Having pets is an often joyful, frequently frustrating, sometimes painful thing to do. As a species, we were able to pluck a handful of animals out of the wild and domesticate them, just a few, and then we co-evolved with them and we have done this with no other animal to the degree that we have done it with the dog. Our extreme remodeling of the dog now allows for the species to have members of only a pound or two, right up to a couple of hundred pounds. And yet, during all that tinkering, we didn’t manage to extend their lives to match ours, so inevitably we are faced with decline and loss.
We had to put down one of our dogs last week. I say had to, not because anyone told us that or court ordered it, but because, it was the right thing to do. The right thing to do often sucks. One of the problems with an ailing pet is the law of diminishing returns. You spend more and more money to keep less and less pet. That sounds harsh, but the reality is that when we take an elderly, failing pet to the vet, what we want back is the robust animal that we had just a few years or even a few months before. Sometimes, when we are lucky, we get that. And sometimes we don’t. And sometimes we do it anyway. We engage in magical thinking. We tell ourselves any number of untrue things that all boil down to the fact that we don’t want to make the awful decision to kill an animal that has been nothing but loyal and loving to us.
I am lucky to be married to a very loving, very compassionate, very pragmatic man. And so when I could not bring myself to say to him that I thought it was time to end the life of the only dog that has ever loved him best, he said it for me. These are not easy decisions and certainly not decisions to be made lightly, but in the end, if the reasons you continue with treatment are about you and not about the animal, then you need to rethink your decision making. And that’s when we knew.
In my life, I have never regretted having a failing animal euthanized, but I have regretted taking too long to do it. Regret is not the same as sadness. I have never lost an animal without a great deal of sadness. I think back on all our animals (even that damn cat) with fondness and joy, and I don’t regret having a single one of them (not even the cat). They are all so different and so wonderful and they add so much to our lives. If only their lives weren’t so short. But their lives are short. And sometimes so are ours. Everything dies. Even mountains eventually crumble to dust.
And so we muddle through and do the best we can to be good stewards to the creatures in our care.