Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The accidental vegetarian

At the end of August, my family put down one of our beloved golden retrievers, Scooter. Throughout the last few years of his life, the words "asshole", "punk", "jerk" and "bully" were bandied about to describe him. He was the kind of dog that wanted to be the alpha dog, but since Rosie (our oldest golden and the REAL alpha dog) put him in his place about it, he settled for stealing toys from Hunter, our middle child and total pushover.

Scooter once swallowed a dishtowel. (Yes, you read that correctly.) After a very expensive operation, he was fine, but before it had blocked him up so bad he couldn't get anything down. (The dog didn't just eat it, he swallowed it whole.) After that, he had some intestinal issues from time to time.

Then, last summer, we noticed that he was having problems with more frequency. In March, we thought we were going to lose him when he couldn't even keep water down. He was severely dehydrated and stayed overnight at the vet hospital because he had been vomiting so much and couldn't even drink water. They said there wasn't a blockage, that it didn't look like a parasite, and were fairly confident that whatever had hit him had passed but they kept him to keep him hooked up to an IV for the night.

Flash forward a few months . . . The vomiting is happening again. At first it was occasional and we figured he had just reacted to eating too quickly. It became more frequent, but the vets we were taking him to couldn't find anything wrong. Labs, ultrasounds and other tests were coming back clean.

Ten years ago, we lost our first golden retriever, Sam, to lymphoma and in the midst of all of Scooter's health problems, the terrifying thought hit us that we were experiencing the same thing all over again. Scooter started to refuse food, partly I think because he knew he couldn't keep anything down. At this point he was on a diet of boiled rice and chicken, which isn't really healthy for dogs but it's easy on their tummies when they're sick.

We finally came to terms with the fact that there wasn't anything we could do for Scooter. He had no quality of life and our snugglebug was suffering. The last Saturday in August, we took him up to Elk Grove (where we have always received excellent vet care) and had him put down. Our vet in San Jose had weighed him the week before and he clocked in at 80 pounds (he was a big boy). Dr. G in Elk Grove weighed him before we put him to sleep and he was 68 pounds.

I don't care what the lab panels say, if he lost 12 pounds in a week (15% of his body weight), there was something eating him from the inside. Dr. G said that we had every reason to believe that he had something serious that would likely only show up when it was too late. We said it probably was too late. The dog was too young for more surgery (he'd had several over five years), was too sick to eat and was suffering.

As hard as it was, we truly believed we were being merciful by putting him to sleep. And even months later, we're still struggling with it. We miss seeing him. I miss the way his eyes would close when you scratched his head in just the right spot. I always laughed at him because he seemed to think he was this petite puppy who could cuddle up to your neck -- perfect snuggle size -- except he was 80 pounds of blonde ambition. I'm chuckling as I write this because I'm picturing Hunter on the floor, chomping away on a Nylabone and Scooter walking up to him and snatching it. No contest from Hunter.

My dog was a great dog and I still wish there were more things we could have done. But the only thing we could do to ease his suffering was put him to sleep. He died with dignity - we couldn't bring ourselves to let him go on and not be able to do normal things (like eating) without major intervention and if we had, he was slowly starving to death already.

Yet so many animals die horrible, ugly deaths needlessly. I don't care if they can't communicate with me like a human being, they still can experience pain, fear and suffering. And it's because I couldn't stop Scooter's suffering that I feel the need to stop the suffering of other animals. I can't change anyone's mind on this (and I'm not sure I'd want to purposely do that), but I can feel peace with myself for not creating a greater demand for meat - one that causes other animals to suffer.

Culturally speaking, I could never imagine eating dog meat. However, I have (up until now) seen no problem with beef. There are parts of the world where this is exactly the opposite and really it's our social, cultural moors that define which animals we feel okay with consuming.

I've dabbled with vegetarianism before, but it's only been recently that I have really thought through my feelings about animals what I feel I can give back to them. And I'm pretty sure choosing not to eat meat is a big start for me. Scooter was a part of our family - a very important part - and there still seems to be a shadow on the house when his name is mentioned. We had him cremated and the box of ashes was on the mantle until it became just too hard for my mom.

I love animals and I don't think I'll be eating them anymore.

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