13 June

Minnie: Love And Regret. Animal Ethics

by Jon Katz
Love And Regret

In my writing, I often think about animal ethics, and our responsibilities as stewards of the animals, most of whom are in danger in our world. Several years ago, Minnie was attacked by an animal we did not see or hear, it was probably a fisher, and her leg was severely damage.

Our choice was to euthanize her or amputate the leg.

After much consideration, we chose to amputate the leg, it cost $2,000 and subject her to months of painful and difficult recovery. In our intensely emotional animal world, the reigning moral standard seems to be that we keep our pets alive by any means at all costs.

I was uncomfortable with the decision, but I went along with it. I told myself Minnie didn’t seem ready to leave the world. In retrospect, I see that was a comfortable rationale. Minnie had no way of making that decision, I had no way of knowing such a thing might be in her consciousness. I just didn’t want to kill her.

People often brag to me about spending many thousands of dollars on surgical procedures for their dogs and cats, as if this is a measure of love and moral commitment. I have a different view. To me, it is unethical to submit my beloved pets to expensive and painful and frightening surgical procedures without their understanding or permission,  mostly because vets can do these things now and it is something that makes us feel good, better than losing them.

My parents would have been horrified at the idea of spending thousands of dollars on surgery for a pet. Not, it is an almost routine occurrence, vet specialists have popped up all over the place and charge thousands of dollars for a visit.

To me, that is most often selfish, not loving. And it suggests a loss of perspective. Animals are not in our lives to bankrupt or drain us, nor do I have the right to prolong their lives solely for my own needs and well being.

In Minnie’s case, I have to say I am glad she is still around, she is a sweet and gentle cat (unless you are a mouse or baby rabbit) and Maria and I both love to see her sitting on the back porch, soaking up the sun. She and Maria are especially close, Maria is the St. Francis of our farm.

Minnie moves around well, but there are parts of her body she cannot reach to scratch and many places on the farm she cannot get to. If attacked again, she would be hard pressed to defend herself. And her recovery was long and painful.

Would I subject her again to that sort of pain and disorientation and fear?

No, I think not. I think it was a mistake, a violation of my own code of animal ethics. Maria does not agree with me, she favored saving Minnie and has no regrets or afterthoughts about it, or at least not as many as I do.

I think this is one of those ethical issues that has no clear answers or boundaries or dimensions. As always, I am not telling others what to do, only what I do or don’t do.

We each have to do what feels right to us. For me, stewardship means acting in the best interests of an animal, not of me and my emotional needs. Much of what passes for animal love is simply self-love to me.

The animal rights movement has disgraced itself by  revealing its ignorance about animals, and sending so many off to their deaths and extinction in the name of saving them.

The animal rights movement is one of the leading destroyers of animals in our world as they move relentlessly and thoughtlessly  to separate animals from people, from the carriage horses to the elephants in the circus to the ponies in the farmer’s markets. Those animals are forgotten and left to their fate, which is most often death.

Animals do have rights, and we need to speak for them, since they cannot speak for themselves.

I cannot imagine any animal knowingly choosing to subject themselves to the pain that Minnie suffered if they could speak or think in human terms. They have the right to live their natural lives in comfort and  safety,  and certainly love. I don’t think I met that standard with Minnie.

I would put Red or Fate down in a second  rather than condemn to a life in a crate in a no-kill shelter just to keep him alive. There is nothing humane about giving an animal a life like that, and then assuming a posture of moral superiority.

I know this puts me in a small minority in the pet and animal world, but as veterinarians and people are less and less thoughtful about the true rights of animals, I am reluctant to subject mine to brutal and unnatural procedures that they cannot possibly understand or accede to.

I think the issue for me is really about what is best for them and not what is best for me. With Minnie, I feel as if we did what was best for us. She paid the price.

Contrary to the new emotionalizing of animals, what is best for us and what is best for them are not always the same thing.

Did we do the right thing for Minnie? I don’t think so. Did we do the right thing for us? Sure.


  1. Jon,

    You obviously struggle with this decision as you revisit this topic often. In fact, when blogging about Minnie, most of the time you do, this theme gets revisited. I see and understand your point of view, and for the most part I agree with it, but it’s wise to remember that everyone has unique perspectives and what their pets mean to them in their world. Every day we find out more about the capabilities and intelligence animals have, and our empathetic response to them as humans in that relationship. As someone who has “pets”, they are my family. I see them that way and I take responsibility for when they are sick. While they are not children, and I do not anthropomorphize my pets, it’s important to remember that small children do not understand when they get a painful surgery or treatment, but the parents do what is best within their means to make sure that child gets better. I don’t see it as “selfish” for a parent to take care of a child, so I don’t see it as selfish to take care of a sick or suffering pet. Minnie does well, is healthy and happy, and with some limitations has adapted to an excellent life. You were a part of that happening for her, so maybe think about embracing that, and be at peace with yourself.

    1. Thanks Kate, as I said in the piece, it’s an individual decision, I don’t ever tell anybody else what to do.

      I am not comfortable with your comparing the treatment of pets to the treatment of children, to whom we can speak and explain things and take steps to ease their fears. To me, and as you suggest, dogs are not children and children are not dogs. But you are still comparing them. I am at peace with myself, I’m quite at ease, but I do have reservations about putting an animal through that in order for me to feel better. And I do often think about it. It’s a close and complex call, and people make it differently, but I don’t think I would do it again.

      Minnie has healed and with many limitations, is okay in the sense that she is not clearly ill. I’m not sure I’d say “healthy.” Flo is “healthy” and lives very differently than Minnie. As for happy, this is a human, not a dog emotion, and I have no idea what she is feeling. She sometimes seems at ease, often not.

      Cats, like dogs, exist, they don’t characterize their emotions in that very human way. They just handle life as it comes. Taking responsibility to me means not making assumptions about what is in her head, but owning what is in mine. I KNOW what I am thinking. Assuming she is “happy” is, in fact, classic anthropomorphisizing. She struggles all the time to get around and is much more fearful than before. And she can certainly not hunt as before, when she would hop up onto tall beams and trees to scout for mice.

      We all project our emotions onto pets, including me, but it’s dangerous in a case like amputation. Since Minnie doesn’t have human language or human emotions, I can’t say what she is or was thinking. I can see if she is frightened or feeling safe. Probably she had no awareness of anything but pain and confusion during her months long ordeal. Anyway, it’s a great discussion to have, and I thank you for our very thoughtful comments. They are helpful.

      – jon
      P.S.By selfish, I mean, I did this for me, and for Maria, who wanted Minnie to stay alive. I’m not sure I did anything for Minnie, to be honest. She had no say in it. Maria felt, as did I, that Minnie “wanted to live.” But looking back, I see the self-serving nature of that observation, since Minnie had no idea she was having make a choice between life and death. She doesn’t even know what death is.

  2. Both the life and death cycle are painful. A wounded animal without any medical intervention still has to endure the healing and or death process. Your choice enabled your cat to have the best treatment option available. While we are busy living none of us know what death is until we finally realize yes, I am letting go of my life energy.

    1. Nicely put, Jackie, I think it was life energy that I saw in Minnie that made me think she should stick around…

  3. You gave her a chance to adapt to a life with 3 legs and she did! You gave her the benefit of the doubt. This choice is not to be measured in dollars and cents in all cases. Who’s to say that her life is more challenging and fun using 3 legs to hunt in the long run? If she had suffered greatly after the surgery, you probably would have made a difficult decision. I always fear that a reader will not give their animal the consideration you and Maria did re: amputation when these blogs crop up. Thank you for all you do to educate your readers on a variety of subjects.

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