So, I’ve been thinking about something (those who know me know it’s time to groan). What follows is long and rambling, but, there are questions at the end.
Specifically, I’ve been thinking about dogs, cats, companion animals, and farm animals, and how our society expects different behavior from the owner of a companion animal versus the owner of a farm animal.
What provoked this line of thought? That would be Kasha, the amazing Kleenex & cat litter eating dog. Kasha has recently developed a very bad habit, of raiding whatever she can find to raid when we aren’t home. She never used to do this, but then, until a year ago, she was never the only dog left home alone, because we had Shunka, who passed two years ago this June, and Dart, who passed a year and a few days ago.
I’m thinking that since Kasha’s naughty habits only occur when we’re gone, that it’s caused by separation anxiety – dogs are pack animals, after all, being descended from wolves. Wolves are rarely alone, preferring a pack, and that whole “lone wolf” idea is really an invention – wolves very rarely leave their pack.
So Kasha, feeling abandoned by her pack, has taken to relieving her natural anxiety by raiding a.) Rhiannon’s trash can full of Kleenex & paper towels (which hold up amazingly well after passage through a dog’s digestive tract); b.) the litter box (let’s just say Rhiannon hadn’t cleaned it in a while & leave it at that); then c.) the empty Kleenex box that Rhiannon was using as a trash can since she couldn’t use her actual trash can, and had buried it under other stuff, but that Kasha found, ripped part, and then devoured the contents of (more Kleenex & paper towels). The vet did say Kasha needed to lose weight, but I don’t think this is quite the method she had in mind!
Incident c.) is what has sparked today’s train of thought in me, as I posted the “Oddest Question Ever Asked On Facebook: Has anyone ever given an enema to a dog?” yesterday. I was surprised at all the helpful answers I got – apparently their are a lot of constipated dogs (& cats) in America!
But a part of me felt guilty for even asking the question. In our culture, if your dog is sick, you don’t try to fix the problem yourself, you trundle off to the vet’s office for x-rays & IV’s & let the poor vet techs give your dog an enema. And then you fork over $500 (or way more) for something you could probably have dealt with at home.
Now, if Kasha had been a constipated sheep, there would have been no question – the farmer (or shepherdess as I preferred to be called back in the Before Times) drenches (stuffs a bottle of medicine) down the sheep’s throat, and does whatever else is necessary. Farm profit margins are very slim – you don’t call the vet unless the animal is really valuable (like a horse).
Part of farming is learning how to be your own vet most of the time. I have done nearly every conceivable thing to a farm animal, starting with the first baby goats I cleaned off & set to nursing, to pulling stuck lambs (sometimes inserting way more of me than was comfortable to turn a recalcitrant lamb into a better position), vaccinating, treating infections (including fly-strike – takes a very strong stomach), cleaning & bandaging wounds, catheterizing a horse recovering from neurological illness who couldn’t pee, starting IV’s, the list goes on & on & on.
So it seems only natural to me to try to treat the dog’s issue at home.
Still, there was this sense of guilt. And then I realized there was also a very deep sense of guilt about Dart’s passing. Dart was very old – 15. She had some kind of intestinal cancer, I’m pretty sure. She eventually stopped eating, despite my attempts at tempting her. And I wrestled with what to do, oh, how I wrestled. It had been less than a year since I’d had Shunka put to sleep, because of a brain tumor. I just couldn’t face that again. So I decided to let Dart die naturally, at home.
Society would say that my decision was selfish & even abusive; that I should have had her put to sleep. If I’d known how long it was going to take, I probably would have. But I didn’t know. And she wasn’t in any obvious pain. She was just dying, as is only natural for a 15 year old dog.
If she had been a sheep, it wouldn’t have even crossed my mind to take her to the vet to have her put down – she would have been allowed to live out her days in peace, and if I thought she was suffering, I would have shot her (or had someone shoot her for me – I’ve never killed, personally, one of my own animals before).
Wow, that thought trips the memories of Cherokee the horse’s death. She had gone through multiple medical problems, including cataracts (causing blindness) in her final year. She was 16 (pretty old for a horse) when I found her down & shivering in a snowstorm, and had my second husband shoot her while I sobbed incoherently into the phone to my mother. For Cherokee, as for any animal in my keeping, the time to take action to end their life didn’t come until or unless they were in pain or distress, excepting the lambs and cows I sent to slaughter (a painful part of farming – for the farmer no less than the animal).
Why is it okay in our society to let a newbie farmer learn all about vet care through trial and error and lots of reading, and yet, if a companion animal, a dog or cat, is even possibly getting sick (as in Kasha’s case) or dying naturally (as in Dart’s case), we expect the owner to take them immediately to the vet? For some of us, this is a question not only of consideration for the animal, but a big financial consideration – something we really can’t afford, living on very limited income.
Is it really fair, to value the life of a dog over the life of a goat? Goats are highly intelligent, inquisitive animals, with their own distinctive personalities.
Shouldn’t compassion for animals be equal for all animals? And yet it isn’t.
I know there are many arguments to be made for dogs and cats, that they are more intelligent, that they are companions, and part of the family, whereas a sheep is not. But it’s not like that in all cultures – some cultures value dogs more for their protein content then their ability to be trained, and cats more for their beautiful fur than for their mouse-hunting, purring, affectionate, cat-ness.
Should I feel guilty for letting Dart die naturally at home of old age, even though she wasn’t in pain or visible distress?
Should I really feel guilty for giving the dog an enema myself instead of rushing her off to the vet?
What do you think? Please leave your thoughts below!