A Question of Ethics

by Laura Crum

I write mysteries featuring an equine veterinarian. The question of ethics, as regarding animals, comes up quite a bit in my novels, and my protagonist sometimes struggles with difficult choices. I think all of us who own and love animals know that these tough choices come along. Like many people, I do believe there is right and wrong in how people treat animals (and no, I am not a fan of PETA). Something happened not too long ago in my real life world that really upset me. It would have made a good incident in one of my novels, but unfortunately this wasn’t fiction.
Before I begin, I want to warn you that this isn’t a very pleasant post. Owners of expensive purebred dogs would do best to click on the “X” now. Because though I like many of you personally, I am in general opposed to the concept of paying a lot of money for a purebred dog when many sweet, intelligent dogs are euthanised for lack of a home. So don’t read this if that stance offends you, because I’m not intending to pick on anyone, except perhaps the acquaintance I talk about here. I am, however, going to state my point of view and express some of my feelings.
I have a friend/acquaintance that, for various reasons, I see from time to time. We both have kids, we both have animals. She has rescued a couple of stray cats; she has a horse. I think she takes good care of her animals. We have things in common, obviously. But she recently did something that, quite truthfully, left me aghast.
My sort of friend has had a small dog the whole time I have known her. Small and furry dog named Maxi. Good with the kids and cats, getting older. Sometimes the friend would complain that Maxi was getting incontinent and deaf. I have an older dog who is getting incontinent and deaf, so I sympathized. We would both remark about how our old dogs still seemed to enjoy life. And Maxi clearly was a happy little dog.
And then, a few months ago this friend started talking about getting a puppy. I had acquired a puppy—a little rescue mutt—a couple of years ago, and I immediately waxed lyrical about what a great addition she was and how she has perked my older dog up…etc. But it soon became evident that my friend had something else in mind.
She asked my opinion about Labs—because she wanted to buy a purebred Lab puppy. I have to admit, I took a deep breath. Amongst my friends/acquaintances, I can think of roughly ten people who have bought a purebred Lab puppy in the last couple of years. With all the sweet, wonderful dogs in this world that are being euthanised for lack of a home, these folks had to spend a thousand dollars or more on a purebred Labrador retriever—the trendy dog of the moment. This particular woman couldn’t decide on whether she wanted yellow or chocolate (rather like deciding on a piece of furniture), and what did I think of Labs?
I told her the truth. (She asked me, remember? I didn’t hand out my unsolicited opinion.) I said I had grown up with a Lab and it was a sweet dog, very enthusiastic and high energy, and pretty stupid, by my lights. Almost every other Lab I have ever met could be described in these words. The smartest one I know is described by her owner as not too bright. (He used to have cowdogs, so he knows the difference.) Another Lab owner that I like said that she preferred dogs that weren’t too smart. Good for her. She knows what she’s signed up for.
I told my friend that I found Labs boring, but if that’s the sort of dog you wanted, fine. Me, I like smart dogs. My Queensland heelers could outthink plenty of people, and the two terrier crosses I have now are both plenty bright. I made a brief plea for the friend to consider a rescue dog (which was shrugged off), and then I asked if she thought Maxi would mind a new puppy. The friend made no answer to this. I got the impression that I hadn’t produced the feedback she wanted (as in Labs are wonderful, I like the chocolate ones –or yellow ones–best), and she was done talking to me about it. Oh well.
So last month I ran into my friend and her new Lab puppy (chocolate, in case you were curious). The puppy was cute, of course, but in my opinion not one/tenth as cute as my little terrier cross mutt. But to each his own. I petted the puppy and looked around. No Maxi.
“Where’s Maxi?” I asked.
The friend glanced pointedly at her young children, shook her head, and said nothing.
It took me a minute, but I got it. And I have to admit, it upset me. I said my goodbyes as quickly as I could and I got out of there. Because I didn’t want to contemplate the fact that my friend had obviously put her old dog down so she could get a new puppy. Old dog was inconvenient, so let’s get rid of her.
I was and am afraid to ask the friend directly, and its none of my business, but the last we talked Maxi was doing fine, just like my old dog. Yes, my old dog is a nuisance in some ways, but she’s been my dog for fifteen years. She’s been my little boy’s companion, as Maxi was my friend’s children’s companion. She’s a sweet dog who still trots happily down to the barnyard to feed the horses with me. I cannot understand the mindset that would put an old friend down because she is inconvenient. Because you want a new, trendy, purebred dog and you don’t want to cope with the old dog any more. I can’t stop thinking about it.
So here’s my question. Am I wrong to be aghast here? I have said nothing to my “friend,” though I am avoiding her. I don’t plan on inflicting my thoughts upon her. I’m not even sitting in judgment on her. How could I? I don’t really know the exact circumstances; I’m not in charge of the morals of others. But I do have a right to my feelings and my feelings are appalled.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope the story is not what I suppose. But my instincts are usually good, and a certain lack of eye contact and just the tenor of our conversations made a strong impression on me. If this were a novel, I’d have Gail McCarthy poke around and find out the truth. But its not, and I intend to keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself. Other than this little blog post, of course…

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2 Responses

  1. I’m equally appalled. I don’t care what kind of new dog she got, purebred or mutt, expensive or bargain-priced. A dog is not merely a “convenience”; it’s a creature with a soul that loves and wants to be loved in return. You don’t euthanize it because you think it’s an impediment to another buy. It’s too bad there aren’t any laws to prevent certain people from having dogs because your friend/acquaintance should be barred from having any. What’ll she do if she gets tired of one of her children?

  2. Oh, Laura, you are so right to feel this way, and it’s obvious that your friend did not have a good conscience about Maxi because she might have phoned and let you know why Maxi was gone, why she had to be put down perhaps, but she did not evidently do this.

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