I have a sixteen year old dog that just lost the use of his back legs and is starting to suffer from it. Do we have the authority over life and death of animals? I know we kill and eat animals and put them down, I just never had to do it before, and I feel as though I am doing it to lift the burden of taking care of him off myself. I thought he would pass naturally, but he just won't. (From student correspondence)
Animals in nature, when it's time for them to die, usually wander off -- by themselves somewhere -- and quietly pass on; your dog has no chance to do this, especially if you live in a city environment. No one can tell you the proper way to handle these difficult moments that invariably will bring much grief with them, but when the animal can no longer take care of itself, or has more pain than pleasure born of being around those it loves, then it is most likely time to put the animal's life to an end in a humane fashion. Should you have to do this, which seems inevitable regardless at which point in time you choose so, it's proper for you to be by its side when the veterinarian gives it the injection that will take its life. The love you have for the animal in these moments will greatly outweigh any fear it may feel for its unusual circumstances and ultimate discomfort.