Wednesday, July 7, 2010


There are tears in my eyes as I write this.

Julian, our Greyhound, died this morning. I loved him very much. I loved him so much, in fact, and it hurts to think about him now. He had a rare and aggressive form of cancer that overtook him over the course of a few short weeks. He was a good friend and I will miss him very much. I will miss him for the rest of my life.

I really do believe that, while he was not comfortable, he was at least not in too much pain. His body was destroyed and this morning he was too weak to even stand up by himself. All he wanted to do was drink water. And although we told the vet that it was time to let him go, I don't think we really had much choice in the matter. And before you think we're cruel for keeping him alive for so long, please know that yesterday he was much better and the vet had given us a relatively hopeful prognosis. And I know that it is foolish for me to ask for too much sympathy in any case. After all, dogs die every day and although I feel the grief of his death with fire-hot intensity I know that it is difficult to feel too much pain for the death of someone else's pet.

But I don't want to focus on his death here. After all, he was a dog and dogs don't live forever. And although I was terribly sad to see him die so young (he was scarcely six years old) his death was absolutely inevitable.

Julian was a great dog. It might be overstating it to say that he was the best dog ever, but he was easily in the top ten. I remember picking him up from the Greyhound Pets of America kennel - everyone there loved Julian (formerly known as KB's Yukon). Everyone everywhere always loved him. He was gentle and compliant, peaceful and curious. He never complained, never insisted on anything. He loved to run, he loved to be scratched on his shoulder, he loved playing with his toys and he loved just going outside. He loved us and he trusted us completely. Even at the end, when he was going to the vet nearly every day to be cut open and stuck with needles he continued to trust us. He even liked and trusted the vet. (Raleigh area pet owners - I can give my full endorsement to the Care First Animal Hospital and Dr Wages) I feel comfortable saying that we never abused his trust.

I don't believe in spirits. I don't believe in heaven or hell or any kind of transcendent essence. So please don't misunderstand me when I say that Julian was an inspiration to me. There was a kind of peace in his eyes and a knowing calm in his attitude. I mean this as no insult of either beast when I say that there was a gentle bovine quality in his eyes. It was those eyes that inspired me to become a vegetarian. I firmly believe that we are all citizens of the universe, from the wisest human and the most powerful lion to the simplest blade of grass. This is how we can find meaning in the eyes of our non-human animal friends. Although Julian was not able to comprehend many things, including the future, I recognized that he had as much of a right to live as I did. He had as much of a right to avoid suffering and pursue pleasure as any human does.

Despite being equally entitled to a pleasant life, non-human animals are not equally empowered to pursue such a life. As humans we clearly have the advantage. We can easily compel other animals to bend to our will and fall to our appetites. We can confuse and obstruct an animal's natural instincts to survive and avoid suffering. It is absolutely incumbent on us to protect those creatures who are less aware than we are. We are all relatives; we all inhabit the same family tree.

Throughout all of this, my guiding principle has been that I am here for the dogs. We will let our grief run its course and then we will get another dog. It won't be a replacement. No one replaces a lost friend or relative, and neither can we replace a lost pet. But there is a conspicuously empty place on our couch. There are plenty of dogs who need care, homes and love. We have the time and attention and resources to care for two dogs and it would be unfair and selfish for us to deny an animal that space. 

Obviously Julian had no way of wanting anything, so to ask you to do anything in his memory is absurd. Nevertheless, I wish to ask you to consider what you can do for your fellow animals. If you have some money, please donate to a worthwhile cause. If you have the resources and time (and it does take time and resources) please adopt a shelter dog or cat. If you have the resolve, please don't eat any animals at all. 


Kathy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kathy said...

At first glance, I misread the blog title as "atheist, vegetarian, liberal dog." I thought it was describing Julian. It made sense to me, except for the dog food part. Then I realized I'd made a mistake. Goodbye, sweet Julian.

Ed said...

I'm saddened by your loss. I loved seeing all the pictures of Julian- they made it obvious how great a joy to you he was and how well he was loved.

emma wallace said...

So, so sorry to read about Julian. You are all in our thoughts and I am glad Julian had the opportunity to live so beloved.

Heather McIntosh said...

I'm so sorry. Six years is still so young. At least he had a loving family- that's all you can really ask for, right?

Anonymous said...

I'm really sorry I didn't see this when you wrote it, Nathaniel -- it's so full of insight and wisdom and the bare, harsh truth. We didn't -- couldn't -- love Julian as much as you as Bronwen did (and do), but his loss hurt our hearts and we'll miss him for a long, long time too.