I’ve had the privilege to raise 7 dogs since I was 12. I came from a family and extended family of dog lovers and grew up with medium to large dogs. Singapore was a lot more carefree then and there weren’t restrictions on the number of dogs a family could have even in HDB dwellings. There weren’t such a thing as HDB approved list either.
Euthanization seems to be such a taboo topic these days that it can divide the dog community. Today, we see so many ‘no kill’ shelters even right here in Singapore. While I do agree that we have to euthanise responsibly, this is where the line is very thin and it’s so easy to place judgement.
The Tough Decision
The first time I ever encountered euthanization was when I was 14-15years old. My Westie, Honey, at that time was suffering from very bad skin ailments. No amount of medication worked and diets didn’t help. Her skin was perpetually raw every day. This was the 80s, so animal care wasn’t really as advanced as today.
She wasn’t fed kibble. She was fed freshly cooked food and honestly, our food wasn’t contaminated with much hormones then. After countless vet visits and treatments, my father sat me down to have the most dreaded discussion – euthanise the dog.
I was very much like all the anti-euthanization activists and I shut my Dad down before he could even begin a conversation with me. One night, he gently told me that part of raising a dog is to be responsible for its well being. That includes the dog’s physical, mental and emotional health. Instead of telling me all the logic of why we should euthanise our beloved family member, he asked me TWO questions – Why am I fighting for my dog’s life? Was it really for her benefit or was it for my selfish reasons? Before he left to say goodnight, he told me that love isn’t self-centered. Love is about always considering the needs of the other before mine. And that’s why love is the greatest. It’s about sacrifice.
That conversation jolted me and I started to examine the condition of my heart. I didn’t want my dog to be put to sleep because of my selfish reasons. All the reasons were because of my needs and not hers. It took me five days to find courage and I went to my parents to say I was ready to do what I needed to do.
To put the icing on the cake, my parents told me they were going to hire a pet taxi for me and I was going to our vet by myself. Honey was my dog and as her leader and primary handler, I had to go and do this. And, this was what I needed to learn if I ever wanted to keep raising dogs. I was horrified but I said okay.
When I got to our vet, he was really nice, he walked me through the whole procedure and told me to let him know when I’d be ready to go through with it. On the steel table that day, I felt the life of my dog whom I raised from 8 weeks old drain away. I saw all the times we trained, we participated in conformation shows, bred her, helped her delivered her puppies, raised her puppies and finally to the place where I brought her to die.
That day taught me the most painful and valuable lesson of dog ownership. It taught me to seize the day. It taught me to never have a bucket list with my dog. It was the first time I ever put aside my needs for my dog. It was the very first time in my life that I put her needs before mine. I was so ashamed that I placed me before her in all the years that I was her handler. Yet, she was loyal and devoted to the end.
Honey, my first West Highland White Terrier that I raised as a puppy to adulthood taught me about leadership and what the phrase “Leaders Eat Last” meant because even with her life draining out from her never once judged me for being selfish.
I took her body back home and buried her in my uncle’s garden. It was the day I grew up. It was the day I stopped having ideals and learnt the painful decisions that every dog owner may have to face one day. It was also the day I understood what real Love is about. Love isn’t about me.
In her tribute, I seek to be a better dog handler with every dog that I raised after her. Thirty years on, I am still doing so.