Better Off Dead–Really? When, Then?

To continue with my thoughts about how all of us have different non-negotiables in the field of animal rescue and adoption, I want to know what you think about this idea, which I’ve heard from a few rescuers, and which is, I believe, stated openly by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (P.E.T.A.):

‘There are a lot worse things that can happen to an animal than euthanasia.’

Now, to save time, let’s be clear that I’m not talking about animals with a terminal illness, and/or suffering unmanageable pain.  The rescuers I mentioned, and P.E.T.A., weren’t, in this instance, talking about that, either.  They were talking about other things.  P.E.T.A., for instance, was sure that Michael Vick’s former fighting Pit Bulls would never be able to be adopted into homes, and wanted them killed.  And I’m going to use that word, ‘killed’, instead of, ‘euthanized’, because if you look up the definition of euthanasia, you won’t find anything about behavior issues as a reason for ending someone’s life.

So, outside of the terminal illness/unmanageable pain scenario, about which most, if not all, of us will probably be in agreement, then who decides when an animal would be ‘better off dead’?  The way it stands now, we each decide for the animals under our care, and believe me, this is the cause of some very passionate disagreements between pet owners and rescuers.

I had a friend who had a rabbit.  She treated the rabbit well, I believe, making sure it had time to hang out with her outside of his cage each day.  One day she called me up.  Bunny was getting old, she said, and was peeing on her carpets.  Did I think having him put to sleep was the right thing to do?

What do you think?

No, I answered her, I do not think it is the right thing to do.  At that point in the conversation I still thought that she was asking me a genuine question.  I talked and talked and offered help and suggestions and waterproof thingies and who knows what else.  The end result was that she finally came out with the information that she had already decided to kill her rabbit, and had called me to feel better about it.

Uh, sorry, my friend, can’t help you with that.  You may be fine with it, but honestly?  It’s still haunting me, years later.

Now, peeing on the floor is not what those rescuers I mentioned, and P.E.T.A., were talking about, either.  P.E.T.A., I’ve said as a ‘for instance’, was talking about situations like the one Michael Vick’s dogs were in (and if you don’t know, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah did a truly wonderful job rehabilitating and adopting out the great majority of Vick’s dogs, and I believe they continue to work with and love the remaining few dogs).  One of the rescuers I mentioned thinks that dogs who are saved from shelters, but who then have nowhere to go right away and so must be boarded for long periods (‘rotting in boarding’, she calls it–many rescuers seem fond of purple prose), might as well be dead.  Really?  With the prospect of a good home, and just a longer wait than usual?  Who decides what’s too long, since you can’t ask the dog?

What do you think?

Once you start thinking about it, you realize that you cannot possibly envision all the circumstances you might encounter that would lead you to ask yourself whether an animal is better off dead.  Let’s say that a dog is being sexually abused by the resident grandfather in a family (which is exactly what happened in a recent case).  Before you knew that this was actually happening (in other words, if you were just considering it as a theoretical question), would you have said the dog is better off dead?  How about after the discovery is made?  (If you’re wondering, the grandson reported the abuse, and the grandfather is being prosecuted–great job, little boy!, but I’m so sorry you were put in that very difficult situation.)  So, after you find out, why not just save the dog, as was done?

A dog loving friend of mine, confronted with the photos of little Patrick the Pit Bull, starved almost to the point of death, then placed in a trash bag and thrown down a garbage chute (if you want to know more, google–Patrick is a huge dog celebrity now), said very definitely to me that the people trying to save his life were doing something cruel; that he should certainly have been euthanized.  I was stunned.  This dog had the wonderful good luck to be discovered hours, if not minutes, from death, and now she wants to kill him?  But she honestly thought he’d be better off dead.  (You should see him today.)  My friend is an open, honest person, and I need to ask her her thoughts on Patrick now. 

I myself can’t think of one scenario where a dog is better off dead (again, other than the illness/pain one), because, where there is life, there’s hope.  Dogs fight to stay alive.  Dogs don’t commit suicide.  I’m sure they would think it’s an absurd idea.  But maybe I’m missing something, and I really want to know what others think about this.

Also, I feel I’m being illogical somewhere.

I told you in an earlier blog that I feel that my criteria for adopting out dogs may be so stringent as to be at least occasionally unworkable, or, if I didn’t write exactly that, it’s what I’ve been working up to saying.  I get into real trouble when I start thinking about the ‘better off dead’ idea in conjunction with my own ideas of what is right, in terms of caring for a dog.  Here’s the kind of crazy path my thoughts could take, if I were being logical when thinking about adopting a dog to someone:

Person is unwilling to cook a meat/grain/veggie stew for dog twice a day.  Well, already this owner is not as ‘good’ as me, but I can deal with that.  Dog will never know what it’s missing, and will be very glad to have a good home./Person is unwilling ever to feed dog ‘people food’–still has the ignorant idea that dogs should eat only dog food.  Hmm, not too happy about that, but still sure that the dog would rather eat dog food only in a good home than be dead./Person is unwilling even to make a broth with wet dog food, but will feed dry only, having been brainwashed into thinking that it’s better for the dog’s teeth.  Starting to want to take my dog and run, but realize that this is my problem–dog will still be happy to have a good home, having been saved by me from being killed in a ‘shelter’./Person will be setting out food for dog all day, not feeding at specific times.  Oh, great, that means there might be trouble with potty training, and the dog might be punished…this is looking bad./Person is not willing to buy a decent brand of kibble, and will be serving some garbage-y discount store brand.  Hmm, now is when I start looking to see if there are other really good things about this home situation to make up for the lousy score in the food column…

You could do this with all the other aspects of a dog’s life:  water, exercise, training, grooming, sleeping location, time spent alone, love.

Back to the food progression above, I stopped it at the point to which I personally have had to go.  But look where it could go:

Person will feed dog whenever he happens to remember, each day./Person thinks it’s too messy to feed dog in house, so will put food outside, which will tend to attract rodents./Person will feed dog less food, and/or less often, if laid off from job or otherwise financially challenged./Person will stop feeding dog at all, finally, when home is in foreclosure./Person will move away, leaving starving dog. 

Don’t think this doesn’t happen.  It’s been happening all the time lately.

Who’s going to adopt a dog to someone like that?  Well, often, someone did, maybe not realizing there was a risk, or, perhaps, knowing that the prospective owner wasn’t a great one, but thinking it was better for the dog than being dead. 

At what point in that progression, if any, would you be willing to say, ‘That dog is better off dead’?  This is why I say I’m illogical, because I would never knowingly adopt a dog to someone who I thought might stop feeding it, causing it to suffer, yet I can’t find it in me to say that a dog not being fed is better off dead (although, in the case of at least the last three links in the progression, I’d ask myself the question).   There’s still a chance that poor dog will be rescued.  Look at Patrick.

That’s illogical, isn’t it?  Honestly, I can’t even tell for sure. 

I just want to save that dog, or have someone else save it…that’s all I’m clear about.

P.S.  I thought I was finished with this piece.  But as I carried Grace out to do her business, I remembered that there would be people who might think I wasn’t a suitable candidate to adopt their dog, because they think dogs should be fed only raw food, which is a current high-end trend.  Or, convinced that people food is bad for dogs, someone might think I’m being cruel by cooking my dogs stew.  There are so many different opinions of how it should be done that it seems to me we are almost afraid to open this particular Pandora’s Box.  I know I was afraid, until now.  But now it seems to me that we might get more dogs adopted by being honest about what ‘level’ we’re at.

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