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.