Is euthenasia really about "putting an animal out of its misery"? Or, is it simply that the owners no longer wish to care for their pets? I think it's both.
In a fascinating book I'm reading called The Philosopher's Dog, the author Raymond Gaita says that you should not euthenize your animals, just as you would not put your granny "to sleep". He makes a good point. The basic rights of humans should typically be transferred to the ethics of animal rights. If it's okay to put terminally ill humans "to sleep", then it's okay to put mortally sick domestic animals "to sleep", presumably. But if it's not okay to do this to humans, then why would it be any better to do this to animals? I am not 100% opposed to the euthenation of sick animals. I am merely saying that we need to develop some kind of moral consistency between when enough is enough for humans and when it is for animals. Also, how will we know when an animal is consenting to euthenasia and when he/she is not?
Some people point to the pet overpopulation problem as an excuse to euthenize healthy animals. But this would only be a valid reason if you also thought that the human overpopulation problem could be solved in the same way. And goodness knows, I certainly don't want to live in a world where the excess human beings are rounded up and gassed. Do you?
I think that these are the reasons that people euthenize their animals, in typical situations, and I also provide my responses:
- The animal (let's call him "Fido") is unable to take care of himself (ie. can't walk, can't go to the bathroom without help, can't eat through his mouth), and so the owner (let's call her "Yasmin") feels that Fido is in too much suffering, and not truly living anyway.
- Maybe it is a good idea in this situation. It depends how bad it gets. If your dog has gotten so bad that he is simply lying on his bed all day and can't move or eat without someone doing it for him, then I think it might have gotten too far.
- Fido's treatment is too expensive for Yasmin to pay for, so she feels she has no choice but to put him down.
- Unfair! If Yasmin truly loved her dog, she could never put him to sleep due to financial issues. She should try to give him up to someone who could provide the treatment. Sometimes this doesn't work out and it truly isn't Yasmin's fault, but she should still try her hardest to save him.
- Fido's treatment is extensive and time-consuming. Although it would possibly cure him of his ailment, Yasmin does not want to invest the time in it.
- Again, so unfair. If I had a serious illness, no one would euthenize me! Thus, they shouldn't euthenize poor Fido.
- Fido doesn't have an owner. He's in an animal shelter. He is just one of many. They don't have space for him any more.
- :( No. That isn't right, either.
No. I don't think so.
What we need is more people to take animals into their homes-- even if only temporarily, as "foster owners". Many people say, "If you want a pet, go to the animal shelter and adopt one!", and that is great, but we really need to say is this: "Adopt an animal from the shelter whether or not you want a pet-- save a life." (I'm excluding those people whose lifestyles can't even permit the care of a little mouse because they are so busy or don't live in a suitable environment or aren't capable of caring for an animal.)
If we all went out to the animal shelters and adopted a hamster or a bird or another animal, we could save millions of animals in the Western world alone. That, I think, coupled with not breeding your animal and boycotting the pet industry, could be a large chunk of the solution to the problem of euthenizing healthy albeit unwanted animals.
And so, here is another one of my (not-so) famous lists on what you can do:
- Adopt an animal!
- Don't buy an animal from the pet store or a breeder-- ever!
- If you can not take care of your animal anymore, give him or her up to a no-kill animal shelter or a friend.