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An Unselfish Act


May 28, 2013 by Julia

You wouldn’t naturally associate pet owning philosophy and an episode of Friends, but one has given me insight into the other. In a Friends episode entitled “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS”, Joey insists that there is no such thing as a truly unselfish act because doing good makes you feel good. Phoebe sets out to prove him wrong, but he is able to point out the selfish benefit of each act she performs.

If you follow the philosophy set out in that Friends episode, which is originally attributed to philosopher Immanuel Kant, then pet ownership is a selfish act. When you choose to bring a pet into your home, it is because you will enjoy it. Whether it’s buying a young animal or adopting a rescue, you feel good sharing your home with a pet.

There is one act that pet owners perform which comes as close to unselfish as any act can – euthanasia for an aging or ill pet.  

When an animal is ill, there are usually a number of treatments to try. Advances in veterinary care mean more options, but also more decisions. Vets can give you percentages, side effects, and estimates, but nothing is guaranteed. Options range from radical surgery to strict diet regimes. Some offer the hope of being curative or life extending, while others merely offer comfort in the time that is left. Which treatment do you choose? Some treatments may cause your pet distress as it is healing them – how do you balance quality of life against quantity?

When an animal becomes feeble the choice seems, if possible, even harder. The body slowly betrays the spirit with the indignities of age. Whether it’s simple arthritis or a progressive disease, the condition can be managed and slowed, but not cured. How do you measure their spirit? When does the balance tip between the good and the bad?

What time is the right time to make this difficult choice? I wish there were an easy answer. The closest I’ve come to defining the time is that you look for when the bad moments outweigh the good. When that spirit that makes your pet intrinsically who they are flickers rather than shining. When that moment comes, you must take unselfish action. You must make the choice that tears away a piece of your heart while it sets them free.

Xena enjoying a romp. Fall 2008
Note: I wrote this in February 2012, two weeks before losing Xena to Hemangiosarcoma, even though we did not know she was sick.  The timing didn't feel right to post last summer when I began this blog. Friends' recent losses and the anniversaries of losses have brought the issue back to mind and I knew it was time to share it.


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