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Caitlin Kennell Kim
Fr. Rick Malloy, SJ
General Questions
Fr. Tom Ryan, CSP
Ecumenical, Interfaith
Neela Kale
Culture, Moral Theology
Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
Mike Hayes
Our readers asked:

My pet is dying but I don’t really believe in euthanasia for pets. Is it morally objectionable to let her suffer in her old age?

Neela Kale Answers:

Suffering and death are part of life, for humans and animals alike. We strive to eliminate unnecessary suffering brought about by cruelty and sin. But there is no such thing as a life without suffering, in spite of what popular culture promises. For human beings, suffering can be redemptive and lead one to a deeper commitment to Christ who suffered and died for us on the cross. For animals, the natural suffering of old age also seems to be a part of God’s plan for them as God’s creatures.

In an affluent culture, some people spend money on medical interventions to prolong pets’ lives in a way that would have been unimaginable a generation ago and that remains unimaginable in places where such sophisticated medical treatment is outside of the reach even of humans. You are under no obligation to provide this kind of treatment for an animal. Do your best to keep your pet comfortable and continue to provide for her basic needs of food, water and shelter. Beyond that, you can let nature take its course with a clear conscience.

The Author : Neela Kale
Neela Kale is a writer and catechetical minister based in the Archdiocese of Portland. She served with the Incarnate Word Missionaries in Mexico and earned a Master of Divinity at the Jesuit School of Theology. Some of her best theological reflection happens on two wheels as she rides her bike around the hills of western Oregon.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • C A Dark

    There’s no answer to this. Pro-euthanasias will play the guilt trip on someone who refuses it for their pet, while anti-euthanasias will do likewise to the other party. It’s as bad as vegetarians slanging away at meat-eaters.
    At the end of the day, we will all stand before God and attempt to justify our decisions. The gift of life is not ours to give or take, whether the patient be animal or human. I am myself, right now, in this very dilemma for a pond-fish. Ah, you say, who cares about a fish? Well, I do. And the fish is making its own decisions; it is eating less, is hiding away and objects to being interfered with. It cannot speak to me to make its wishes known, so how can I make a decision to end its life before God’s appointed time?
    Suffering hurts, all animals suffer because of Man’s fall from grace, even though they themselves are sinless. Sickness and death itself is Man’s lot, following the Fall. The subject is deep, profound and in our lifetime on Earth, probably unfathomable.

  • PD86

    I have an older animal and I agree with allowing nature to take it’s course, the same course I expect to take some day. If she were to have a stroke or something that prevented her from eating or drinking then of course, I would not simply allow her to lay until death from starvation or dehydration occurred, but otherwise I would allow her to live our her life.

  • objuankyoti

    Ms. Kale musings must be based on some perverse form of Christianity as I don’t believe in both the same God or the same Christianity that she’s promoting here. Leaving a poor animal to suffer unabated and die in pain!!!!–will the animal form a deeper commitment to Christ as a result of it?–really? you actually said that in this context? –what is wrong with you???!!!–how ignorant. Would you do that to your child–just food, water, basic needs—-and if things go south, let nature take its course, no intervention. You’re going to need more than a wink and a prayer to absolve the sin your promulgating on this issue.

  • bmmg39

    There are pros and cons to both sides. There is no perfect answer.

  • Guillaume

    As the owner of a wonderful dog companion, I agree with much that has been said above. Putting down an old, dying animal that is in pain is the right thing to do, sad though it may be. It is the standard of care we owe our pets. You say “(I) don’t really believe in euthanasia”. You might want to ask yourself on what moral grounds is this belief (or lack thereof) held? If you believe that nature should simply run it’s course, shouldn’t you also believe that owning a pet is wrong (a respectable point of view)? From a moral point of view, don’t you find it paradoxical that you are reluctant to show your pet companion the simple mercy that hunters routinely afford their wounded prey : a quick death to end pain?

  • Jacque

    The question for me is always “What day is it that I choose to take my friend to die?” Older pets have good days and bad days. What day is THE day?

    • http://www.heatherclemenceau.wordpress.com HeatherClemenceau

      It is better to take action one day too soon rather than one week too late.

  • Elizabeth

    Neela Kale, your reply is beyond illogical. Not all living things suffer, not even humans. Some die quickly, painlessly, and mercifully, either through natural means, immediate traumatic death, or through pain relieving medications given when close to death. If you’re talking about spiritual suffering, which you seem to allude to with your reference to suffering being redemptive, animals do not need redemption. They are created perfect and without sin.
    Most animal caretakers make every decision for their pet. Whether a cat is to be allowed in or out, if an animal gets proper feeding, love, attention, and medical care. To recuse oneself of the final decision to assist a pet’s death in a humane and merciful manner is convenient only for the human who is too selfish to take on the ultimate, loving responsibility of making sure their pet’s final days are free from suffering. Euthanasia is not “sophisticated medical treatment”. It is a standard of care that is both affordable and morally acceptable – some might say morally required.
    Is euthanasia always needed? No. Not if the animal is not in pain. But to say it is morally acceptable and will leave someone with a clear conscience to allow an animal to die a lingering, suffering death because a human believes the suffering is part of God’s plan for that animal is, in my opinion, missing the point of being an ethical and compasionate human being.

    • tab

      This is a very difficult issue. Early this morning I lost my best friend of 17 years! I got Yahtzee as an 8 week old puppy two months after my husband of 30 years decided he didn’t want to play house any more and filed for a divorce without discussing it with me. I have always felt that God put that little guy in my life to help, guide and teach me and as a gift from God I had no right to take his life, that was God’s chose, no mine. It was my job to take good care of and love this little creature. After his 17th birthday on Dec 24, 2014, he began to get noticeably worse. He had lost most of his sight and hearing by then but now his spine was deterrating and by January he could no long walk. I loved and took care of him as I would have a loved one, but the last three or four hours of his life were very hard for me to watch. I just wanted this sweet animal that had been with me through so much to fall asleep and go peaceful. I read once that as a human being you cannot be for life where abortion is concerned and at the same time think Euthanasia is okay, you must be the same across the board,
      otherwise you can not say you are for life! I chose not to have Yahtzee put to sleep even through the last weeks of his life required me taking care of an invalid. I just thought that’s what a Christian should do. After experience Yahtzee’s last hours of suffering I don’t know if I can do the same thing for my second Shiz tzu, Shelby, who is 7 years old. The point made that animals do not suffer in the same way as humans, is helpful, and I hope true, but the reality is we REALLY don’t know what they are experiencing .

    • Midnight

      Well Elizabeth you know death is painful now mater what. I don’t believe in it for mutable reasons. This way is painful, and also scary as hell. I mean think about it if you were a animal and your were sick and you knew your time was coming and then some vet came to you and did all of the normal preparations and then put a needle in you and then you start to loss contrul of your body and your brain starts to shut down. I rather be in pain and die than like that because I can take my time till God calls me home. Also anime can feel when there time is up(When there sick) thats why cat will find a conferrable spot and go to sleep and never wake up. I think you should make your pet conferrable and just wait. There are more than on option that to kill an animal like that. And when you kill an animal be cute of it being too old is upsetting. Let the anime live. You can’t give up on them you need to acomdies for them like taking care of them and keep them on one floor and more. I think Humans give bull crap to meanings and I think it’s not resopanbl as an pet owner. Your pet looks to you with trust and your definition of ready is not there’s so think twice. We all are going to suffer it’s in life we can’t define it or denied it so this is not human it’s cruel.

  • Heather

    I agree wholeheartedly with Adrienne, Adam, and Veronica — it is our duty to our animal brethren to relieve them of their suffering whenever it is in our ability to do so. Anything else is sheer cruelty, and as the Bible says, “The righteous care for the needs of their animals, but even the ‘kindness’ of the wicked is cruel”…

    Also, FYI, in some localities allowing an animal in your care to languish and die a slow horrible death due to lack of appropriate medical treatment (including euthanasia) is a class of animal cruelty known as “medical neglect” and punishable by law.

    Just a vet tech’s two cents on an issue very close to my heart.

  • Veronica

    If i take it upon myself to adopt a pet and give it shelter, food and love, then I am responsible for that animal’s final days. I can walk to the medicine cabinet and get aspirin for pain. But my dog cannot. I am his guardian and companion and yes, his friend. I will not let him suffer.

  • David


    Such means of preserving human life as cannot be obtained or used without extreme difficulty in terms of pain, expense, or other burdening factors. The burden applies either to the person whose life is at stake or to those on whom his or her welfare depends. In addition, means should be considered extraordinary if, when used, they do not offer a reasonable hope of benefit to the one for whom they are intended.

    There is no general obligation to use extraordinary means to keep alive, on the premise that God does not exact what is beyond the ordinary power of humans in general.”

    -Fr. John Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary

  • Adam

    Adrienne, I agree with your argument completely. As pet owners we are already putting animals into an unnatural state. At that point it is hypocritical to draw arbitrary line between what is natural and what is not. I have put down many pets when their time came. Allowing an animal to suffer needlessly because of your own human moral objections is reprehensible.

  • Adrienne

    We did not want to euthanize our dog. We put this off for 2 years.. Things became very bad for the dog and ourselves…It took a very out of control situation to wake us up. She could not have survived on her own. She was suffering and so were we.
    I think one needs to recognize that we take pets in, not by their will, to a domesticated life. If they were truly living by the nature that they were created in, they would have died on their own because they would not have our man made shelters to keep them safe from the harm that mother nature would naturally bestow… It would be survival of the fittest… I don’t think it is fair to let a pet suffer, unnaturally because we have tried to enforce our lifestyle upon them… None of it is their choice. And all of it is ours…

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