DEAR CRABBY: When I was growing up, I was taught to love animals and I had several. For various reasons I never had to deal with making the decision to put one to sleep.
As I grew older, I realized we don't have the right to "own" living creatures, but we can take care of them. Eventually, my dog became ill and I had to make the choice to put him down. It was heartbreaking, and while I support my local animal shelter, I vowed to never again have another animal I would have to make that decision for.
Now my children are asking me to find a dog for them, and I'm at a loss about what to do. Do I first make them aware that the animal we love will die in some fashion, including that we may have to decide to put him to sleep? Or do I let them have an animal and let them deal with the heartbreak when the time comes? Thanks for your input. -- ANIMAL GUARDIAN IN MICHIGAN
Dear Animal guardian,
Death is a part of life. It's inevitable, and trying to ignore it is what people do 99% of their day.
You have lived a sheltered life, even with your softening of the idea of death by calling it "sleep", and now you are reaping the cost of that insulation. A very small death, important to you, no doubt, has happened. And now you are emotionally unprepared to deal with it yourself, or even to offer advice on the consequences of death to someone else.
Here is a situation that I've had to deal with, and why it makes me a little numb to your quandary: I was walking to an office job when I heard a squealing sound. it was organic, like a pig makes. As I got closer I saw that a young woman had backed over a racoon. Several bystanders were lollygagging around just watching as this half of an animal boiled out its vocal ripping last breaths. They did nothing because they had never had to deal with death in any real way. This animal suffered because death is "inappropriate" in our lives. I walked next door, got a log from someones winter stash, and used it to break the raccoons neck. Then I went to work.
Some of you reading may shudder and ask "why didn't I try to help it?" or quibble over the "psychotic response" I gave. This animal was dead, it just didn't know it.
Because most people never have to see such a thing as this, they vilify it, or let it send them screaming to whatever bobble can catch their attention; iPhones, twitter, Michael Bay movies, etc. When push comes to shove, they are completely psychologically unprepared, even past the normal grieving process, such as yourself. You are incapable of moving on properly to the point where you want to hide from your emotions, and stunt your own children.
Death can be introduced into a child's life without destroying their innocence. It needs to be introduced slowly, with perspective and the solemnity that it deserves. Keeping it from them entirely won't help them in the long run. I would begin with smaller pets, such as goldfish or a hamster. When those pets die (and they will), treat it as a practice run of life to come. Use it as a moral lesson, if you need to, such as "Death is the greatest reason why we need to be kind to one another. Our time here is short, and we should appreciate it and try to make not only our own lives better, but others as well", or some other nonsense.
Sheesh. Your whole life has been altered because of the death of one animal. What are you going to do when the death of your own species dies? Perhaps you should take some preventative grief counseling.