I am a blogger for Backyard Poultry Magazine and this is an article of mine that they posted on January 29, 2014
I awake everyday with a positive attitude, even in the face of the ongoing pain from Chronic Lyme Arthritis, my mind churning with ideas for articles, stories, videos, and photographs. I revel in the purpose that my life has, but I will be the first one to admit that my mood is easily altered. As a massage therapist, the close and interpersonal contact I have with my clients has the potential to affect my mood.
Today was one of those days. My first client very pointedly and emphatically told me that she did not like my story about Bonbon the Rooster and that I should have just put the animal down when I found out he had cancer. I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. Instantly my positive mood was replaced with a powerful ache. That easily could have been the end of my productivity for the day. As an artist, my creativity is tied very closely to my emotions and this wasn’t an emotion I wanted to share with the world. I thought to myself, “stay focused, just get through this, find the positive.”
I began to look at the situation rationally rather than emotionally, I needed to understand why her words affected me this way. I have accepted that not everyone is going to like everything I write. That wasn’t it. So, was it the fact that she told me that I should have just ended his life for factors beyond his control? She told me that animals have no concept of the future, that prolonging their lives when you know they are ill is cruel. I wrestled with that notion for a few minutes.
Most of our birds are rescues and they would have had no quality of life without my intervention. But as much as I believe in providing them the best quality of life possible, I feel equally strongly about the quality of their deaths. Many of them have injuries or illnesses when they arrive. I know at the onset that my time with them is potentially limited. I accept that, I love them for their unique characteristics and personalities. I enjoy them and I seek to immortalize them in writing and photography.
I am familiar with end of life decisions. There are times when I know that their suffering is too great and that to keep them alive would be for my benefit, not for theirs. I have the strength to do what needs to be done. But I do not believe that the moment that vet tells me they have a disease or the moment I realize it myself is the exact moment that the bird is supposed to die. This animal has given me the best of itself in the form of companionship, love and entertainment. They deserve the best I can give them not only in terms of their life, but also their death. If that means taking care of an ailing animal until they are ready to go, then I gladly take on the responsibility. There is a certain look that they give you when they have had enough. It’s a look that encompasses their gratitude for your compassion and the exacerbation of finally having had enough. I believe that they tell ME when they are ready, not the other way around.
Furthermore, diagnoses are not always accurate. I remember a vet diagnosing my husband’s favorite hen Suki with blood cancer. As it turned out, the diagnosis was inaccurate. Suki seemed very ill when we took her in. What if I had believed the vet and ended her life? I couldn’t. It just wasn’t an option for me. I HAD to give her a chance. Within 2 weeks she had recovered completely from her symptoms and lived for another 2 years.
I realized that the reason my client’s words affected me so was that I felt she was criticizing my care of my birds for prolonging Bonbon’s life knowing he had cancer. They will all eventually die, but my decision to help them live or help them die will never be an arbitrary one. It will always be one based in science, spirituality and love. Sometimes culling is just not an option.