When is it reasonable to put an old dog down?
Insights welcome as I decide whether it is reasonable and moral or unreasonable and immoral to put down an old dog based on some very specific facts.
I’m grappling with a difficult decision at home and would like your insights into the matter. I will appreciate any politely phrased opinions you might have.
I have a very old dog (16 or 17). She’s blind and almost completely deaf, has an anxiety disorder, has severe arthritis, and has lost most of her sense of smell. We control the pain and the anxiety disorder with tranquilizers and anti-inflammatory medicine. Also, despite the diminished sense of smell, she still loves her food. It is, indeed, her only pleasure.
The dog also has low-level dementia, which manifests itself in incontinence. If I take her outside, she totally understands that she should do her business out there. However, if I don’t take her outside in time, she’ll go in the house when the urge hits her.
I’ve got her in reusable doggy diapers (an excellent product, incidentally), which help somewhat. However, if I don’t walk her before the urge hits her, not only will she use the diaper for its intended purpose, she’ll start licking the diaper obsessively.
The combination of her licking the outside of the diaper and the urine inside the diaper triggers an osmosis process that sees her smearing a nasty slurry of urine and saliva on the carpet. It’s better than a full accident, which soaks into the carpet fibers and the pad underneath, but still nasty and requires my dragging out the steam carpet cleaner.
It’s no answer to lock her in a tile-floored room or keep her in a little doggy kennel to help protect the carpet. Doing so simply escalates her anxiety disorder.
My response has been to walk her every 2 hours or so. For the most part, this isn’t a big hardship, since I’m a homebody and don’t mind hanging around the house. However, it has turned me into something of a prisoner in the house, because it’s almost impossible for me to leave to leave the house for anything that will take significantly longer than two hours.
With this as the status quo, I’ve gone back and forth on whether to put her down. I have no problem at all with putting down a dog who is suffering. However, it’s not clear that my dog is suffering. It’s true that she lives a minimal life at best, but she still gets pleasure from food and, thanks to all the medicines, she’s not experience extreme physical or mental pain.
In truth, the only one in the house who’s “suffering” is me. She is a lot of work — walking her every two hours, carrying her out to the walks (she’s too old to make it all the way to the appropriate part of the backyard without soiling the area immediately outside our house), cleaning the carpet every two or three days, etc. — but none of it is particularly onerous. The work is inconvenient and, sometimes, unpleasant, but it’s a burden I can bear. The main practical inconvenience is that 2 hour limit on being gone from my house. And even that is do-able if I don’t mind steam cleaning the soiled area of the carpet or scrubbing the tile floor, as well as doing a load of laundry to clean any blankets she was on at the time.
My real problem is that I don’t particularly like this dog. I once liked her a great deal. However, about 8 years ago, Mr. Bookworm started working from home a lot. (I do think telecommuting is one of the great benefits of living in the modern world.)
One of the things Mr. Bookworm liked to do while on phone conferences was endlessly throw a toy for her to fetch, sometimes for hours at a time. The other thing he liked to do was feed her. While I controlled her main diet, he gave her and endless stream of little snacks from his food. She therefore made a logical doggy decision, which was that her time was better spent with Mr. Bookworm than with me. As her anxiety disorder increased, she got to the point where she’d avoid me at all costs.
Nowadays, she sort of lies around like a sea cucumber, eating and excreting, and is willing to let me pet her — and of course, feed her, walk her, and diaper her. However, I can’t forget those years during which she failed in her primary doggy duty, which was to be an affectionate pet. (If you’re not a working dog, your job is affection, or at least that’s how I see it.) I don’t hate her or anything; I just feel as little affection for her as she, for so many years, did for me.
The thing is, though, I’m not a dog. I’m a human being and, I hope, a moral one. That’s why I’m having such a terrible time with deciding whether to put her down or not. I want to make sure that, if I do put her down, I’m doing it for the right reasons, and not the wrong ones. The right reason is that she is suffering (which is hard to tell, given the tranquilizers) and is also imposing an undue, unreasonable burden on her human. The wrong reason is that she inconveniences me and that my convenience matters more than the life of a creature that, while she is not experiencing existential anxiety, probably doesn’t plan to die.
So, is she suffering and imposing unreasonable burdens, or am I being whiny and selfish (in other words, am I the real bitch in the relationship)? What’s your take on my dilemma?