When I was five years old, our beloved black and white Cocker Spaniel dog, Candy, became terminally ill. One day, my dad took her with him on a car ride. She never returned.
My dad made the decision, urged by a veterinarian, that Candy was too sick to recover. He determined the only compassionate and loving option was to end her pain and suffering by “putting her to sleep.”
I believe my dad had good intentions. He probably thought he was sparing me pain when he didn’t tell me what would happen to her before he left that morning. He may have even been concerned at what my reaction might be if he did tell me, aware that I would plead for her life.
Devastated at not being able to say goodbye or hug her one last time, my young heart couldn’t understand why death had been chosen as the answer to my sweet Candy’s illness.
For years, vivid dreams of Candy filled my nighttime. As I look back, I realize God’s tenderness towards me in understanding my sense of loss, the heartache of no goodbye, and my longing to see her one more time.
It’s become clear to me as an adult, that the teaching of sanctity of life and care for those who are weak and dying starts to be shaped as a child.
As a parent, pets give me a wonderful opportunity to teach my children compassion and how to respect life.
Also, I’ve come to see, as controversial as some may find it, that the euthanasia of beloved pets, is where the euthanasia of humans begins. As a tenderhearted child, the euthanasia of a pet can begin the desensitizing of a person’s conscious. It teaches that quick death is the loving, compassionate choice when faced with a terminally ill or injured pet, completely missing the opportunity to learn how to care for the sick and suffering, and how to walk through the course of death.
The caring for a pet who is dying, even if it’s painful for a family to go through, can help a developing heart remain tender and merciful.
Tim Tebow shares a story about his beloved dog Otis. He tells how while away on a trip to Disneyland with family and friends, someone beat Otis. He writes:
The vet agreed with my guess and suggested that this could have been the work of a baseball bat. ‘Tim, his injuries are to severe,’ he said. Otis’ back, legs, and hips were severely damaged, and his jaw was radically fractured. Surgery would have been extensive and expensive, and there was no guarantee he’d survive. Plus the lengthy rehabilitation might prove to be move than he could take. So we brought Otis home to die and laid him carefully on his bed.”
Perhaps, this decision when Tebow was a child concerning Otis, is what began a work of compassion in his heart that is now expressed through his foundation that ministers to dying children.
And recently singer and songwriter Fiona Apple surprised her fans and the public in canceling her upcoming tour to be with her dying pit bull, Janet, stating:
I just can’t leave her now, please understand. If I go away again, I’m afraid she’ll die and I won’t have the honor of singing her to sleep, of escorting her out…. These are the choices we make, which define us.”
Caring for a pet isn’t easy. It does come with tough decisions and costs. As a parent, I’ve had to choose what to do based on our financial ability to pay for care.
Recently, our daughter’s 14-year-old cat, Samson, came down with a life-threatening illness. Without a costly surgery, he would die. Choices had to be made. For us, at this time in our lives, we could choose the surgery. Yet, if we hadn’t been able to make that decision, we would have brought him home. Home, where Samson would have been given medications to help control the pain, but not ones to end his life.
Back when I was five, the reason I couldn’t understand my Dad’s decision to end Candy’s life, is because death is not the answer to pain and suffering. Life is the answer, even when caring for a life that is suffering and dying causes us personal pain.
At my young age, my heart hadn’t been conditioned to accept it as the answer. But with time, if my heart hadn’t resisted, it would have been changed to believe death as the most loving, compassionate choice in dealing with this type of situation.
Proverbs 10:12 states that, “A righteous man regards the life of his beast; but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
I know many will find my thoughts on this matter extreme. My intention isn’t to cause guilt or condemnation to those individuals who in the past have chosen euthanasia for a pet; to those who have been urged that it’s the most compassionate decision. Rather, my heart is to share my observations and ask others to prayerfully consider reexamining their thoughts on this issue for the future.
As a child, Candy’s presence brought me much joy and companionship. With the Christmas season, I’m reminded of a time when I fell asleep next to her under our Christmas tree. My dad, seeing me out cold, wanted to carry me to my bed.
But, when he went to reach for me, he was met with Candy’s protective growl. Needless to say, she and I woke up the next morning under our tree.