UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Mercy or misery

Your elderly neighbour’s poodle is sick and suffering, and you can hear it whimpering in the backyard. You’ve asked him several times about whether he plans to put the dog out of its misery. But he lives alone and says he can’t bear to let go of his faithful companion. What do you do?

By Kevin Little and Lee Simpson

Author's photo
Rev. Kevin Little is a minister at St. Luke’s United in Upper Tantallon, N.S.


I don’t trust gut instincts, mine or anyone else’s, so I ask my local veterinarian, Dr. Chris MacDonald, about this dilemma. He tells me that he is charged with the responsibility to look out for the best interests of animals. In this situation, MacDonald says it is cruel to allow an animal to suffer. There may be medical remedies to this whimpering, but if not, the animal may have to be euthanized. There is great compassion in his voice.

Lately, I’ve been reading books on eco-theology. The guru of this movement is the late Thomas Berry, who believed that Christian theo-logy is largely to blame for placing human needs at the centre of the cosmos, making creation an afterthought at best and a mere utility at worst. Berry affirms all parts of the cosmos as evidence of incarnation, not just humanity. Imagine the consequences of looking at the cosmos as part of our body, worthy of nurture, protection and celebration.

Consider the Bible verse “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight” (Luke 12:6). This has been interpreted, “If worthless sparrows are known to God, imagine how much God cares for you.” But if creation is at the centre, imagine how important sparrows are to God.

Putting this theological shift into practice, can we imagine that the poodle has as much claim on our compassion as our elderly neighbour?

I would encourage my neighbour to take his dog to the vet and have it assessed. I would offer to go along, to provide emotional support. However, were my neighbour to refuse this alternative, I would remind him that animal control could get involved in this case, as my compassion for his pet has been stirred. Although it would not be my preference to do so, I would call the authorities if he failed to act promptly.

The poodle is my neighbour, too.

Rev. Lee Simpson is a writer in Lunenburg, N.S. New posts of YBN will appear every other Friday. You can also check out a short documentary about Lee at http://www.ucobserver.org/video/2014/04/ybn/.


The suffering of an animal moves most people to a compassionate response. I want to help my neighbour deal with his poodle’s pain. To do so, I must become informed, and so I take to the Internet and the library.

Happily, my exploration suggests options other than euthanasia. Science can provide medications that alleviate pain and extend life. My neighbour may be so blinded by fear — regarding both his dog and the veterinary bills — that he has denied his pup this life-extending possibility.

But, as a realist, I also search for literature to help animal lovers deal with mourning a pet. And as I do, I turn up another nugget of information: there is an animal rescue service for that breed (and many others) with funding for emergency situations. I am armed with facts and assistance.

Finally, before I knock on his door, I mentally commit to joining my neighbour in a commemorative event to mark the passing of his dog: we can go together to scatter poodle’s ashes along the shore where they enjoyed a daily walk in happier times.

But this incident stirs larger questions within me. Why does the plight of this dog affect me more than images of human suffering in Pakistan? Is it because I feel I can actually do something to help, here and now?

Another difficult issue forces itself on me. I have kept watch as those I cared for lay dying. In some health-care facilities, death was a pain-free and dignified process. In others, this was dramatically not the case. Why does alleviating the suffering of a small animal meet with sanction when our ability to do precisely the same for humans causes such alarm?

Time to ponder Matthew 25:40: “And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

David Wilson%

Observations

by David Wilson

A perfect send-off

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image