June 22, 2014

How can "mercy" killings of pets be justified, when they never attempt suicide?

One of the more galling rationalizations for killing a pet whose near future looks dark is that, in some way, the animal is ready for death and perhaps even sending a signal to the owner that it's time to go and please do the job for me.

Their movement gets stiff, they don't walk or jump around as much or at all, they aren't as playful, they stop eating and drinking — they're just laying around, waiting for you to put them out of their listless misery. It's only humane of you to honor their request and have a doctor come pump barbiturates into their veins to shut off their nervous system.

Wait just a second — if they're so miserable and beyond all hope, why aren't they trying to do the job themselves? Not like it would be hard for most pets. Over a lifetime, they have cultivated a good sense of what things and places are dangerous, so instead of avoiding them, they could go toward them. Y'know, walk out into busy traffic, climb someplace high and go splat on the ground below, pick a fight with a nasty predator or rival... anything, really.

In fact, animals never commit suicide (which is not to say that they don't sometimes behave in a way that results in their own death). Their survival instinct is too strong. I suspect the same is true for human beings, and that suicide is a maladaptive disease of civilization (the exact mechanism being irrelevant for now). I don't recall ever hearing of hunter-gatherers taking their own lives. In any case, we sure don't see it in animals, particularly not pets who are winding down their last days.

Laying still, breathing slow, refusing food and water is their way of conserving rather than wasting energy so that they'll live as long as possible in the final stage of life. Yes, even trying to eat, digest, and excrete food would be a waste if the bodily systems required are performing poorly or winding down.

If they seem sad, it is because they sense the end is near — not sad because you're taking too long to bump them off already. Like any other living creature, they want to go out on their own terms, and not have their lives taken from them by some paternalistic authority. They want to be respected and leave with their dignity intact, not to get snuffed out in a final disrespectful humiliation.


  1. " I don't recall ever hearing of hunter-gatherers taking their own lives."

    No, but there was ritual suicide in medieval Japan, a strongly farming society - and quite common, according to some.

    I remember that scene in the Godfather where the one character says ritual suicide was practiced by Ancient Roman politicians. Don't know if that's accurate though.

  2. Steve Johnson6/22/14, 9:31 PM

    Horses with broken legs?

    (Not that they attempt suicide but that they won't recover and, being prey animals, wouldn't expect to survive in the wold more than a few hours in that condition)

  3. Steve Johnson6/22/14, 9:32 PM

    Curtis -

    That scene was a negotiation not a history lesson (the characters themselves never intended it for it to be accurate).

  4. Off-topic, but here is an article about how some cities intentionally designed sitting benches to be uncomfortable to discourage loitering - def. seems like a cocooning trend:

    "An example of a pervasive homeless deterrence technology is benches designed to discourage sleeping. These include benches with vertical slats between each seat, individual bucket seats, large armrests between seats, and wall railings which enable leaning but not sitting or lying, among many other designs. There are even benches made to be slightly uncomfortable in order to dissuade people from sitting too long. Sadly, such designs are particularly common in subway, bus stops, and parks that present the homeless with the prospect of a safely public place to sleep."


  5. I'd heard stories about how when dogs know they're dying they'll simply go off into the woods. I've also heard of dogs going under the porch to die. Never seen it myself though, our old dog simply became incapable of movement, and I wasn't around for the more recent one.

    I was pondering what means would be available to animals before civilization. Falling to their deaths from heights might be the only available way that's quick. I was discussing the "rat park" experiment last weekend, and I suppose if you wanted a less paternalistic way to enable animal suicide you could present them with the alternative of regular or heroin-laced water (they can distinguish them because the latter tastes worse).

  6. Jolly Jamaican6/23/14, 6:37 AM

    Agnostic, when are you going to admit that it's pretty weird for adult men such as yourself to be into cats? Men naturally gravitate towards dogs, that's the way it's always been. There's a reason we call them Man's Best Friend, whereas cats are associated with fussy old ladies and spinsters (but I repeat myself). All this painful to watch rationalization you've been engaging in under this topic won't erase 30,000+ years of human-animal bonding experience.

    I can't see a day when society doesn't raise suspicious eyebrows at "cat-men."

  7. What about drowning your pet rock?

  8. "30,000+ years of human-animal bonding experience"

    Which has resulted in dog owners viewing and treating their animals more like tools for better living, rather than moral equals deserving respect, hospitality, and charity.

    These two posts have been about euthanasia, not dog people vs. cat people, except to the extent that the dog-people biases of most vets likely lead them to putting down more animals than they should -- of any species. And to the extent that dog people don't seem to mind as much when their vet acts in such a way.

  9. BTW, better spinsters than those pathetic Sex and the City types who strut around town with their saggy butt in yoga pants, as though they "still got it goin' on," with their ridiculous fashion accessory of a dog by their side to draw in extra attention.

    Spinster cat ladies have insightfully and gracefully bowed out of the mating market after their expiration date is up, and will die with their dignity and honor intact. The deluded still-got-it-goin'-on, doggie-show-er-off-ers bring nothing but shame upon themselves, and on their poor pets who they humiliate with trendy clothing, doggie yoga, doggie acupuncture, etc.

    Speaking of which, the other group that is almost uniformly pro-dog, airheaded, refuses to age out of the mating market, and lives a life of unrepentant shame and dishonor -- faggots. The perfect match for the Sex and the City crowd of dog owners.


  10. A cat is not your "moral equal" you idiot, it's an animal. So are dogs. Keeping dogs to perform useful funtions doesnt preclude people from forming strong bonds with those animals either, that you think so just shows your ignorance. But they are not people either, you don't treat them as "moral equals".

  11. Jolly Jamaican6/23/14, 11:39 AM

    Agnostic, re: dog people vs cat people, I know these two last posts are about euthanasia, but I looked under the "pets" tag as per your recommendation and I really can't believe what I'm reading. I especially like the way you hint that male dog-owners are more likely to gay. I think it's safe to say that, on this subject at least, you're no longer operating in reality.

    viewing and treating their animals more like tools for better living

    It's funny you should say that. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the role of a cat in a woman's life is to play the aloof alpha that's missing in their lives. A cat is basically a substitute for the high-quality, standoffish men who are no long courting them post-wall. A man has no need for an animal with such a temperaments in his life. The qualities that men value are loyalty and friendship, and dogs readily provide both. I'll say again that it's rather unnatural for a man to be "cat person."

  12. Men are not usually cat people because a solitary, insubordinate, inscrutable creature doesnt make a good team member. They do appeal to psycopaths though, which are usually the kind of men that keep cats, and mannish women.

  13. You euthanize them to save them from pain. Seeing a loved companion in pain is not a very fun experience, for the pet or the person.

  14. Jolly Jamaican6/23/14, 12:18 PM


    A study of psychopaths' pet owning habits would be pretty interesting (and highly revealing, I expect).

  15. "BTW, better spinsters than those pathetic Sex and the City types who strut around town with their saggy butt in yoga pants, as though they "still got it goin' on," with their ridiculous fashion accessory of a dog by their side to draw in extra attention."

    That's a little too harsh, nobody has adapted well to modern dysfunction.

  16. "I'll say again that it's rather unnatural for a man to be "cat person.""

    Not really. Having a cat is more like having an equal friend, having a dog is like caring for a two year old child, except for the more feral breeds.

    Furthermore, I disagree that there is a stereotype that men who own cats are feminine. Strangely, this will be the second time that I reference the Godfather, but in the first Godfather movie, Vito Corleone stroking his pet cat was used to convey menace. This stereotype was parodied in the Austin Powers' movies, where the archvillain owned a cat.

  17. I'm not sure animals really plan or are self aware that way. There are things they can meaningfully consent to and things beyond there understanding. I'm think we can be comfortable being paternalistic to an animal this way.

    Plus, y'know, we eat meat. We're happy taking the decision of life and death over an animal, for our own ends. The relationship is different, yet just as the relationship between man and a meat animal doesn't preclude respect, fondness or good treatment, neither does the relationship between man and a pet preclude the authority over life and death.

    A study of psychopaths' pet owning habits would be pretty interesting (and highly revealing, I expect).

    On psychopaths animal owning habits, I'd think they probably don't, or they like large and aggressive pitbull type animals, violent accessory animals. Think of all the young Blacks with staffies. That's the psychos choice for sure.

  18. Agnostic, dogs and cats can't conceive of suicide. They have no abstract understanding of life and death. Indeed, a three year old child can't understand these things and is already much smarter than any dog or cat.

  19. theo the kraut6/23/14, 2:30 PM

    @Curtis7:27 PM

    > ...ritual suicide was practiced by Ancient Roman politicians




  20. I like both cats and dogs. I wouldn't really consider myself to be a cat person or dog person, exclusively.

  21. OT, but this Washington Post opinion piece by Alexandra Petri on Millennial phone usage is right up your alley, Agnostic.

    Excerpt: "To be frank, a phone is just something I carry around so that if I ever wonder about anything, I can answer my question immediately without having to talk to a person. That is what it is best for: avoiding human contact. At the dinner table, it is what I look at instead of my family. On the bus, it is what I gaze intently at instead of the human beings around me. People on the train who actively use their phones to make calls are frowned upon, subtweeted at and shunned. This is not what a phone is for!"


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  23. How can we justify subjecting women to gynecological health care developed by men? If women had ever wanted that, they would have done it for themselves.

    Of course, I in no way imply an analogy between gynecology and veterinary medicine. ;-)

  24. Cat owners are evenly male and female. Don't know about studies of real-world psychos, but Buffalo Bill -- the tranny serial killer from Silence of the Lambs -- famously kept a little doggie as his pet.

    But most psychos wouldn't prefer pets at all, as they lack empathy -- and you need more empathy to be a pet owner. Jeffrey Dahmer, for instance, only cared about killing animals (including dogs and cats) in order to dissolve them in liquid and study their innards, bones, etc.

    How about the closest thing to psychos that we know about -- violent ghetto blacks or Messicans. Cat people or dog people?

    More evidence for dog people as liberals -- faggots, ghetto blacks, and middle-aged sluts.

  25. "I'd heard stories about how when dogs know they're dying they'll simply go off into the woods. I've also heard of dogs going under the porch to die."

    Right, but not to kill themselves -- to be left alone to die on their own terms. I suspect that's also due to not wanting to make it obvious to predators or scavengers that they are vulnerable and easy pickin's. If they're going to die, they want to ensure that they don't also provide food for their enemies and thereby give them an edge.

    In the moments leading up to euthanasia, how do we know that the pet doesn't view us not as benevolent angels of death, but as greedy carnivores who want to feast on their carcass? "Oh shit, now that I'm a goner, they're gonna kill me and eat me!" Not exactly ending your relationship on a positive note.

    Dying naturally, they are more assured that they aren't going to be eaten up.

    "Seeing a loved companion in pain is not a very fun experience, for the pet or the person."

    Well, better to let them suffer through some pain while you take the time to evaluate all options to see if they can be saved for awhile longer and die naturally. Otherwise they would be begging you to end their pain, when instead they're crying out for you to help them out of their situation.

    If nothing can be done, at least keep them on painkillers or something like that, not just shut them down altogether.

    I can't see anything other than real freakish, abomination-type cases justifying euthanasia.

    BTW, your point about it being painful for the owner is more to the point -- owners are driven more by the desire to end their own pain, awkwardness, and helplessness. We should never put our own minor psychological discomfort above our pets' very lives.

  26. "I'm not sure animals really plan"

    Well, if they have some huge need, they'll go about trying to satisfy it. If they're painfully hungry, they seek out food. If their balls are swollen, they go out on the prowl. If they were gripped by so much pain that death would be preferable to it, they'd try to get killed.

    "Plus, y'know, we eat meat. We're happy taking the decision of life and death over an animal, for our own ends."

    Not over companion animals. The hardcore animal rights people try to generalize everything to being about "animals," but we are perfectly allowed to discriminate between companion vs. work vs. game animals.

    Treating pets as companions only when it benefits us -- feeling loved, feeling like part of a social unit / team, etc. -- and then treating them like work or game animals when companion status is no longer convenient for us -- when their health is in danger -- is trying to have it both ways. It's shameful and hypocritical.

    Decide what kind of animal they are, and do your best to treat them accordingly. No different than treating kin as kin, rather than kin as kin when it's convenient, and then kin as strangers when that is convenient.

  27. My instinct is not to reject the use of cats as lab animals, even though that may mean they get electrodes stuck directly into their brains, have their eyes sewn shut at birth, get fitted with eyepieces that only allow in vertical lines, and all other sorts of treatment that would be sick and degrading if those were companion animals rather than lab test animals.

    But you deserve nothing but shame by flip-flopping between different roles for the animal you own, each shift of frame designed to boost your personal and private well-being.

  28. "In fact, animals never commit suicide"

    I think some do. A little while ago I had two Indian Runners that were mates. One of them died due to stress, and the other refused to eat until it eventually died. It separated itself from the herd.


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