My Grandma, My Dog – A Compassionate Death for Both

by Jane St. Clair

Author of Walk Me to Midnight


“Compassion and Choices” wants Arizona and other states to pass laws that allow doctors to poison their patients. They used to be “the Hemlock Society” but now they call themselves “Compassion and Choices.”

One of their slogans is “LET ME DIE LIKE A DOG.” Apparently, they believe that if we offer dogs “compassionate choices,” why not the same for Grandma? This is hard for so many of us simple Westerners to understand. Most of us are not intellectual enough, advanced enough, or living life on a high enough plane of compassion to compare our grandmothers to our dogs.

For example, a dog does not look back on his life when he is dying the way Grandma does. Dogs don’t say goodbye to other dogs or to their children — in fact, the dog’s children probably got sold off years ago. Dogs don’t analyze their past mistakes. Dogs don’t make out wills. Dogs don’t think about much when they’re dying because they don’t realize they are dying. The truth is dogs don’t think much even when they are not dying , which is why most of us do not compare our grandmas to our dogs.

To the ordinary dumb person, it sounds as if Compassion and Choices would put our dying Grandma in a car and drive her to a veterinarian and have her put her to sleep or some such thing. She deserves a compassionate death because she, like a dog, is no longer wanted or needed because she is dying. But is this truly the compassionate death “Compassion and Choices” believes it to be?

What if we could really ask our dog’s opinion? Especially because in real life a dog cannot express his opinion when you put him to sleep.

If you could ask your dog if he wants to be put to sleep, he would no doubt say “I do not wish to be put to sleep. No thanks. I’ll take my chances with life. I’ll crawl under the bed. I’ll eat grass for a few days. I do not wish to be put to sleep. That is your idea, not mine. I’m sorry you can’t stand to see me so sick, but that’s your problem, not mine. You’re being compassionate to yourself, not me.”

Most dogs hate to go to the vet for any reason whatsoever. They particularly do not wish to go to the vet to be put to sleep.

Dogs want to live. How do we know this? They avoid death. They hide from danger. They run away from fires and mountain lions. They growl or attack if another dog threatens them. Dogs take a pro-life stance all day long. They believe “where there’s life, there’s hope.”

While you will not necessarily hurt your dog’s feelings by offering him death by lethal injection or poison, you will definitely hurt your grandmother’s feelings if you do this. Grandma can think through such things, and she may decide you are after her money. If she dies now, she won’t waste your inheritance on nursing home bills and doctors. You won’t have to wait around for your money.

If you gave your dog a vote about turning over his health care and end-of-life issues to the government, your dog would probably vote no. The government already runs dog pounds that routinely execute three million dogs and cats a year for no real reason except humans do not wish to take care of them. Dogs in “shelters” get killed for what dogs probably consider silly reasons — because humans move into apartments that don’t allow dogs, because dogs are not obedient or because they are old or because they are sick. This would not seem like choices and compassion to dogs. Is that the government model we want for dying people — round them up and put them in nursing homes or hospices? That’s the compassionate choice government gives dogs.

Someone once observed that your average dog is nicer than your average human. This is probably true. When dogs threw their lot in with us thousands of years ago, they definitely got the short end of the stick.

Do you really think the way we treat dogs is all about compassionate choices?

My dog Sherman