We Need to Give Our Pets an Afterlife
A friend of mine gives his old dog 18 pills a day. Blind, deaf, nearly toothless, and — the friend tells me — suffering from dementia, the poor animal mostly lives a life of sleep. I can’t be too critical. Our own dog is around 14 (a rescue, so her age is uncertain) and her kidneys have failed. Every few months some infection overwhelms her and we spend another few hundred dollars so a vet can poke her with syringes to rehydrate her and administer antibiotics. She can only eat one kind of food.
The last time our own dog fell ill, she crawled deep into a hollow underneath the house, which is what animals do when they know they are dying. I had to get on my belly and worm through the dirt and dark to haul her out. Two days later, more needles and coaxing and expense, she was back to her normal shuffling self.
I could go on for pages about others — cats on dialysis, dogs taking heart medications, highly specific diets, the endless hours nursing animals away from death.
A few decades ago I read an article about the movement of outdated human medical equipment into veterinary offices. Unless broken, replaced MRIs don’t go to the trash anymore, they go to image pets for tumors and heart conditions. And medicines, of course, will follow anyone willing to pay for them. We now keep our animals alive to a degree that would have been simply unthinkable a few generations ago.
We fight off death as best we humanly can, of course, so it’s no surprise that technology keeps widening the battlefield and finding victories. Everything fights to live, even if it means taking another life. Death is the kind of opponent you concede to only after all else is exhausted; it’s what we do. It’s what all animals do in their own manner.
But our victories over death are not themselves without cost. We may do everything humanly possible to keep our pets alive, but that doesn’t mean we do it humanely.
What kind of life they lead as we keep bringing them back is something of an open question. A dog doesn’t really tell you how much pain they are in; few animals are as vocal about their misery as people are. I suspect that our own dog is actually suffering a fair amount, but I…