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

Via Ben Ralston
on Sep 25, 2011
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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 has been practising personal development—necessity being the Mother of invention—since he was about six years old. He’s been teaching and sharing what he’s learnt along the way for a couple of decades. His main thing is Heart of Tribe retreats—whose very purpose is to help you fall back in love with life, no less. Leading these retreats alongside his woman Kara-Leah Grant—also an elephant journal writer (that’s how they met!)—they combine a deep well of lineage-based yoga teaching experience, with expertise in healing trauma and various other methods of personal development. Ben also works with clients one-on-one via Skype, writes, makes videos from time to time, and is passionate about parenting. He lives in an intentional, tribal community in the hills of Croatia, where you might find him gardening barefoot and talking to the rocks. Connect with Ben on Facebook or YouTube or check out his website for more info.


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

  1. Padma Kadag says:

    I have done what you have done and I understand it. But I will no longer do it and haven't for many years. It is very hard to say what kind of rebirth any given being will have if you interrupt their life by killing them. I understand this view might be unpopular. We should also consider our own personal ramifications for doing the killing. For me, staying with the suffering being would be best.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks for sharing an interesting stance Padma.

  6. Ben_Ralston says:

    I agree, but I also agree with Padma above. It's very difficult to know what is right. There is not right really… we just have to do the best we can in each situation. And move on.

  7. Ben_Ralston says:

    Meindabindi, I would answer you more fully if I thought you'd read the article more fully. I didn't 'crush the puppy with a rock'.

  8. Ben_Ralston says:

    Or perhaps more pertinently – what would you want anther human to do if it was you that was extremely burnt / in pain?
    Truth is that there is no right answer. Every person, and every situation, is unique, and requires our *discernment*. We can only do the best we can.
    In the situation I wrote about the best I could was limited by my state of mind / health (fever and weaknes), and especially my location and knowledge of the geography and language.
    But I did what I felt was best, and although the pain of the puppy remains with me, I feel ok about it.

  9. Ben_Ralston says:

    That's beautiful.

  10. 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."

  11. Ben_Ralston says:

    Wow Melanie.
    I agree completely with what you say, and that is not only a beautiful quote, it also fits perfectly with how I feel about the experience, and what I tried to communicate in the writing of it. "Locked doors or books written in a foreign language" – exactly 🙂
    Thank you, thank you.

  12. Meindabindi says:

    Ah, yes, forgive me for overlooking that important detail: the implement used to kill the puppy was a TILE, not a rock.

    My comment was not meant to judge your actions, though it appears that if someone does not perfectly jive with your point of view you get a bit prickly. I am simply trying to understand the intention of this piece. So much is left out. It is a provocative experience you are writing about, with disturbingly graphic details. Why not include the human, with his mixed feelings and messy contradictions? To boil such an experience down by suggesting we "do the best we can in each situation, and move on" seems to color it with a bland relativism that does nothing to illuminate any potential depth and meaning.

    I really want to know: How did you feel emotionally when you were killing the puppy and how did these feelings manifest? What did your body feel like during and after the puppy's killing? What did you do with the puppy's corpse? What insights (if any) were revealed to you? How did you make peace with what you did (obviously you did, but it is not apparent in the piece itself)? Details such as these would elevate this from fluff to something profound. Just my take.

  13. Ben_Ralston says:

    Prickly? Who's more prickly, the prickler or the one who is prickled? 🙂

    I love when people don't jive with me! I don't love when people ask for a dialogue that they have obviously made up their mind about already. I have seen enough of the kind of comments like the one you left to know that you don't want to learn, you want conflict, and you want to be 'right'. That's fair enough, but you won't get it from me.

    Look inward. Whatever you feel, the cause is in you. Not outside.

  14. Meindabindi says:

    Ben, sweetheart, I wish you really did love it when people don't jive with you, because then this conversation could be interesting!
    No intention to be right here, nor to further your assumptions about the "kind" of comments I leave or the "kind" of person I am. Your piece struck me more for what it didn't say than what it did. My apologies if my comments prickled you. My advice to you would be to look inward. . .;-)

  15. Ben_Ralston says:

    you're obviously a very compassionate person Caroline. Don't be too compassionate though – I mean, don't take on too much of other's pain and responsibility. As I said to someone else above, there's a fine line between compassion and responsibility, and sometimes we have to have strong boundaries to make sure we don't end up getting pulled down by it all…
    Pain and suffering and death and old age are not bad really. We can always, always, find some light in the situation…
    Thanks for sharing. Ben

  16. Ben_Ralston says:

    Ghosts? The 'in-between'? Ahem…

  17. Charlene says:

    A tough one….

  18. 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.

  19. Padma Kadag says:

    Oh…one more thing..I do not believe animals want to die.

  20. KAREN says:

    Ah a story that reminds me that not all of the human race is ignorant! Bless both of you for being there for that little soul when needed the most.

  21. 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.

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

  23. 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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  25. Ben_Ralston says:

    I'm sure you can.

  26. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you Gillian, interesting comment.
    I can no longer imagine applying a 'teaching' taught by a 'teacher' to every situation in life. I think it's a bit of an easy way out. It removes personal responsibility and places it on the teacher / teachings.
    I think all teachings should be used only as guidelines – especially ones which are from such a long time ago.
    But I respect your stance, and if you can go through life without killing at all, wonderful!
    With love, Ben

  27. Eddy Bandt says:

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

  28. sarah says:

    I don't see any difference between Lisa's post and other posts on this thread. I think she is trying to share her thoughts on a very tough subject. I really appreciated the honesty and lucidity of her post, and I don't think it's right to suggest that she has "poor boundaries."