If you find an animal dying slowly and painfully, would you do what I did? ~ Ben Ralston

Via on Sep 25, 2011

I killed the puppy with my bare hands.

The single toughest thing I’ve ever done – physically and emotionally. I don’t think that I regret it, but at the same time, I’m not sure I did the right thing (is there ever a right thing to do?). Nor am I sure quite what I learnt from the experience.

The truth is: I’m still learning from it…

When I was 9 or 10 years old we went on holiday. I don’t remember how old I was exactly, but I can’t have been more than 10, because my brother wasn’t born yet.

While we were out walking one day our dog, Rocky, caught a rabbit. He held it in his jaws, shook it from side to side, and then dropped it. It fell like a rag doll, and Rocky went on his way again: job done.

My parents also started off again, but I couldn’t leave the rabbit like that: its neck was broken, but it was alive. It was still breathing (very fast) and was clearly conscious.

So I took a large rock, and killed it, as fast as I could.

I remember my parents being very impressed. But the truth is, I just couldn’t leave it like that. I didn’t feel I had a choice.

Fastforward almost 20 years…


I’m on a very quiet beach in Goa. It’s 0ne month after my yoga teachers training course (when I learnt to live), and I’ve been practicing intensely as well as teaching a private student in the local resort.

Today though I don’t feel well. The illness that plagued me the previous month is recurring slightly – I’m weak and feverish.

As I pass a shop I hear a faint but terrible sound. A mewling / squeeling / high-pitched wailing sound.

It’s not the kind of sound you can ignore, so I investigate. Round the side of the shop, at the edge of a pile of garbage, is a tiny black puppy.

His fur is crawling with insects. His eyes are full of puss and parasites.

He’s barely alive. But he is alive.

What would you do?

I went into the shop and asked the people in there about it: does the dog belong to them? It was a stupid question really. Stray dogs in India are a dime a dozen, and people there have more important things to worry about – like feeding their children. The shop owner barely even acknowledged me. She didn’t want to know…

So I went and bought some milk. I tried to feed the little dog some milk, and then I tried to kill it.

First, I tried to strangle it. But it didn’t work. I just caused that little dog plenty more suffering for a while. His squealing became almost unbearable. I was shaking and sweating.

Then I found a tile, and I broke it’s neck. It wasn’t easy – I had no idea how hard it can be to extinguish a life. It took time. But eventually I did it.

That’s what I did.

I’ll never forget that little dog.

The next day I came across a small, weather-stained poster pinned to a tree. A tree I’d walked past every day for a month.

It was an advertisement for an animal rescue center.

What would you have done? Did I do the right thing? Is there ever a right thing to do, or are there just many experiences from which we learn and evolve? Please leave a comment, and spread the love by sharing this with your friends / social media.

About Ben Ralston

Ben Ralston is a therapist, healer, advanced Sivananda Yoga teacher, and writer. His writings have been read by millions of people and can be found on Elephant Journal, Rebelle Society, and various other portals online. He has been teaching Yoga for 16 years in hotels, ashrams, beaches, gyms and rooftops worldwide. And he runs a busy international therapeutic practice from his home in rural Croatia. Offering sessions in person or via Skype, his therapeutic work is based on healing trauma, and the tools he uses for this are varied – mainly RPT, Shamanism, and energy work. He has also developed some of his own methods, particularly in the area of abuse trauma; ‘resource state’ awareness; and boundary reconstruction. He regularly runs retreats combining Yoga and other energetic exercises with his therapy. He would love nothing more than to see you on one of these retreats, since he believes that this approach to personal development is really the only effective way of bringing love and peace to global human society. Connect with Ben on Facebook. Read more of his writing on his new website with integrated blog! Yes, he's excited about that :)



79 Responses to “If you find an animal dying slowly and painfully, would you do what I did? ~ Ben Ralston”

  1. William says:

    Ben, I think that context is "everything" in a universe of causality. The forms authentic compassion express in space and time are determined by the context of circumstance, rather than the conceptualizations we project in our imagined circumstances. It seems to me that you did the best you could with what you had at the moment, and if your intentions were clear then that is that. Had you seen the poster the day before the circumstance would have had another factor to consider, but you encountered it the day after. So that simply is what it is. I admire your courage in the face of a difficult circumstance, it clearly was difficult for you. Even as one who has taken the buddhist precepts to heart, I would have done the same. Perhaps the work of a(n aspiring) bodhisattva is never easy…

  2. Carol says:

    Wow…that is a horrible thing to go through.
    When it comes to our animal friends, our first instinct is to help them. I have tried to help fellow animals and I may have caused more pain.
    I hope and pray that I would do the right thing. If an animal is in extreme pain and there is no help..it would be better to put them out of their misery. Why leave them to suffer.
    Something that someone told me helps me with that and I am going to tell you. Nothing ever dies…it changes energy.
    I hope that helps with that question.

  3. Tobye Hillier yogi tobye says:

    Sometimes compassion is knowing how to kill swiftly and move on. But then suffering is also something that has to be experienced (Donna's cat wouldn't have been as compassionate as Donna was…. have you ever watched a cat play with a mouse before killing it?)

    Life is full of contradictions I guess!

  4. Carolann says:

    Don't they have veterinarians there? I could not have killed the puppy. What about some equivalent of Petsmart? I would have taken the pup and tried to heal it lovingly. For you, putting it out of its misery was the right thing; for me, I would never be able to take a life, no matter what. I would feel that the pup was given to me for a reason and that was to heal and care for it. If I could cure it, I would then have had a loyal friend for many years to come.

  5. Sara says:

    If you were dying. Would you want someone to smash a rock in your head to ease your suffering? In a a way its kinda selfish on our part. We can’t bear to see an animal suffer. Death is sacred. Having said that I grew up in east Tennessee and have slit chickens throats ridden with disease and, as you did, finished off animals that were obviously suffering in pain. I think you did right. Don’t beat yourself up. You can’t do nothing. Say a prayer. Its all good. We are all one. Xoxo spreading the love.

  6. Nancy says:

    I'm a veterinarian. Few people understand as well as I do how much courage it took to actually commit the act of killing the puppy. Ending a life "violently" is a very, very difficult thing to do for those whose natures incline them to help and heal. When I am at work, I am fortunate to have the tools (syringe and euthanasia solution) to end suffering peacefully. But I have been in situations where I've been far from any clinic and had to end the suffering of hopelessly damaged small wildlife. Without any tools, it feels nearly impossible.

    I think it also took a lot of courage for you to post this.

  7. SherapDolma says:

    Thank you for posting this Ben. I believe I would have done the same thing. And, the comment about Petsmart made me laugh as well, having been in India multiple times. You had no other option.

  8. The other day, my son and I were walking and saw a dead raccoon on the road. "What if it's still alive?" he asked. Thankfully it wasn't. And I don't know what I would do if it was. I accidentally injured a bug in our house and had to beg my husband to put it out of its misery. I just couldn't do it! I saw a dragonfly on its back, legs moving, hurt and I felt so sad. But I couldn't bring myself to do anything. And I felt bad for leaving it there. If there was a suffering animal, hopefully I would have my cell phone to call animal rescue! I admire you, Ben, for your courage. Posting this to the elephant facebook page. xo

  9. Joanne Bihari says:

    I don't know whether it would have been best to leave it to die on it's own or to speed up the process as you did, but your intention was compassion, and I think that is the best we can ever do. I believe that the puppy would have felt your compassion and this may have helped on a level we are not aware of.

  10. Kym says:

    Ben I think what is important is you intention behind the act, that you did not want this poor puppy to suffer. You made your decision about what action to take based on the information you had at the time. Perhaps there were other ways you could have found to help this puppy but that's the value of hindsight. It would have been far worse to walk past the puppy and do nothing.

  11. Ren says:

    This story touched me, and let me tell you Ben, I'll be thinking about it all night.

    I was about 13 years old and had a cat. Due to circumstances far beyond the control of a kid my age, I had to watch her suffer with fleas, failed pregnancies, digestive problems, open wounds, and various afflictions throughout her entire unbearable life, without ever once being allowed to take her in to the vet. When she finally hit rock bottom, I snuck her to the animal shelter, an act that I knew was a death sentence. I could never forgive myself for letting her sit in a scary cold cage for who knows how long until she met her fate at the hands of a stranger. If I had been as strong and wise as you, I would have much preferred to make her last moments something worth living for.

  12. Lisa says:

    Definitely NOT what I personally would have done but to each his own. I would not be able to live with myself if I committed such a heinous act on a defenseless animal that ultimately looks to humans to help it. I think each individual must decide that for themselves, what can you live with. For some reason I come across animals in need at least once a week. There have been times my bleeding heart caused me to be late to work, cost me money I didn’t have, or ended up breaking my heart but all the same I stopped and helped. I have never once walked away from an animal in need. I am a single mom and there are certain things I want to instill in my child. Compassion is one. If I died today, my daughter would know and remember that her mother NEVER looked away or took the easy route. Instead she will remember I have ALWAYS gone the extra mile to make sure to help those that could not help themselves. Yes, death is sometimes the only way, but it should be done with compassion and kindness. It’s last images should NEVER be of a human choking them or bashing their head in with a rock. There are far more kind ways. Again, that is just me. I can’t tell others what is right or what they will be able to live with. We each have a different journey.

  13. Lori says:

    You did the right thing.

  14. Jill says:

    A few years ago we came across an injured crow in the park. It was lying on the ground and all the other crows would swoop down and peck at it. I was horrified and wasn't sure what to do. My 9 year old (at the time) looked at me and said mom, sometimes you just gotta let nature take its course.

  15. guest says:

    when I was 14 or so, I was out with a group of people walking through the woods, and we came upon a great dane which was slowly strangling to death, being hanged by its owners from a small tree; the rope had cut through its neck and it was bleeding and was going to be gone pretty quick anyway, but one of the people in our group shot it through its head to put it out of its misery. The owners had left the collar on but removed the tags – wise move on their part… the guy who shot the dog said that if he caught the people who did this, he'd shoot them, too. He was a DVM by the way…

  16. Barb says:

    I would have inquired as to an animal rescue center, if it was too sick to save they could have put it down painlessly. You just caused it more suffering. I imagine if you were in a Western country you would have taken it to the ASPCA. I also would have taken it home with me and tried to clean it up a little, get it to eat or drink something make some calls and then taken it to an animal shelter. A Hindu would not have done what you did, and neither would a woman. I can understand about the rabbit, but euthanizing a puppy yourself was not a good idea.

  17. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Some interesting comments from Facebook:

    Susan Pease Banitt:
    Another horrible article by Ben Ralston. How is this yogic EJ?

    Susi Costello:
    It's not a horrible article. It's an article describing a horrible situation. Here's how it's yogic: Sometimes things happen in life that change your ideas about what's right, what's wrong. What's ahimsa when there's no clear correct choice? Can killing something actually be the kind choice? It helps people think about what's really important to them when they can question their own perceived values and look for their own answers.
    about an hour ago · Unlike · 1 person

    Tonja Schenk:
    It's a horrible article. Noting Yogic about it. You're talking about what's right for us… how about what's right for the sweet life of this puppy? This person had a clear choice, chose the wrong and apparently has zero value for life! Who would do such a thing?
    about an hour ago · Like

    Tonja Schenk:
    Ben. A little TLC might have savd his life!!
    about an hour ago · Like

    Susan, Tonja. My life and my work is dedicated to the search for truth. I have found the words of Jesus: "The truth will set you free" to be… true! I have found freedom in my life through taking responsibility, in other words, being absolutely true to myself. My writing about truthful and honest situations is intended to help others find the same freedom.
    Any time you find yourself saying " this is 'wrong'", or 'this has zero value', or 'this is horrible'… that's not truth. It's an emotional reaction that prevents you from seeing the totality of what is there (and the totality of what is in you). I feel that you both react to this (fair enough), it is 'horrible' on one level, and that reaction blinds you to certain other aspects of it.
    I ask you to take a step back from your reaction and ask: " is there something for me to learn here?"
    With love, Ben Ralston
    13 minutes ago · Like

    Ps – I'm a yoga teacher. My title is Acharya, meaning Master (of yoga). This article is yogic in that it invites you as the reader to explore various precepts (truthfulness, compassion, non-violence) in about the most complicated situation possible. That's life folks. Yoga is a spiritual discipline. It's not easy, it's not fluffy and cute, and you don't get it by staying safe. You get it by embracing the totality of yourself. Including memories, feelings, and situations that may feel horrible. When you can be open and truthful about it all, then you are free. And that's the real yoga – total freedom.

  18. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  19. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Ben, I really believe I could not have done what you did. I just don't know. I read once about a moose who was extremely burnt by a geyser. The moose was found roaming a forest – obviously in great despair. The rangers monitoring the area decided to take it upon themselves to put it out of it's misery and shoot it. I am not sure how I feel about this as perhaps such things should be left for nature to square off? I do not know. It seems a lot of humans can't stand to see small animals suffering, but yet most of their unnecessary suffering is caused by humans. Okay, maybe I'm jumping off point here. I can't help but to ask myself what would I do if it were a human? Would the conclusion be the same? Thank you for sharing this powerful experience.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  20. Padma Kadag says:

    Ben…many good responses and an interesting article for me because I am currently, for the remainder of my life, not going to kill in order to relieve suffering. The early years of my life was not so involved in this kind of euthanasia but I have had to "put a dog down" with my own gun as well as a cow who was suffering. According to some schools of Buddhism killing, no matter the reason, is in conflict with Buddhist precept. Suffering is karmic. Suffering is said to purify karma. Allowing beings to die naturally allows the being to "live out" the karma for this lifetime. Taking a life at the sight of an animal suffering is subjective because we are in the position to make a judgement on how much suffering is too much according to me. I have sat up with dogs and cats and larger farm anilmals and people so I am familiar with death and all that precedes it. Death rarely comes without suffering.

  21. Katbe says:

    It is called Mercy. The goal is to end suffering. Compassion when needed is tough. Human suffering is to diverse to summarizes the what ifs. I would do what I would wish for myself in that circumstance. Swift, merciful compassion. Sometimes the efforts we make to end suffering only prolong it, or are for ourselves, so that we do not have to deal with death, rather that doing what is best for the one suffering.

  22. caroline says:

    As I read the replies I'm remind why I don't belong to any religious organisation. To end suffering is the most powerful, beautiful, loving act any human can do. The decision to end a life to stop suffering is one that should never be taken lightly and one that would be incredibly hard but in the end the most kind. As I go through this life my only one desire is to help end suffering and bring peace and love. I have never had to take a life but I know I would do so if I had no other alternative. I also know I would weep and carry the pain with me for ever and I would be willing to carry that pain knowing I ended someones suffering.

  23. Sleepless in Georgia says:

    I also believe, since I have left the Christian indoctrination behind that clings so fervently to this ONE life while not attempting to realize when the remnants of this life are no longer viable by any means and that postponing the obvious end while suffering great pain, makes no sense to me. Perhaps this is why physicians give some patients the means to press a drip and leave when they so desire.
    Puppies, possums, cats and dogs on the other hand, when injured beyond healing, do not have the availability to "press the exit button". I would press my own button if I could., if not, please do it for me. Because I believe if you truly believe or know there is another journey to begin, then you are not going to fight in a frantic state to cling to this life. You can shove off to Ithaka anticipating the bazaars and distant shores.

  24. Melanie says:

    I have been in such a situation, and I still don't know what is the "right" thing to do. The fact that you are still plagued by the question, by the answer you found, means your heart is still open. In a world where, as you said, people have little time to care for a tiny puppy because they need to feed their children, the questions are complicated. Much as we yearn for black and white, clear right and wrong, the world rarely fits into that paradigm.

    A quote by Rilke comes to mind, "I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."

  25. Charlene says:

    A tough one….

  26. Recently, was heading out and found my landlady's cat strangely occupied with something by the door. Curious, I looked and saw what appeared to be a dead bird. So, I went to pick it up and dispose of it only to see it move. It looked badly mangled, and I figured it was probably close to death, with a wing I was sure was broken, but I thought I'd at least save it some suffering by taking it outside and using a brick or something to put it out of its misery. After a bit of a battle with the cat, I managed to pick it up, using a little plastic visor that was lying there, and took it outside.

  27. Whitney says:

    Timely for me to run across this now. I recently began volunteering at a raptor rehab centre, and I will no doubt be required to kill rats for the birds. So far there have been enough left in the freezer, but part of orientation was a demonstration of how to kill rats. I'm a pescetarian, and it is largely due to my "line in the sand" regarding "would I kill this animal to eat?" Fish, yes; chickens, no. But, the birds have to eat, and in some cases eat a lot to correct their malnutrition. It's a case of rat dies or eagle/hawk/owl dies. I'm not yet sure I can do it.

  28. […] If you find an animal dying slowly and painfully, would you do what I did? ~ Ben Ralston […]

  29. Gillian says:

    Buddhist teaching is explicit about not taking any life. There is simply no way to know for sure if you are helping this poor little creature… who also has the same potential for enlightenment and suffering that you do, as long as he/she lives. We can't know their mind at the moment of death, so we can pray and make them comfortable, but not kill. Its a terribly difficult quandary and I relate completely, but this is what my teacher taught me, and I accept it. Blessings, G

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  31. Eddy Bandt says:

    This was a nice read. Honestly, keep up the good work.

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