I was going to talk about intimacy today, but my friend Jessey sent me this, and asked me if I’d put it up and share it with you. Without further ado, Humane.
They are odd times and places where we discover who we really are. Often we face tough choices, unbelievably complicated dilemmas that we despair over – the resolution is never easy. These things range from deciding how to spend the money you earn, to making the god-like decision of the life or death of your pet. With a title like the one above I am sure you now know what situation I am referring to. ‘Putting an animal to sleep’ because it is the human(e) thing to do…
It is not often I despise my philosophical education, but today, when I had to make that decision, I have never come to hate it more. My fiancee was likewise plagued with emotions and guilt as she struggled to decide if a mere 10% chance of success outweighed the risk of the bacteria spreading to our other rabbit. To make matters worse, the afflicted animal showed little outward signs of distress. He was his normal, docile and relaxed self – but we knew he was dying and the bacteria, like a cancer, would spread from his jaw bone. While he was suffering now, the road ahead was worse. He’s gone now. The decision process, for me, has given me a stronger sense of self-identity than I had before, and given me reason to consider the practical value of my education. In order to make the decision I forced myself to philosophically evaluate the options and settle for myself what it takes for it to be ‘humane’ and now I am reflecting on it, because that’s what philosophy has taught me to do.
It’s one thing to identify suffering in a human, you ask and they can (usually) tell you. Rabbits are prey animals, expertly skilled at hiding their pain and ailments. The only indication we had that he was suffering was his eating habits; it was taking him an hour to eat food he used to eat in 5 minutes and he didn’t even attempt to eat kibble. I’m not going to belabour this point because I don’t think it was humane on the grounds of his suffering – or that he would have suffered more. I know I suffer often, migraines, aches, pains and I know the elderly are in a constant state of pain – and yet we would rather carry on suffering if it means carrying on. Putting myself in his paws (a thought experiment I repeated several times while agonizing over this), that wouldn’t be enough for me to give in.
Casper was one of two rabbits, his companion and he were inseparable (well not literally, as a human it is quite easy to overpower a rabbit – so I could separate them if I had a mind to). They spent as much time together as they could, and since we stopped forcing them into separate cages they’ve slept in the same one, ate in the same one and when released to romp around the living room appeared to be tethered together. If we attempted the treatment, Casper, since he was contagious, would have been kept locked up in his cage. No romping the living room, no sleeping on the bookshelf, no visits with Tanto (the other rabbit). Quarantined in his cage for 3 months while we gave him medication and hoped he was one of the 10%. Again, I don’t think this warranted the decision – were I him, I’d still take 10% and 3 months over 0% and 0 months. Even locked up. Of course, in pain and alone is no way to live…
If you’ve read this far I appreciate your dedication to my plight. Reasoning this through was agonizing, but writing it has been self-destructive. Thinking about the two rabbits together and how much they seemed to rely on one another is where I got my answer in the end.
It was humane for two reasons. First, in his paws, that’s what I would have done. The risk of the infection spreading to the other rabbit is so high that putting Casper down might not have prevented it – however, letting him fight it out would have all but guaranteed that Tanto caught it too. Were I in that position I couldn’t let my desire to live put others, especially those I loved, in danger.
Secondly, it is humane because it selfishly protected us (the humans) from extended emotional trauma… For three months we would have looked at Casper not as the lovable rabbit we had, but through the eyes of knowing masters – asking ourselves if he was getting better or worse… If we had to put him down anyway we would have to carry those three months of emotional agony with us knowing there was nothing we could have done differently for him. The vet was confident he was going to have to be put down anyway. Additionally, and most importantly, if Casper didn’t make it in the end and Tanto caught it after I would have blamed myself.
That was it, that last bit. I have no illusions that Tanto will probably end up with it anyway. But we know now how to look for it, and if we catch it early enough, and if it doesn’t manifest inside the bone, he’ll have a much better chance of making it… Also, now there’s a halfway decent chance that he might not get it – if we kept fighting for Casper then Tanto would have caught it. And, less than 100% is better than 100% when you consider the desirable odds of catching a fatal condition.
Where did this all get me? Well, I feel better and worse at the same time – no matter which we choose, as the vet said, we’d look back on it and ask ourselves if we did the right thing. It was simple utility calculus in the end that made up my mind – and that makes me feel worse about it on reflection. I weighed the options, weighed the likely and unlikely outcomes and the relative utility of each. I can’t help but ask myself if it was fair that I weighed Tanto’s health as greater than Casper’s survival. I can’t stop asking myself what Casper would have said if I could have asked him.
What I do know with certainty is that Casper had a good two years with us, and he enriched Tanto’s life while he was around. He cuddled with us, he was well looked after and lived in an loving environment. Even Kita, our puppy, cuddled with him on the living room floor from time to time (because, unlike Tanto, Casper’s reaction to the dog was to ignore it and so Kita didn’t chase him around, since he didn’t run away – she just laid down beside him). His passive, relaxed reaction to everything helped me to push through stressful times. Right up to the last second he was Casper, totally relaxed.
I know I have fond memories of him, and that he won’t be forgotten. Really, in the end, that’s all we get – the hope that we live on in the memories of those we touched. That, I know, Casper will get.