Did I act in his best interest? Not according to Gregory M. Dennis and the AVMA.

It’s funny how you can just be going about your day and then something comes along and punches you in the gut. Not that I have been feeling particularly happy lately. Though my mood is not as relentlessly wretched, I have not quite recovered my equilibrium after that post. I have been feeling sad and melancholy of late, just missing him so much. But today I was at work reading an article on pet guardianship vs. ownership from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that had landed in my inbox when I got to this paragraph:

Guardianship is a fiduciary relationship—the highest civil relationship owed by one person to another—in which a guardian must always act in the best interest of the ward. If this relationship were applied to animals and their owners, Dennis says any number of legal dilemmas could unfold. In veterinary medicine, for instance, euthanasia could become far more problematic because how can ending an animal’s life be in its best interest? (emphasis added)

And then I started crying. “…because how can ending an animal’s life be in its [sic] best interest?” How? Indeed. The guy who said that is an attorney and not a veterinarian. I can’t imagine a veterinarian saying this; in fact my trusted veterinarian gently but emphatically stated many times that NOT ending Alec’s life would not only not have been in his best interests, but also would have crossed the line into the opposite territory, because he had begun to suffer. And he was never going to get better. OR feel better. Ever again. In all likelihood he would die a painful and frightening death if I did not help him transition (a gentle, spiritual way to put what feels like the worst thing you could ever do: kill your best friend [and even as I type this I know it is wrong. I did not kill him – the cancer did. I helped him die, a tragedy of unimaginable proportions that was happening with or without me]). So I can’t imagine a vet saying the above. Even my dad (not exactly a radical type) would disagree. He often says it is ridiculous that humans don’t have the same right (except in Oregon and Washington) to choose death with dignity.

So I know this, right? And I know it is stupid. But why did tears fill my eyes? Why did I feel as though I had been punched in the gut? I emailed Mike and he told me what I needed to hear. He was there, after all. He saw Alec. He saw him more clearly than me because I didn’t want to let go. I had so much trouble. Again words could never capture my agony in taking that final action (how forced I felt…out of options, out of time), which I only could have found the strength to do if I believed with all my heart it was the most compassionate choice – that there really was no other choice if I truly loved Alec. And I did. I do. So I had to. But for some reason, reading this crushed me. I told Mike I feel like there is always just a thin layer between me and crumbling. He said “there is a thin layer for all of us, especially when you care about another being so much.” I guess that’s true.

It’s funny too because while the decision was the hardest most gut wrenching thing I have ever had to do, it wasn’t something I really questioned. Oh I did beforehand, of course. But I never would have made it if it was not the right choice. No, no, no. I have regretted many things since that day – most of all being put in that position in the first place. But I did not make that choice lightly. I guess it will always haunt me even though it was the right thing. What haunts me is having to say good-bye. Of course I wish I hadn’t. But he was dying, with or without my help. And because it was hard on me was not a reason to not end his life. It was an act of compassion, the last one I could do for him. As I have told so many people in a similar position: a painless death is the last gift you can give them (it was so obvious when I said this to my friends; it’s harder to heed your own advice), but it tore my heart out. And there is still a gaping hole there. The wind blows right through.

So you know what? Screw you, Mr. Dennis, for saying that and making me crumble all over again. I know you said it because you have an agenda, which involves trying to scare people away from the term “guardian” with alarmist hypothetical scenarios (even though it has virtually no legal significance). But you should think before you speak. You are wrong and it is not true. How can ending an animal’s life be in his or her interest? Ask a veterinarian. You should be ashamed of yourself, and the AVMA should be ashamed to have you working for them. I am aware that many people euthanize pets prematurely (or put them to death for trivial reasons involving convenience) and this is a tragedy, but many animals also suffer when their guardians, owners, caretakers — whatever terminology we use — well-meaning though they may be, selfishly make their animal companions hold on because they are unable to let go. I am sure you are aware of this fact, but disregarded it in favor of making a dramatic point. Well, I think you are a jerk for making me cry at work.

You see, that’s why writing can be therapeutic. I just shifted from crumbled to righteous indignation in about ten minutes. I am not a big fan of anger, but at least I stopped crying. Until the next punch in the gut. But that’s the thing about grieving: it’s not easy. And sometimes your emotions will be ambushed from the most unexpected places.

For every decision, big and small, I ever had to make on Alec’s behalf throughout his life only one question guided me, and it had nothing to do with finances, convenience, or expediency: What was in his best interests? I don’t mean to imply this was ever easy, especially when he struggled with terminal cancer, and later when his body began to succumb to the disease. In fact these were the most difficult decisions I have ever in my life made (even more difficult than those I had to make after he became paralyzed a mere two years earlier). It is much harder to make life-or-death decisions on behalf of someone else, someone who cannot talk and is entirely dependent upon your judgment. This is a lot of responsibility and it requires setting aside incredibly strong emotions so you can balance your own need to never let go of someone you love so dearly, and the need to see what is in his best interests (and then to act on this knowledge, a separate but equally difficult task).

Alec didn’t like cameras much but I (obviously) overruled him on that; however, I always put his needs first when it counted. There were too many things that were out of my control, but I did the best I could. I think I did okay. I think he was happy most of the time. All I ever wanted was to give Alec a good life. When that was no longer an option, the only thing left for me to give him was a good death. I’m so sorry, Alec. I wish with all my heart I never had to make that decision. I never wanted to let you go. But it would have been wrong to let you suffer.


Filed under Euthanasia, Grief and loss

5 responses to “Crumble.

  1. rose

    Hey Nicole~ran across this just two days ago and thought this is the perfect reply to your post. I have not read the book but have seen Penelope few times over the years, most recently on a vid on the internet where she talks about this very touching and amusing story of one of her chickens ‘coming back’. I’m going to see about getting a copy of this book 🙂

    Ps…from your comment ‘You see, that’s why writing can be therapeutic. I just shifted from crumbled to righteous indignation in about ten minutes. I am not a big fan of anger, but at least I stopped crying.’ You just moved up the vibrational scale (aka Abraham Hicks)…kudos to you.



    Animals in Spirit: Our Faithful Companions’ Transition to the Afterlifeby Penelope Smith

    How do animals feel about crossing over?
    What do they communicate to us after they die?
    How can we contact animals in spirit?
    Losing an animal companion can be a painful experience, yet by examining their transition from a spiritual perspective, Animals in Spirit explores the process of dying from the viewpoints of animals and their people. Learn how animals choose their paths in each life, and the knowledge they leave behind for their humans. As animals make their way from the physical into the spiritual realm, Animals in Spirit can strengthen the union with our beloved friends by teaching us to accept and understand the full experience of life.
    With true stories, insights from animals and their human friends, as well as meditations to help communicate with animals in the spirit realm, Animals in Spirit will help heal the feelings of loss and separation by connecting you to your faithful companion in spirit.

    Publishers Weekly
    Those who live with and love animals dread the moment when their beloved companions will leave them. Smith, an animal communicator for more than 30 years, and author of two books on talking with the creatures, provides a unique and detailed account, from the animals’ perspective, on the ways they transition from the physical to the spiritual realm. Smith discusses the timing of their departure, their feelings about living in the spirit realm, and reincarnation. Stories that recount individual experiences with animals on earth as well as the spirit realm are most of the book, including ones about animals who want their humans to know that they didn’t suffer in dying, that they may have actually orchestrated their death for a particular reason, that they forgive any wrongs or that they are planning to come back in another form. Perhaps most helpful is the chapter in which animals counsel their human friends not to grieve for them but to seek joy instead. For those new to animal communication, Smith includes a short instructional chapter. Readers open to Smith’s claims about animal communication or who grieve departed furry friends will find much in these pages to offer comfort and hope. (Jan.)
    Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information

    • Hi Rose! Thank you for mentioning Penelope’s book. I actually read it while Ali was still here but I have been meaning to read it again hoping it may contain some new insights. I wish I could send you my copy, but it belongs to the library (I have had it out for several months…I keep renewing it! I have 29 books checked out right now!). I am reading the North Star book but I am only on chapter 3 and it is due in a couple days. Someone has a hold on it and I can’t renew. I will just have to wait my turn again and read faster next time!

  2. rose

    Oh hey, I didn’t get the notice of a post. I’ve reset my subscriptions here. I’ve been using some of your comments to help a few on our health forum that have animals in transistion. You just never know how words we write can reach far and wide to help others 🙂



  3. Cara

    hi nicole, i love this post! i love how you go from crumbled to righteous indignation so flawlessly. it’s true, this dennis guy is a jerk for making his thoughtless comments into the void. i was always sure and never more certain that every decision you made involving ali’s interests was with a kind and compassionate heart tempered by prudence and thoughtfulness about what was best for him. you are amazing and it makes me full of righteous indignation for anyone that would ever make you feel like you might have done less for your companion. you are a true, selfless spirit. selfishness would have been to prolong alec’s life and to keep him around until you felt it was time to let him go. on the other hand, YOU choose with the power of almighty love and respect to help him go w/ dignity. i agree w/ your father, it is truly a shame that we don’t accept the dying w/ dignity perspective in north america. even in canada, where we are usually worlds ahead of the us in these sorts of things, we still don’t have a right to die act (see r. v. rodriguez for a heartrenching criminal case of one woman’s struggle to die w/ dignity). if we accepted the death with dignity princple (and not such a focus on the afterlife, heaven, etc), i think we’d for sure get that everyone (including animals) want to go with the least suffering (esp when there is no hope). it all boils down to domestication. dogs were domesticated and they now rely on us for EVERYTHING: lifegiving, care, compassion, and sometimes lifeending (when appropriate). it is our duty and honour as guardians. fuck you, gregory m. dennis with your agenda that likely doesn’t have nonhuman animals at its epicentre. i love you, nicole. xoxo

  4. Eva Martz

    Found you through Teagan’s FB page. We had to put our Border Collie, Willie to sleep Jul 2010. It was the hardest thing to decide to do and we all sobbed going through the process. He wasn’t able to get up off of his bed and that morning didn’t want any food or water (even though I brought the bowls to him on his doggie bed.) I had carried him the day before (Sunday) outside to go to the bathroom and he wasn’t able to support himself to go. We had to have his left front paw amputated Sept 07 from cancer. He didn’t need to suffer anymore too. We also had a golden retriever named Sammie and they were constant companions to each other. Please take care and thanks for Teagan’s FB page.

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