Maria and I were having breakfast this morning, watching Gus closely to see if his gulping would end up in regurgitation or vomiting (he has megaesophagus), as sometimes happens after he eats in the morning. I turned to Maria suddenly and shocked us both when I said, "I don't think I could ever kill Gus."
I'm not sure where that thought came from.
Obviously, Gus's disease has raised the possibility that he could die of malnutrition or starvation or pneumonia. Or that if he got truly sick, we might have to euthanize him, so I guess that was hovering in my mind at some level.
Killing dogs is a taboo subject in the animals world usually, and that's precisely why it's good to write about it.
I have thought a lot about dogs and death and written a great deal about the subject in my years with dogs, and in my books. I have killed a number of dogs – Orson, after he bit three people, including a child; Rose, when she developed several neural trauma, probably cancer; Izzy, when he got throat cancer, Lenore when she suffered agonizing spinal damage.
I have strong feelings and personal ethics about killing dogs. I am grateful to be able to end their suffering when it is acute, something we cannot do for our mothers and fathers or other people who suffer greatly at the end of their days.
My most controversial dog-killing decision was Orson, who was damaged, but physically healthy. It was a controversial decision, people called me a callous murderer and accused me of not lifting a finger to save him. They did not pay any of the $15,000 in veterinary, behavioral and neurological tests it cost to have done on him.
I would not do that again; that is, I would not spend that kind of money on a dog again, it seems unethical to me in a world where children starve and have no health care.
I do not wish to have a dog that bites children in the neck. It was the right decision for me, and next time, I would do the same, only sooner.
Otherwise, all of the dogs I have killed have been in great pain or suffering, I am their advocate, I helped them leave the world in dignity and comfort. It is one of the cruelest forms of abuse to me to see a dog suffering for the emotional gratification of their people. I won't ever do it.
In a sense, I believe in killing dogs if they are suffering and can't live the natural life of dogs. It is my last gift to them, as they have given so many gifts to me.
Rose worked so hard in her life, when I saw her vomiting and twitching at the floor, I knew I had to help her, she was ready to go. Izzy's tumor was spreading so quickly he only lived a few days after the diagnosis, I spared him as much pain as possible. Lenore, the Love Dog, was in dreadful pain.
If Gus's disease worsens and he is starving, then I would of course put him down.
A number of people have messaged me to say they will gladly take him if he worsens. But once again, I balk at the ethics of handing a dying dog over to someone who wishes to keep them alive at all costs and by any means. For me, that is not humane, it is cruelty in a disguised form.
Gus is not dying, or anywhere near it. I couldn't kill Gus because most of the time, he is not suffering at all. Somewhat to my surprise, we are living comfortably with a bit of vomiting and regurgitation. You can get used to anything, I think, if there is a good motive. I think I know that if he did worsen dramatically, I would want to stop his suffering.
Another reason I couldn't kill Gus is because he is so ridiculously cute, and knows it. In the morning, after dawn I see his big ears pop up over the blankets and his big ears swerving like radar screens. The second I open my eyes he is all over me, licking my face furiously. All day, he brings me stuffed animals to throw for him. I like doing that.
And I couldn't kill Gus because he has so much vitality and affectionate. I wonder if Gus may be the first dog I could not bring myself to kill, even if he got much sicker. And I hope I could do it if I had to do it, I could do it, it seems my responsibility to him or any dog I love.
Maria said she understood what I was saying – she usually does – she said she didn't think she could kill Gus either. Oddly, it was not hard to kill Rose. She was not cute, she was a proud and loyal working dog, and she was entitled to her dignity when she was ready to leave the world.
It was good to have this conversation, to think about this long before it becomes a reality.
It is healthy to talk about these things out loud, especially when there is a nasty disease to deal with.
I've written a dozen times that we need to have these conversations about the life and death of our dogs before we find ourselves in an examining room having to make spur of the moment decisions that have great emotional, and financial consequences. For me, the welfare of the dog is paramount. I come second.
Gus is in a good place right now, most days our new diet and protocol is working well, he has a good appetite and an inexhaustible amount of energy. This is not anything we can't live with. I'm glad I don't have to think about killing Gus, and I don't anticipate I will for a very long time.
Gus has a riotous personality and we have great fun with him. He belongs here. I don't think I could kill Gus.