All you have to do is visit an animal shelter to see that so many dogs and cats – those who were once cute kittens and puppies – are no longer wanted. When people come into a shelter, they almost always ask, “Where are the young ones?” I’ve heard them myself.
I can’t help thinking that’s the way things work on the human side as well. When people get older, they’re seen as less desirable. If they have kids, they may get visits. If they’re lucky they get true friendship with family and people they’ve known.
But after a certain point, the social interactions change. The young are humoring the old. These visits verge on caretaking and helping, not a sharing among equals.
Economically the situation grows worse. Older people are expected to be grateful for low-paying jobs. We’re expected to be more concerned with “leaving a legacy” than contributing meaningfully and getting rewarded with money. We’re marginalized.
Sometimes people will adopt an older dog or cat so it can enjoy just a few months or years in a home. Dying at home, or in a vet’s private office with a loving owner standing by, seems kinder than leaving the animal to live out its last years in a cage.
I wish people could realize that, when they adopt an older animal, they don’t have to listen to the vet’s urging for long, expensive end-of-life care. The dog or cat just wants a peaceful blanket, a basket and lots of love.
For people too, when you reach a certain point, it’s not about living a long life powered by drugs and technologies with horrific side effects, impersonal (even abusive) staff, and painful procedures that have an infinitesimal probability of prolonging life.
At a certain point, it’s more about having a good death, even if we have to sacrifice some potential months or years of life.
I think our animals would say the same if they could.