what this guy’s hurry was. This was his only job and all he would do after this is either watch TV or stare at his phone. That was more important than cremating a cat.
I pulled up Google translate on my phone and typed that I wanted all of her bones and ashes, this set the guy off and he started yelling and complaining in Thai about stupid foreigners.
This is his fucking job! With Mark, I was able to get his remains which were properly burned down without even asking for them. This was a different guy and didn’t seem to know how to cremate properly
All he had to do was scrape her remains into a tin drawer, pour that out onto a white sheet, wrap it up, and he was done. But this guy scraped her remains from the wrong side of the oven and kept complaining that it was too hot. Yeah no shit, because you’re doing it on the wrong side!
He was yelling and complaining the entire time in order to make sure I realized how inconvenient it was for him to have to give me all my cat’s remains. So much for Buddhism making people chill and empathetic. He wasn’t a monk but he was a Buddhist and was not acting like it at all.
He even dropped pieces of Varla’s bones on the floor for good measure as he scraped her remains from the oven. I picked up the pieces of her bones as soon as his bitter ass was out of the way.
After more complaining and scraping, he finally got to the part where he poured most of Varla’s remains onto a white cloth that was laid out on the table. I went through her hot remains and pulled out the burned wires left from the wee pad. I didn’t like that she had been burned with that pad since it had plastic on it and I didn’t want that to be mixed in with her remains but I hoped it had all burned away during her half-assed cremation.
The asshole helped me take the bits of wires out and then wrapped her in a bundle and handed it to me while still grumbling about farangs. I gave him 2,000 baht and he mumbled and left to get change.
I went outside in the heat to wait for him to give me my 500 baht. I wanted to get the fuck out of there just as much as he wanted to get me out of there. He handed me wet bills, didn’t say anything to me or even look at me, but kept complaining to himself about me as he stormed back into the crematorium.
It was a fucking awful and traumatic experience that made an already horrible situation worse, but I was much too in shock to cry. I actually wanted to punch that guy in the face but thought better of it because if a foreigner gets in a fight with a Thai, everyone, including the police, will always side with the Thai person, and I would be forced to pay money for whatever bullshit reason because that’s what happens in Thailand.
As much as he deserved to get punched in the face, it would make an already awful situation much worse. I just wanted to go home and have some time alone with Varla. I wish I hadn’t rushed everything with her. With Mark, I had kept his body overnight at my apartment before having him cremated. It was a good way to say “goodbye” to him and process his death. I even wanted to keep his body longer in my apartment but the smell made that impossible.
With Varla, I had known this time was coming, so once it arrived, I just wanted to get it over with. But it was too rushed and I regretted rushing. I wish I had spent more time saying “goodbye” to Varla before taking her to the vet. I wish I had let her go on the balcony one more time after she ate since that was her routine. I wish I had spent more time with Varla’s body before having her cremated. And I wish that her cremation process hadn’t been slow and with someone empathetic and understanding instead of with a horrible human being who seemed to hate his job and his life. That guy was such an asshole!
Varla is now next to me on my desk as I type this out. Her white bundle of remains is next to Mark’s black bundle remains on a special altar I had set up when Mark died. There are two water bowls for each of them which I wash and fill up every morning. I need to have Varla’s pictures printed out and framed.
It’s been a week and a half since Varla was euthanized and the pain comes and goes in waves. One moment I’m distracted by something and another moment the memory of that day comes back and I think about watching her die at the vet’s office, and how skinny and frail she was, and how difficult it has been the past eight months emotionally and financially to keep her alive and care for her.
Even though those eight months were really difficult for both of us, I’m so thankful I had those eight months with her. I have been going through all the hundreds of pictures and videos of Varla and seeing how happy she was for most of her life up until she and Mark started getting really sick. But even while she was really sick, she was still content and wanted me to brush her and pet her. Her quality of life was still ok, which is why I did not euthanize her sooner. She wanted to keep living, so she did.
I don’t have regrets about when I chose to have Varla euthanized. I had spent so much time thinking about when to do it. I didn’t want it to be too easy or too late. I think I chose the best time given her health issues. I waited until her condition worsened but gave her a painless death before she got too sick and started to feel pain. Mark died painfully of pancreatitis so giving Varla a painless death was very important.
I’m glad she has Mark to take care of her now and I know they are both cuddling together in the afterlife, grooming each other, and sleeping happily together just like they were when they were alive.
My grief is doubled since I lost two cats in the span of a year. It hurts and the apartment feels so empty without them.
I love you, Mark. I love you, Varla. Rest in peace babies.