04/18/2006 04:45 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Rhodey Scholar: Life and Death Is a Family Affair

Now that we have euthanized the dog, I can reveal that my former e-mail address, Rodystar, was not derived from a porn site, but rather from the name of my dog, Rhodey and my company, Newstar. Both are gone and both will long be remembered. But the dog, not the company, taught lessons that make a life.

Many of us share emotional stories about the passing of pets that mean more to us than, well, many of our human friends. And to those who do not have a deep relationship with animals, this all seems boring, self-indulgent and even absurd. True, many dogs in this country eat and sleep better than the most impoverished people around this troubled globe. Yet, dogs do teach. Ours sure did.

Rhodey, a large and friendly Rhodesian Ridgeback, lived for two reasons: to please his owners and to enjoy life. The two were inextricable. We gained enormous joy from watching the dog play, develop and act out habits that became human to us. He made us laugh, relax, feel safe and detach from trouble. He walked, rode, ate and slept with us. And of course, he never questioned anything we did.

When he got to the point that he could not enjoy his own life, we began to realize that simply trying to please us was not enough. Our joy came from his, just as much of his came from ours. Although we provided him with the best of healthcare including even acupuncture, time marched. Early this year, he began to have more trouble walking, lost interest in food and finally seemed in the last days to lose interest in life. We realized that we owed him the honor of a dignified, swift and painless death, giving to him in a selfless way as he gave to us.

It sounds perverse on its face that putting an animal friend to death can be a gift, but it was. And in his passing, he gave me another great gift. He taught me that the gentle nature of a careful and loving death at the point when life no longer brings joy, when gravity finally rules, is a blessing. We debated and agonized over euthanizing Rhodey. I imagined the horrid alternative of watching him struggle with life's end at some very awkward moment, panicking at midnight, shrieking and searching for a solution, knowing that we'd waited too long, that he'd suffered just so that we'd feel better about not deciding or about keeping him for ourselves for one more day. Instead, upon the advice of our expert and caring veterinarian and based on a lifetime of knowing our dog and his rhythms, the time had come. We stroked his head Saturday on the floor at our vet's office and watched him pass from totally relaxed sleep to inert shell.

He died. We cried. But now we smile. We celebrate what he was and what he is to us. And now I know that when a person very close to me dies -- and one will sooner than I imagine -- I'll be more ready. I'll realize that passing is okay. Yet, I'll be relieved of the duty of deicision in the assistance of that passing. We are allowed to take the lives of dogs that never question us, that only love us and rely totally on us. But somehow, we do not have the power to decide for those who brought us to this world, who struggled for us, who lived for us, who literally would have died for us and who cared always even if they now suffer, even if they no longer want to live, even though we know surely that gravity wins.

Where's justice in that? Is a dog really worth more than a family member?