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Monday, September 25, 2006

Moral Dilemma

Let me preface this by saying that I did not grow up having a dog. Not that I didn't want one, mind you. I always did. When I was growing up, when my brother and I woud be be home sick, we would always watch the noon news where the broadcasters would always have an animal showcased for adpotion. Every time we'd see an adorable puppy looking to be adopted, we'd beg our mom for a dog, telling her we'd take care of it, and walk it, and be responsible for it. My mom would always have the same answer. Number one, she'd say she would be the one that would end up taking care of the dog. Number two, she had enough dogs in the house. So, I never was lucky enough to have a dog or, actually, any pet for that matter. Well, except for a rainbow guppy that died.

My only experience with dogs and cats has come vicariously through my husband's family. They have two dogs and a bunch of cats that roam around the Yishuv; only coming home to be fed. Being around the dogs have increased my desires to have a dog, and I can't wait to have one shortly. However, none of these pets are mine. I don't know what it's like to grow up with an animal, get attached to it, and mourn the death of a pet. The only comparisons I have is with people.

Here's the problem and crisis going on in my husband's house. One of the dogs, Shmendrick, is my husband's. Yes, he belongs to the family, but he really is my husband's dog. Growing up, he slept in his room and generally followed him around every-where he went. My first experience with Shemendrick happened before I even came to Israel and met him. Shortly after I met my husband, he got an email from his mom. This was 3 years ago. He was told that Shmendrick was extremely sick, they had taken him to the vet, and the vet had told the family that they should take him home, give him some anti-biotics, but be prepared for the fact that he most likely wouldn't last the night. It was the only time I heard of my husband crying. He wasn't prepared to be 5,000 miles away while his dog died. He was actually ready to get on a plane and fly back home. But, Shmendrick is a fighter of the highest order. The next day, his mom went down-stairs and Shmendrick was walking around as if nothing had been wrong him. READ THE REST...

It's 3 years later, and Shmendrick really seems to be on his last leg. He is 14-15 years old, so about 100 years old in human terms. For the past couple of months, his situation has been quickly deteriorating. He's had cataracts for a while, but he can still see shadows and stuff. He can barely hear, and his hips are in horrible shape. He falls down every few steps he takes, and he can't really hold himself up for more than a few seconds at a time. He's basically given up on trying to hold himself up or even get up in order to go to the bath-room. He'll pee while he walks, and he poops while he's sitting or laying down, so he will sometimes be sitting in his own excrement for hours at a time. To say he stinks is an understatement. I may be sounding cruel, but these are the realities of the situation. He's eating and drinking the requisite amount, but he doesn't seem to be absorbing the nutrients. He's extremely skinny. I started getting really concerned this past week-end because it seemed that he lost 5-10 pounds since the last time I saw him about 3 weeks ago.

OK, here's the flip side. Like I said, he's a fighter of the highest order. There just seems to be no quit in him. He's not laying down and dying. He's extremely alert. Even-though his sense of smell is very weak at this point, when he notices you, or you call his name, he lifts his head up, and starts coming towards your direction. He's still walking around even-though he falls a lot. This dog still has some bite. He can still bark when he's upset, and he makes his presence known.

So, here's the problem. A couple of months ago, when the husband's sister moved back into the house (for various reasons), she started lobbying to have Shmendrick put to sleep. Don't get me wrong. She is a lover of animals, and has the dog's best interests at heart. She feels that because Shmendrick is suffering (that's her opinion, not necessarily mine) and has become a big burden to the family, it's time to let him go. She says that since the dog can't speak, we have to be his voice, and we have to make the decision for him. I can really understand her side of the coin. However, in my opinion, she has gone about making her argument the completely wrong way. Instead of calmly and logically setting out all the facts and opinions of the situation, she has castized and called my husband inhumane because he doesn't necessarily agree with her. She has also managed to consistently find the wrong time to bring the subject up; at the dinner table. She tries to goad my husband into an argument by calling herself names, like, "Oh, I'm a murderer because I'm thinking about how Shmendrick's feeling." "You're being selfish! You want Shemndrick to live because you dont want to let him go. You're not thinking about what's best for him."

So, instead of the conversation being a rational and logical discussion, it turns into an emotionally charged shouting match. Disregarding the fact that this is my husband we're talking about, I think his sister is going about this the wrong way. She has a legitimate argument, but she's going about expressing it the wrong way. She also can't accept the fact that the whole family doesn't agree with her. Her two other sisters mostly agree with her. My mother-in-law is on the fence, which is very admirable since she's the one stuck with always cleaning up after the dog and feeding him. Regardless, she is not condemning him to death simply because she has to wash the floor. I admire her for that. Not every-one would be that way. My father-in-law does not feel it's the right time for him to be put down, and my husband agrees with him.

I don't know where my place is in the whole discussion. He's not my dog. I've only been part of the family, officially, for a little over a year, and, unofficially, for 3 years. I'm not sure, and I've said this, that I have a right to make my opinion known. My husband knows, but I haven't made it publically known to the whole family. I don't take part in the heated discussions, and I haven't allowed myself to get goaded into them. My husband, also admirably, has also not allowed himself to get goaded into the past few arguments. I will give my opinion here. I am concerned about the dog. He does look very sick, but he doesn't act sick in the slightest.

I look at him like I look at my 96 year-old grand-mother. L'Havdil, I am not comparing a dog to my grand-mother. But, in terms of how they're both being talked about, it seems to be similar situations. I know that there's no such thing as doggy nursing homes, so it's not the same thing, but I believe that just like with our elderly family members, we shouldn't just toss them aside or put them to sleep simply because they've become a "burden" to us. Yes, my grand-mother needs 24 hour care, but as long as there is one person willing to take care of her, we owe it to her to be there for her. I truely believe that it my family that is keeping my grand-mother alive. I believe that if my family were to give into my cousin's threats to put her into a nursing home, she would just wither and die within weeks. I used to visit a woman at the local Jewish nursing home every week for 2 years. Every time I walked into that place, and saw all the people just absolutely dying, they were absolutely just shells of human being, I would pray to G-d not to ever let me get to that state. If I did, I hoped some-body would just kill me. These were people that were abandoned by their family; nothing more. The lady I visited with saw her family, maybe, once a month, if she was lucky. My grand-mother deserves more than that.

She gave her life to serving and selflessly taking care of others without any thought or desire for pay back. This is a woman that deserves the simply honor and respect of counting on her family to take care of her until they absolutely cannot do it anymore. With Shmendrick, I have similar feelings. Here is a dog that has given this family 14-15 years of unconditional love, care, and guard. I don't believe he should be put to sleep just because he smells from his own urine and has to be taken care of a lot more every-day. I believe that just because he's a dog doesn't mean he can't make a choice whether to live or die. He could have packed it in 3 years ago when he got sick, but he willed himself back to life. He could have just laid down that nigh, given in, and simply died. I believe he made the choice to live. So now too. He could simply just lay down, not move, not eat, not drink, and basically kill himself.

But, he's not doing that. He's alert. He's keeping himself hydrated and fed. He's peeing and pooping a healthy amount and in a healthy way. Yes, there is some blood in his urine from an agrevated urinary tract infection, but that doesn't seem to be hurting him in a terrible way. Obviously, he's terminal. If he doesn't have cancer or some chronic disease, his age is terminal. But, he doesn't seem to be in pain. My husband's sister says that we have to choose his quality of life or whether he's happy or in pain. I don't agree with that. Yes, she has more experience with animals than I do. I can't argue with her about that. However, just based on behavior and past actions, I can say with a high degree of confidence that Shmendrick seems to making a choice to live and about his quality of life. I think, as of now, he's choosing to live out his last days the way he wants. He's not crying in pain or being static. He's moving around and is smiling about it. I wish there were some doggy depends to make things easier on my mother-in-law, and the smell, but some-one's just going to have to invent them and make a fortune.

I have repeatedly told my husband that I respect any decision that he makes unless there is overwhelming evidence that he is wrong. Of course, my husband is emotionally involved in the situation, but I dont see him making a decision based solely on emotions. I see him carefully examining the situation, sitting with Shmendrick, carefully looking him over, watching his behaviors, etc. I see him making his evaluations in a calmly logical manner. I back him 150%. No doubt, I believe that Shmendrick has weeks, not months, to live. I believe that he will be dead before the year is out. The only question is whether he will die of his own volition, or whether he will be put down. I personally thing that this dog has earned the right to die on his own terms. Unless, the situation drastically changes over the course of the holidays, and it's obvious he is in an extremely dire situation, that is how my opinion's going to stay. For those of you out there that have or have had a dog, I would love to hear what you think. Furthermore, I would also like to hear your opinion on where you think I fit into the whole picture. What is my role supposed to be? Should I interject my opinion? How should I behave? Stuff like that.

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17 Comments:

At 9:25 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Out of sheer curiosity: do Jewish and Arab dogs also fight like cats and dogs?

 
At 9:56 PM, Blogger Olah Chadasha said...

What? You're disgusting. I'm bringing up something serious, and you try to be all, I'm assuming, "cute" by asking a retarded and astonishingly stupid question like that? You know what? In language you can understand, why don't you just piss off!
-OC

 
At 10:02 PM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

OC, I agree with your position in this matter completely, in all respects. I used to have a dog when I was a child, and when the time came for her to pass away, she ran away to die, clearly wanting to do that on her own terms. I also used to have a cat who did exactly the same thing. (I now have another cat, who, thankfully is in good health and not old). But I really do think that animals aren't completely dumb creatures many people believe them to be. I think, they too are capable of choices, though not necessarily in the same way as we do. As long as it's clear that the dog is trying to live, I think he should be allowed to do that.

 
At 10:40 PM, Blogger Olah Chadasha said...

Thank you Irina. I totally understand what you're saying. As I wrote, I totally believe that if he wanted to die, he would stop walking, refuse to eate, refuse to drink, etc. But, he's doing the exact opposite. He's not crying or whining in any sort of pain. I think he wants to die on his own terms, and I think that my husband's family should give him that honor. I just wish it wasn't causing such a big controversy within the house. It's really gotten a bit ugly between my husband and his sister. It's gotten to the point where I can't even or don't even want to talk to her anymore. Her attitude about the whole thing has just turned nasty. She's pist that we all don't agree with her on the subject, and has taken that anger out on us with nasty sarcasm and a really bad attitude. I wish there was also something I could do about that. Got any ideas?

By the way, I didn't forget about the books. I just haven't gotten around to it yet. I'm sorry. You may have to wait until after the holidays for a list. I hope that's OK.
-OC

 
At 11:09 PM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

OC, sure, take your time!

As for your husband's sister, maybe a better idea would be for him to talk to her in private, one-on-one, explain his position, listen to what she has to say, and then discuss why her way of stating her position is inappropriate. Not only is it easier to find a common ground on one-on-one, but the situation won't be exacerbated by a multitude of people dropping their two cents.

 
At 4:20 AM, Blogger shlemazl said...

:-(

 
At 2:24 PM, Blogger Olah Chadasha said...

irina, you make a good point. The problem is that he has talked to her in private about it the first time. Now, it seems that the conversation has gone from "let's decide what's best for the dog" to "I'm going to keep bringing this up until you agree with me". You know what I mean? If he falls, she'll point it out and go, "see, he's falling on his face. he must be in pain and needs to be put to sleep". Over the holidays, my husband put the other dog outside with Shmendrick, for 5 minutes, because it seemed as if Dino (the other dog) was depressed that he didn't have Shmendrick around. They have a very special relationship. Instead of being for the idea, she went, "now, you're torturing Dino by putting him outside. He's ignoring Shmendrick, so now you're just making Dino feel like he's being punished". It's like she's made up her mind about the situation, so now she's doing everything in her power to make others see it the same way. I think that's wrong. She doesn't have a job right now, so she's home all day, and she does nothing to take care of the dog because she's made up her mind that it's time to let him die. It's just a very volatile situation right now.
-OC

 
At 8:48 PM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

That's pretty terrible. Perhaps it's time to talk to her politely, but more firmly, that it's not up to her to decide, and that she's not helping the situation, which is already difficult enough to decide. Again, the best thing is to keep it very polite and quiet, because it sounds like if you start shouting she'll just use it as an opportunity to start another row. Maybe it's possible to get her involved in some activity so she wouldn't spend so much time thinking about the dog?

 
At 9:53 PM, Blogger Olah Chadasha said...

Thanks for the advice, Irina. I will definitely try that. It sounds very reasonable. Hopefully, she'll go for it.
-OC

 
At 3:03 AM, Blogger Irina Tsukerman said...

Good luck with that! Let us know how that goes!

 
At 12:17 PM, Blogger westbankmama said...

I think you guys are taking the right way with this. If the dog was in pain, then it might be the right thing to do to put him to sleep - but if he isn't, then why not let him live? I don't understand the sister's obsession with this topic anyway - it sounds like she is using it to deal with her own issues, whatever they are, and the real question is not Shmendrick at all (I love the name, by the way).

 
At 6:43 PM, Blogger Olah Chadasha said...

wbm, you may have a really good point there. I didn't even think of that! You really think it's possible that her bringing this up has NOTHING to actually do with the dog?!? I actually think you might be correct, now that I think about it. Her general attitude about just about everything the past few months has been so horrendous that I can' really stand to be around her right now. Her boy-friend broke up her with a couple of months ago, and since then, she has been such a pill to be around. She seems alway depressed and moody. You think she's just latched onto this because of all of that? Like, this is merely a symptom of a bigger problem?

wbm, see, this is what comes with being a mom. I didn't even think about that. Thank you so much. You've given me a lot of food for thought.
-OC

 
At 7:00 PM, Blogger Gert said...

Olah:

In your own words: "you need to lighten up a little" (slightly paraphrasing from memory).

 
At 11:18 PM, Blogger Olah Chadasha said...

gert, this isn't a joking article, so if you're trying to use a little "touche" bit on me, this isn't it. It's like cracking a joke if I had written about a family member dying. How about this? Learn some tact.
-OC

 
At 5:41 PM, Blogger Gert said...

What on Earth makes you think I would crack a joke if you'd written about a family member dying? (no, really). Instead you were writing about a dog, in this case I don't really see the moral equivalence. Good luck to and with Shmendrick in any case...

 
At 8:51 PM, Blogger Olah Chadasha said...

gert, get a life, really. You have issues you need to sort out. Dogs are considered family members to their families. Obviously, you can't understand that. Don't lecture me on moral equivilances. Why don't just apologize, admit you were being stupid, so we can move on with our amicable relationship?
-OC

 
At 5:16 PM, Blogger Gert said...

amicable???

Apologise for a little quip, just because you didn't think it was funny? I don't think so...

 

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