By Marc Bekoff,
Psychology today – Animal Emotions
Our best friends force us to make very difficult choices, as they should...
Lauren Slater's new book called The $60,000 Dog: My Life With Animals is her "intimate manifesto on the unique, invaluable, and often essential contributions animals make to our lives." It raises many interesting, difficult, and frustrating questions about the sorts of relationships we form and try to maintain to varying degrees with nonhuman animals (animals). While I don't plan to review this wide-ranging book here (for various reviews please go here), I think it's worth sharing one of the dilemmas Ms. Slater faces as her dog Lila, a Shiba Inu, develops glaucoma and her veterinarian's bills pile up.
Lila's eyes or Clara's camp?
As the costs for taking care of Lila's eyes accumulate and become very hefty, Ms. Slater, a long-time animal lover, is forced to consider choosing between fixing Lila's eyes and sending her daughter, Clara, to an expensive summer camp. Her husband, Benjamin, who believes “that an animal’s worth is roughly equivalent to its edibility", thinks it's a no-brainer - the answer clearly is choosing Clara's camp rather then trying to save Lila's eyes. However, Ms. Slater unapologetically doesn't see it that way at all.
This wide-ranging book is a great one for asking us to face up to who we are, who "they" (other animals) are, what they want and need from us, and what we actually owe to them, especially those animals with whom we choose to live and who totally depend on our goodwill. Ms. Slater also considers a number of different situations in addition to providing veterinary care for Lila or sending her daughter to summer camp in which she (and others) might have to choose between their dog and their child or other human being.
When Ms. Slater considers, for example, the time she lost track of her dog and a young Laura she writes:
Does this then mean that if forced to choose between my children and my dogs I would have to stop, to consider? If I were to say yes, then who would I be but one of those beasts my husband hates, fit for the soup pot surely. ... If forced to make the choice (big sigh) I would, of course and without reflection, choose my children, my babies, my darling, my doves, but not because I love them more. I would choose them because their humanity comes prepackaged with a particular prize, booby prize: the future. We know it's out there while other animals we think do not. For this reason I believe, the human species suffers more at the sight of the final door. (p. 212)
Our power is not a license to kill
Some of Ms. Slater's discussion made me think of the different relationships we have with the animals with whom we choose to live and for whom we have to make health and end of life decisions, those into whose homes we've moved and redecorated nature for our not their benefit, those who we keep in various conditions of captivity and kill (zoothanize not euthanize) when they don't fit into a breeding program, for example, and those who are more on their own. For example, I wonder why some people will freely choose to kill other animals for sport but would not kill their (or another) dog for fun. I do realize with profound sadness that some people regrettably do kill dogs for fun or allow dogs to kill other dogs, but they are in the vast minority.
I highly recommend The $60,000 Dog because we must continually assess and reassess our relationships with other animals and appreciate what we can do for them and what they can do for us. To get the discussion going, I'd choose to save Lila's eyes. I realize there are many other questions embedded in my decision, including for example, how old Lila is and is she otherwise healthy. Nonetheless, making a choice in this difficult situation, one I'm sure that many others also face, can lead to important discussions and provide excellent lessons in humane education.
Of course, I fully realize in the real world that it won't always be the case that the well being and interests of nonhuman animals, domesticated and others, override the well being and interests of humans. However, the decisions we make need to be informed and be the very best and most humane possible. Other animals just like us want to live in peace and safety, and they depend on us for their very lives and we must take this power and responsibility very seriously.
This power is not a license to kill.