By Christopher Nyerges
During a discussion with a reader of this column, he told me of his great conflict of choosing to euthanize his elderly and sick dog. He wanted the dog to die naturally but consented to his veterinarian’s recommendation that it would be best for the dog to be euthanized.
It reminded me of my childhood, when my father took our old and sick pet dog to the vet to be euthanized. He did it during the day when we were away at school. I was saddened and shocked that adults in the adult world would willingly kill their pet dogs and tell themselves that it was the best choice to make!
Later that night, after my father was asleep, my mother – who grew up on a farm – told me she used to see animals die all the time. “We just tried to make them comfortable,” she said. “Animals know they are dying. They usually want to be around their people to feel safe and not in a cold hospital where they don’t know anyone.” That was her way of telling me that she didn’t agree with my father’s decision.
I was sad for a long time and vowed that I would never do that to any pet of mine – and I’ve kept that vow life-long, despite the difficulties that can come with assisting pet in death.
Here’s an example. My wife Dolores and I had many dogs and many other pets as well. We lived in Highland Park with a bigger than average back yard, and so we had the room to let the animals live – and die. Pretty much every fruit tree in the yard had an animal buried under it!
Our dog Luahona was getting old and had cancer and other conditions. The vet told us that we could improve her diet and give her special nutrients, which we did, but the vet also advised that it might be “kindest” to euthanize Luahona. Of course, we were not going to do that.
In the final days, Dolores took Luahona with her on her errands as well as to the farmers market one day. We knew Luahona was dying and her ribs were showing because she would no longer eat as much. A woman at the farmers market who observed Luahona’s rib’s sticking out chided us for not taking care of Luahona – as if she knew what she was talking about. Then she used her cell phone to call Animal Control to report an allegedly abused animal
A uniformed animal control officer arrived at the farmer’s market within a half hour and spoke aggressively to Dolores. Dolores did her best to explain that there was no animal cruelty going on whatsoever. Still, after listening to the story, the officer told Dolores that it would be in the best interest of the dog to euthanize. She further told Dolores that she had the legal right to take Luahona then and there and have her euthanized.
Let’s just say that I gave her a good dose of what I thought of her! Yes, I might have regretted a bit of my colorful language later, but I did not mind telling her that we were doing the right thing for our beloved friend, and that she was just a paid factotum for the legality of the state. It didn’t go over well, but I got Dolores and Luahona quickly to the car and immediately drove home. We never saw or heard from that animal control officer again.
In a week or so, Luahona died in her bed at our home. We found it uniquely coincidental that a thunderstorm was occurring when Luahona died, with loud thunderclaps. We told ourselves that Luahona was saying goodbye and thanking us.
Everyone has to make the decision for themselves as to how to deal with the dying and death of their beloved dogs or cats or other animals. It’s a decision that is made more complicated by the rules and well-intended regulations of the state of California, and the County of Los Angeles. Still, you can always do the right thing if you think through all your steps ahead of time so you don’t have to try to decide in the moment when you are grieving the loss, or imminent loss, of your pet.
Christopher Nyerges is an educator and author of “Extreme Simplicity,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” “How to Survive Anywhere” and other books. For more about his classes and publications, visit: www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com