We laid to rest our first family pet this week. Our sweet Flint. He was an amazing pet. Really. I don’t exaggerate when I say he was the BEST dog ever. Some of you may disagree but you are just wrong because you have never known Flint. His one failing is that he wouldn’t die on his own.
Maybe, as a friend pointed out, it is all our fault. We had him on all sorts of pain medicines and anti-inflammatories, and appetitive stimulants to combat the narcotics. And that doesn’t even include the joint supplements he had been on for a dozen years. If we didn’t have him on all that medicine the pain would have killed him long ago.
So we did the merciful thing and with our doctors guidance we had him put to sleep. The office was wonderful, the staff was loving, and the day was horrible. Flint fell asleep with his lead in my hands as I rubbed his neck and ears. There is no more peaceful way to leave this life than that. He died in the same two pairs of hands that carried him away from his litter move than 13 years ago. We gave him a release from his pain and the ability to die gently in a loving setting.
What do you say to the kids…Our kids age in range from 2-11 so knowing how much to tell them and when to tell them what was something of a challenge. When you have one child you can really tailor the conversations daily in to prepare him or her. Over the last few weeks and this past week in particular we had ramped up a “Flint Awareness Campaign”. We pointed out regularly that Flint appeared to be in pain. We discussed being more attentive because “he could die any day” and in his final days we made sure the kids said goodbye each time they went to bed or left the home.
I followed up with the kids after the vet appointment and had lunch with each of them individually. That gave them a chance to talk with me 1:1 about it and clarify their questions or just tell me how they felt about it all. I am so glad I did that, if nothing more than for my piece of mind. But I think they appreciated it too.
The responses from the kids were of course as different as the kids are. Anna, 2, came with us and wanted Flint “Back. More Flint”. Gracie, 5, who wants to be a vet, was confused why the vet would kill an animal. Her exact words were something like "So you are taking him to the vet so that she can kill him?" She didn’t understand it initially but after I explained what happened, exactly, she was okay with it all. JR, 8, is just sad. He doesn’t want to talk about it because it makes him sad. He needs more hugs and a little more snuggle time and gets frustrated more easily. And Anthony, 11, says “yeah, I understand”. And he does. Maybe he is also a little relieved. There is great stress associated with knowing that someone you love is going to die. He was old enough to share some of that stress with my husband and myself.
One thing I was expecting was more questions from the kids about it all. The question I kept waiting to get (and never did) from my older kids was –
“Why don’t people have that same right to choose their time and manner of death?”
I will give you all my answer because I wasn’t able to share it with them (yet!). My answer (which is in line with the Catechism of the Catholic Church) is that people and animals are different. People have the ability to reason and are created in the likeness and image of God. No matter how much you love your pet, the life of an animal is not weighted the same as that of a human. It is against Divine Law to kill another person. It is a sin of grave and serious matter. There are all sorts of reasons not to kill another person but the one I find myself most in touch with is that when you end someone’s life prematurely you rob them of the ability to further conform to our Lord’s Will. And human suffering itself can bring about great good.
As much as I would love to shield my kids from pain and death I am reminded through this experience that kids are really able to take on a great deal of ‘real life’. They are hardy and resilient. Sheltering them from the basic facts of life may seem like the easy road but it really isn’t.
Because we (unlike animals) have reason, our suffering can bring about love and conversion to Christ. Flint didn’t choose death over suffering. My husband and I chose for him and in doing so brought about more immediate sorrow for us. Our pet was suffering. As an act of mercy we allowed him a peaceful death even though it was painful for us to do so. We are suffering as a family now and we grieve this loss, but our grief is a reminder of how much we loved him. We feel more compassion and love towards our pet and one another in our sorrow than we did last week as we went through out daily lives with him at our side. Our sorrow has enlarged our hearts to love. Rest in Peace sweet Flint.
For more resources on the Catholic teaching on these topics go to:
Animals 2415-2418 (CCC) http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a7.htm
Euthanasia 2276-2279 (CCC) http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s2c2a5.htm