The dog before Peri was Pip. Pippy we found at a local farm. The farmer was looking for a home for Pip, and well........ Pip was a combination mutt-brand, a cross between a St. Bernard and some kind of coon hound. He was mostly white with few markings, rambunctious and able to wag his whole butt not just his tail. Occasionally and unprovoked, he stretched out his neck and raised his head to let out a howl, as any good coon hound would do. He was a pip—full of great expectations! It didn’t matter whether there were any coons about of course. Pip was affectionate, hyperactive, and generally nuts. So were we at the time. Pip got run over and all of us blamed the speeding driver, not our Pip.
And before Pip we had Pal. We favored names that began with P, I guess. Pal was a gentleman. He was some kind of mutt-brand as well and I don’t remember where we got Pal. He looked like a beagle with black and white markings. He would bark once at the door then stand and wait until someone opened it. He never fussed to eat, or whined to be let in or out. He had a white bib almost like a perennial butler. You’d expect to see him carrying a tray of elegant champagne flutes. Pal died a natural death.
Peri died, at our hands and thanks to a taunting neighbor kid and her hysterical mother; we did not get any more dogs. What do you do when a police officer shows up at your door with a bad dog story? Allegations were that Peri had bitten right through the child’s snow jacket. The child was fine but we had no way to defend Peri, even though our children reported that the child had taunted our dog.
It’s a traumatic experience to, as they say, “put a dog down.” Why say it this way? Well, it minimizes the fact that we are committing murder, or in cases of extreme age, disease and suffering, mercy killing. Sometimes I wish we could do that for humans. I’ll never forget Peri’s placing her paw against my then-husband’s chest as we said goodbye. I still don’t know if we did the right thing. I suppose we were afraid that Peri would bite someone. Was Peri dangerous? She never had been but we didn’t know her history except her few years with us. But at least it was painless for Peri, though not for us.
Reports indicate that in Oregon, where euthanasia choices are legal now, not many people avail themselves of this right. I suppose it's our addiction to the idea of freedom of choice that tells us this is a good option. I don't disagree but can't quite imagine myself making that choice. It's not because I think that the timing of death is somehow God's doing, because my theology doesn't support this view of God.
I'm glad that capital punishment is illegal in Massachusetts, yet as we in Massachusetts endured the painful deliberations about whether to kill the Boston marathon bomber under federal law, I wondered. To spare a life may be as just as drastic as to take one. What is gained by that? I thought that until I heard about conditions in the Maximum Security prison where this young man, the same age as my oldest granddaughter, could spend the rest of his life. Such a prison serves neither justice nor mercy nor humanity nor the goodness of God. Our system can do better.
Incidentally, I also know from a counselor who works with staff in such prisons, that those who work in the supermax facilities are being driven slowly insane as well. And we Christians thought crucifixion was bad! It too, however, was institutional violence. We believe that there can be resurrection and new life because love goes on, despite cruelty and violence and human sin, individual and systemic.
I took a small action about my horror at the existence of such prisons. Here is a note I sent to our Massachusetts Senators, Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren.
"The morning after I'd watched an interview on Greater Boston with a man who'd spent five years in a maximum security prison, I woke in a sweat of horror. I couldn't shake it off. I didn't even know how to pray. I did not know about the conditions of absolute unremitting isolation that exist in these prisons. ABSOLUTE isolation. I kept asking myself: How can a nation that dares to entertain mottoes like "In God we trust" and call itself civilized, countenance such pure evil in its midst? It's an insane asylum we create, not a prison. My horror goes far beyond the Tsarnaev case and any crime and punishment issues. It's a spiritual question. We have devised a way to slaughter souls. Capital punishment is not justice, but it might be mercy killing."
Most of us would not treat any dog this way, for any reason, so why treat any human this way? It makes no sense to me. It serves no purpose except a sinful one. I pray that we can do better.
P.S. Tsarnaev's jury just decided that he should be put to death because of his heinous crimes. This could be merciful for him in the end, but the process will take a long time. I hope Helen Prejean, the sister who visits inmates on death row, will visit him and pray with him. I have faith that God has mercy enough for all of us. I pray as well that all those who suffered death and loss because of Tsarnaev's crime, will recover some quality of life, find the grace of resurrection, and live with hope— though they will never forget.