I have a confession to make. I’m pretty soft when it comes to animals. This is not always a good trait to have if you’re trying to run a homestead.
I get a little squeamish during violent scenes in movies; I’ve always blamed this on the nurse in me. If someone (or something) is dying, my adrenaline kicks in and I want to stop the bleeding, establish an airway, support respiration – in short, I am “programmed” to support and preserve life. Taking life is something that I know, intellectually, is sometimes appropriate; but emotionally and psychologically I don’t do well with war, murder… or butchering.
Interestingly enough, I’ve never had much problem with chickens in this regard; I’ve always been of the opinion that chickens (and turkeys I suppose) are basically vegetables with heads. When you chop off a chicken’s head, or stick it’s neck, its muscles spasm, but the head kind of gives you this look like “hmm…I think something just happened…did something just happen?”Any higher life form, however (dogs, cats, goats, cows, pigs, and pretty much every other farm animal) are a different story. These animals are able to form relationships, they obviously think, learn, and remember, and I tend to get rather attached to them.
On the other hand, I am pragmatic enough to realize that death is a part of life. Animals die so that I can live; pets age and reach the end of their lives, as will I, and all those I love. I cannot afford the luxury of keeping many animals as a hobby; most of my animals, even my pets, have a purpose. Cats catch mice, dogs warn of intruders, herd the other livestock, and defend property; the barnyard animals provide meat, milk, and eggs. (The Cockatiel and Parakeets serve no purpose other than to look pretty, but that’s another story altogether.) Some of my children, on the other hand, experience animal affection differently than I do.
We experienced this first hand this past week when our daughter visited; our daughter has a dog named Quixote, and therein lies a tale.
My wife and I got Quixote when Y2K was a big buzzword. While I have always had (and loved) dogs, my wife is not as much of a “pet” person. My previous faithful dog, Wolf, had died of a stroke sometime before this, and we had been dog-less for several years. It seemed like the homestead might benefit from having a dog around if Y2K turned out to be any kind of event, and so, being the pragmatic person that she is, my wife acquiesced to the procurement of a new canine. The dog was supposed to be “hers”, but (first big mistake) in a fit of selfishness I, and several of my children, overruled her choice from the litter we visited. My wife selected a bouncy, lively little pup; the rest of us felt sorry for a little fellow who kind of just sat in the corner by himself. And so Quixote came to live with us.
Quixote was “free to a good home.” I loved Quixote, and while he was never as smart, or as obedient, as my former pal Wolf, he did OK. He never lived up to expectations as a watchdog (he wasn’t all that bright, and could not discern friend from foe), defender of the farm (he was pretty much a big chicken), or herd dog (he was the wrong breed) and so he was just a pet – but he was pretty good at that. One thing that my wife and I agree on in regards to animals is that we don’t practice anthropomorphism. People are people and animals are animals. We are not some animal’s mother or father, aunt or uncle. We are people, they are animals. We can love our animals and still keep the relationships clearly in mind. This was true with Quixote as with all our animals.
Well, the years passed, and we noticed that Quixote was slowing down; his hips were getting stiff, he was getting blind, and he was just generally deteriorating. My wife and I, not being ones to invest hundreds of dollars in preserving the life of an aged beast, were inclined to have Quixote put down.
Enter my daughter, who came home for a visit and learned of our plans. She decided to take Quixote to live with her instead, and we agreed. That was over two years ago.
Quixote came home for a visit over thanksgiving. He has had hundreds of dollars worth of very good veterinary care, including the removal of his eyes, drugs to ease his pain, help his digestion, and a host of other things that I probably will not be able to afford, should I need them, for myself when I am aged. Quixote has had a stroke, and one back leg is very stiff and frozen. He cries when he lays down, cries when he gets up, and often cries at night in a way that makes it clear he is in pain. He struggles to walk and stumbles over the smallest obstacles. My daughter (and my son in law) tends to him, gives him his medication, cleans up after him, takes him out in the middle of the night (sometimes several times) and protects him from her two boisterous boys.
We offered to keep Quixote when my daughter left, and pay to have him humanely put to sleep. I think she considered this very seriously, but in the end she chose to take Quixote back home with her. You see, Quixote is a dog to us, but to my daughter he is part of the family; worthy of the same care, attention, and investment as any of her children. My daughter knows that Quixote is nearing the end of his earthly existence, but she cannot (yet) bear the thought that his life would be prematurely terminated by an act of her choosing. And while I do not share my daughter’s perspective on the quality of life issue, I can certainly understand her reticence in making that final choice. And when the time comes, I’ll be finding someone else to “harvest” my meat goats for me.