I was surprised and shocked. After my mother’s death, my brother had her dog euthanized. He reasoned that Taz had become over-protective of her and over-aggressive toward other people. Without Mom’s presence, Taz refused to eat and wandered around the house—actions perhaps indicating an inability to adjust to the changed situation. Moreover, Taz was old and suffered from a bad back.
Still, he walked normally; and his grief was not necessarily permanent. By identifying what triggered his aggression (i.e., being lifted onto the bed) and re-training him, he might have had two or three years more of life. Of course, he may have been incorrigible.
I just thought we should have tried to save him. My brother disagreed; and after caring for our mother several years, my brother had earned a very real moral authority. That didn’t keep me from criticizing his decision. The result was an old-fashioned family fight which—fortunately—will have no long-term effect on the relationship between my brother and myself.
Gary L. Francione argues that the world can be divided into “persons” and “things.” Things are property, to be used as the owner desires. At one time, slaves were property according to the rationalizations offered by Southern plantation owners. Today, we obviously consider pigs and cows to be property. After all, we acknowledge no freedom or even “right to life” for these animals. We butcher and eat them. We don’t usually eat our dogs, however. In fact, we grant canines a limited personhood.
Research backs up our intuition about dogs. Either through actual genetic change from their wolf ancestors or through sensitization of genes already present in wolves, dogs can function in human society. Dogs can respond to human gestures and speech. They follow our gaze and our pointing fingers. They can infer our moods from facial expressions (although they apparently don’t identify people by looking at faces). They don’t understand conversations, but they respond to spoken commands. They understand that humans have a different perspective on the world. Thus, dogs will commit a forbidden act in darkness even in our presence. They know we don’t see well in the dark.
And dogs are master manipulators. My dachshund, Annie, has learned to steal socks and trade them for treats. She’ll even keep the sock if the treat is not exactly what she wanted. And if no sock is available, she’ll steal something else that she thinks is of value to me. She also makes it a point to walk past me so I see the stolen goods.
Because of their abilities, I believe it’s wrong to euthanize dogs unless they are in pain and terminally ill. In fact, I’d argue that it’s also wrong to kill other animals. Pigs, for example, are more intelligent than dogs and capable of playing video games with chimps. (They move a joystick with their snouts.) They are good at remembering the location of objects. They display empathy and compassion, play with other pigs, and are extremely sociable.
Moreover, even if an animal is not very smart or sociable, its life deserves respect. I agree with Albert Schweitzer, the doctor and theologian. He writes, “Reverence for life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and that to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil.” With one sentence, Schweitzer takes away my ham and bacon.
Although vegetarianism is the logical result of Schweitzer’s philosophy, the great man himself was never a complete vegetarian except, perhaps, in the last years of his life. Nevertheless, with my feelings about animals, I should stop eating meat. I don’t know whether I can do that or not. If anyone in Old Chatham Meeting can reason me out of this quandary, I’d be grateful.
~ Richard Russell
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