Q: I first want to start off by saying my mother-in-law and I read your column faithfully and every weekend we call one another discussing it. We are Catholic and really enjoy that you know so much about every religion and discussing things about it.
We recently had to put our rabbit of 10 years to sleep. This rabbit was a huge part of our family. We bought it for our kids when they were young and it was our pet instead of a dog. He was such a huge part of our lives. He was wonderful. Always cuddling with us, playing, he was a joy to have.
He was having health issues and we had to bring him to an animal hospital in which we were given the choice to put him to sleep or have him live a life of being an ICU bunny, which he would have to be fed by syringe, go to doctor every six months, etc. Of course, if you had $10,000 I’m sure you could keep him alive and do all of those things.
What I am struggling with is who are we to make this choice? Isn’t that God’s doing? And why did I have to make that choice because I don’t have a lot of money? It’s almost like money is making that choice? What if we had the money, would he have lived if he had the surgery? Would he live a terrible life? I also struggle with this about human beings. Never being in that situation yet, but we are not God. Please enlighten. – From D
A: I know some of my readers are going to check out on a question about the fate of a sick bunny, but I am on your side. The emotional life of people with pets seems to me to be much richer than those who have decided only to care for themselves and their family.
Pets offer unconditional love and require constant and loving care. This is a powerful spiritual bargain and it does not matter what animal people choose as their pet. OK, I draw the line at wild animals with long teeth, and I have not yet seen a lot of evidence of unconditional love from snakes and fish but, that aside, I am an unconditional animal lover. I was trained to be this way by my grandfather, Leo Gellman, who was a zookeeper at the Milwaukee zoo. I even tried to buy a koala for my wife, Betty, as an engagement present (no luck, immigration laws).
We raised guide dogs for the blind and now, here in California, we are not only caring for our grandchildren, Zeke and Daisy, but also for our grand-dog, Rocky. I will even admit that once, to help an emotionally challenged child who loved his dog, I actually performed a ”Bark Mitzvah” on his dog.
So those are my pet credentials, and I tell you that even if you had the money, treating your sick bunny would be the wrong thing to do. The reason is that your bunny is not just sick. Your bunny is dying and the only thing veterinary medicine can offer you now is not healing, but merely postponing death and increasing suffering. You think this is different from the ethical issues at the end of human life, but it is not. Medicine is meant to heal and at a certain time healing is no longer possible.
When that time is reached, for bunnies or for people, the proper spiritual response is to let go. Refusing to let go is actually preventing God’s will from becoming real. Treating without any therapeutic hope is not medicine, it is torture. Do not feel like your economic situation is the cause of your dear pet’s death. It is death that has arrived at your doorstep and it is death that must sorrowfully be let in.
Here is a part of one of my favorite Mary Oliver poems called “In Blackwater Woods.”
”To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”
She also has this quote: “When will you have a little pity for every soft thing that walks through the world, yourself included?”
And another part of a poem by Mary Oliver, called “Five A.M. in the Pinewoods.”
”I’d seen their hoofprints in the deep needles and knew they ended the long night under the pines, walking like two mute and beautiful women toward the deeper woods, so I got up in the dark and went there. They came slowly down the hill and looked at me sitting under the blue trees, shyly they stepped closer and stared from under their thick lashes …”
This is not a poem about a dream, though it could be.
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