Please Kill My Dog

“The Ethicist,” whom I have not harassed for a while, a.k.a Ariel Kaminer, handles this week an odd query from a woman who has been asked by an elderly friend to pledge to euthanize her dog after she dies. Kaminer, as she often does, makes the issue more complicated than it is and muddles things by implying some kind of inconsistency on the part of pet owners who find the request unethical but who will dine on cooked animal flesh this evening. She even had to consult Peter Singer, the controversial Princeton ethicist, about whether an animal has a “right to life.”

Every living thing has a right to life, and also a right to live, which is why eating other animals as humans have evolved to do is not incontrovertibly  unethical. Killing an animal just because you can, or because it makes you happy, or because you have convinced yourself that it wants to die when in fact it doesn’t, however, is incontrovertibly unethical. The question posed brought back memories of a friend years ago whose parents were moving from a house to a smaller apartment, and who decided to euthanize their healthy, friendly, bounding boxer mix because “she just wouldn’t be happy with anyone else.” Utter vanity and utter cruelty was my assessment then and now. Dogs are very adaptable; yes, they will miss a beloved master, but they don’t make a fetish about it. “Look, I’ll be real sorry to lose you folks,” I could imaging my friend’s parents dog saying, “but don’t do me any favors. Trust me…I’ll get over it. Have a good trip!”

After making excuses for the dog owner in the instant situation, Kaminer finally gets around to agreeing that the woman’s request is wrong, and that the questioner would be wrong to pledge to kill a healthy dog for no reason other than the owner’s desire to have its imaginary future grief. The Ethicist writes, “You should tell her no. (Far better than telling her a dishonest yes. That’s just deceit.)” She tells the questioner that she should persuade the women to let her make sure the dog, a Pomeranian, is placed in a loving home.

But what if the questioner believes that the dying woman won’t take no for an answer, is determined to take Foofie with her to the Great Dog Park in the Sky, and will just find another surrogate dog-killer to do her bidding?

I say lie to her.

As lies go, it’s a perfect one: it gives the woman the peace of mind she seeks, yet prevents the wrong of sentencing an innocent Pomeranian (if any Pomeranian is indeed innocent) to death for no legitimate purpose, like eating it, based on a misconception of the depth of canine  loyalty.

18 thoughts on “Please Kill My Dog

  1. The elderly woman might be afraid that once she dies, Animal Control officers will come in and take the dog off to a shelter to be euthanized anyway, but possibly (probably?) with less kindness than the Veterinarian would dispense. She probably doesn’t know how to ask the Vet to do something to ensure the dog’s future wellbeing, because it would be an imposition to ask such a favor. Maybe she is hoping that the Vet will do exactly what is proposed by The Ethicist — promise to find a good home for the dog. So, maybe she’s just guilty of being manipulative. But if the woman isn’t interested in that promise, then I agree with you — lie to her. And then make sure the dog gets a good home in the end. The fact is — yes, the dog is an animal, but pets are not property, regardless of legal interpretations of the concept. Because they are living creatures, they deserve to be treated better than her favorite nightie that will be buried with her.

  2. The vet said the woman is asking her to sign a legal document agreeing to the proposal. Could the lie solution cause a legal problem for the vet? If not, I would go for the lie. My vet will not euthanize healthy pets on ethical grounds. (Her words, not mine).

    On a side note, Jack, you need some kind of stronger warning when your links are going to take me to such idiotic drivel. The second letter was equally ridiculous. I love cats and dogs alike. I live with 6 of the former and 9 of the latter. When I lived in the city, my cats were all indoor animals and I had no dogs. There are huge hazards to a cat’s life in the city and most of them can not be explained to a cat. It is the responsibility of the cat owner to keep the cat safe. This advice columnist (using the term generously) was trying to convince the writer that he was somehow at fault for his dog, killing cats that came into his fenced yard. That somehow he was required to install fencing to keep cats out if he knew his dog would kill them. I am pretty sure his responsiblity ends with keeping his dog in and he didn’t seem to be having any trouble with that. Good grief! I can hardly believe this woman is paid for that crap. I will have to remember her name so when next you harass her, I can skip the link. I already agree with you…. whatever you are going to say.

  3. For myself, I have two Pomeranians… the first small dogs I’ve ever owned. My God, they’re the most loving little critters you could imagine. I’m also aware that they might well outlive me. Therefore, I’ve made arrangements for them should that occur. As you say, Jack, dogs (like kids) adapt to these changes. That woman’s concept that her beloved pet would pine away without her and should be put to sleep upon her death may be based partially on kindness, but it’s also based on egotism. Her friend should, out of true kindness, quietly ignore her wishes and make arrangements with others to secure a loving home for that little dog.

    • My cousin has a Pom named Frodo. He is the funniest little dog I have ever met. A constant source of entertainment and very loving. Even more high energy than my Jacks. You must have a huge amount of patience to live with two. Kudos to you, Steven.

      • Dexter, the 8 pound boy, has the same coloring as the one in the picture and is the son of a show dog. A natural canine athlete! The 5 pound girl (Gretchen) is white with orange trim and more sedate, although she’s as fast as a bullet when she wants to be. When I hit the easy chair after work, the standard drill is for Dexter to squeeze in beside me so he can get his ribs tickled. Gretchen then jumps up to the head rest, wraps herself around my neck and procedes to lick my ear like a popsicle! The ultimate lap dogs.

  4. Re the ethiics of human beings eating the flesh of animals: Life lives on other Life. (Living) Paramecia eat (living) paramecia and (living) amoebae of other species. (Living) Plants are nourished by the dead “flesh” of other animals and plants, converted to nourishment by (living) microbes.

    So what?

    It’s just reality and has nothing to do with Ethics. It is what it is and has been since Life began, per omnia saecula saeaculorum. Amen.

    • So what is right. But not because plant nutrition can become available through fish decay nor because there is any relevance in an arguement comparing a single celled organism to people eating animals. It is so what because there is no logic in comparing the dog’s plight in this story to what people eat at all. The two arguements have nothing to do with each other unless the we are suggesting the vet eat the Pomeranian as a solution to her problem. Any relevance was imagined and created by the columnists desire to make the writer “feel bad” because from what I read, that is her entire goal.

  5. Oh, and I can’t believe she can call herself an ethicist, nevermind THE Ethicist when she felt the need to consult yet another ethicist to answer such a simple question. Perhaps she is the opinionless ethicist. They should rename her column.

  6. Can the transaction between dog owner and veterinarian in this case, the parties’ capabilities and intentions, and the “ethics of lying” Jack alludes to, serve as an analogy to, or an allegory about, possible transactions and ethical dilemmas in the realm of international relations and diplomacy?

    I have this deeply troubling feeling the answer is yes. I am just SO uncomfortable about lying, mainly because I have proved myself SO obviously incompetent at getting away with even my most trivial attempts at it – and I am SO jealous of others who get away with it at my expense.

    • I think the answer IS yes, though lying is acceptable—sort of–in diplomacy for different reasons.

      Diplomacy is in the shaddowy realm of negotiation, where deceit and manipulation are tolerated within margins of practicality and do not necessarily destroy trust. There is a wonderful negotiation table game called Diplomacy in which lying—and knowing when not to lie—is the only way to win the game, played on a map of pre-WW I Europe.

      The lie in the dog scenario, in contrast, is among the exceptions to the rule that lying is always wrong. Sometimes a lie is better than the alternative. The problem is that lying becomes a habit.

      • COOL! I think I might get that game, and/or try to play it on line. Thanks for sharing about that.

        I must apologize: After re-reading what I wrote earlier about lying, I now realize that, while I did not mean to say so (and was not thinking so, consciously), I said something (in my last sentence) that could easily give to a reader a clear impression that my thinking/attitude is (in part, at least), “I regret that I am not a more successful deceiver; if I was, I would lie more often to take advantage of others and benefit myself.” I am sorry I said anything that would give that impression – that may have been my “Santorum moment” for the week. Especially, by way of including in the sentence the words “mainly because,” I cannot deny the possibility of having given that impression, and possibly, reflecting something more.

        For as much as I can be self-aware I swear, like I would swear to take any oath, that I did not (and do not) intend to think like that about lying, even if I am somehow in denial of a real presence of that evil inside me. Did I commit a “Freudian slip?” I’ll likely be using idle moments tonight while watching the ball game for some more introspection. I actually feel very fortunate to be incompetent at lying. Knowing I am that way makes it easier for me to have a clearer, tranquil mind when scheming for whatever.

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