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. 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. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi William,
    yes, you expressed perfectly what I also believe to be true: that in any situation there are multiple causes, and multiple possible outcomes of any action. So you do the best you can under the circumstances and detach from results or even ideas of right and wrong. Just move on to the next challenge, and face it in the same way.
    I think that the experience on the beach in Goa taught me that. Perhaps I could say that the puppy taught me that.

  4. Ben_Ralston says:

    That's an incredible story Donna. I believe that death is like a teacher, and it seems that you and that policeman somehow shared in a profound, transformational experience (or so I suppose!).
    Thank you for sharing it with me / us.

  5. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes, it's true – there is no death, there is only change.
    Perhaps then it is better to allow suffering – perhaps it serves some higher purpose that we don't know about?

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. Ben_Ralston says:

    Great point. Maybe the cat was getting some karmic payback from all the Big Mouses Up in The Sky 🙂

  9. Ben_Ralston says:

    "What about some equivalent of Petsmart?"
    That made me laugh so much I've nearly wet myself. Sorry, not laughing at you, but if you ever go to India you'll know how funny it is.
    And that puppy was way, way beyond help or healing. There were two choices – kill or leave it. (Had I known about the sanctuary, sure…)

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. Tracy says:

    I couldn't agree more Carolann!

  14. 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

  15. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. Jillaurie Crane says:

    the most difficult thing I have ever done was my little dog was dying of an auto immune disease. I had no money for a vet and he breathing was so labored and he was so close to death, I pressed down on his wind pipe to end the suffering. I think it was the right thing to do but it will always haunt me.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. Ben_Ralston says:

    It is selfish. I think that pretty much everything we ever do is selfish to some extent. On the other hand, walking away would have been more selfish in my opinion. Classic lose / lose situation?

  21. Ben_Ralston says:

    Sorry to make you cry Kate!

  22. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi Nancy,
    You know it's nice to hear you say that, and I think it's really true. It was unimaginably hard physically. Not like in the movies where a karate chop to the neck does it every time. I was surprised, and it took time.
    Thank you.

  23. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yes, that was a classic. I'm still chuckling about it 🙂

  24. Ben_Ralston says:

    You are a woos Lynn. Ask Tob what that means if you don't know 🙂
    And thank you for Fbing it – great that I'm not the only one promoting my stuff!

  25. Ben_Ralston says:

    yes I felt that too – something took place the puppy and me, and it was on a deep level, and I did what I could with the best intentions… there's so much we don't know / see. We just have to do what we feel is right, and move on.
    Thank you.

  26. Ben_Ralston says:

    Don't be sorry! What doesnt' kill us makes us stronger and all that, and I'm happy to be strong today!

  27. Ben_Ralston says:

    You did the best that you could, under clearly very challenging circumstances. And I know that that cat is still thanking and blessing you for that.

  28. Ben_Ralston says:

    I have learnt that there is a very fine line between being deeply compassionate, and having poor boundaries that mean you constantly feel responsible for situations that are not yours to feel responsible for. From what you write I suspect that you are crossing the line a little sometimes…
    I don't mean this in any way as an attack or to offend you – quite the opposite, I'm trying to help. I hope you can take it that way. And as you say – to each his own.

  29. Ben_Ralston says:

    I think that these stories – like mine, and several commenters above – where you meet death, and are suddenly completely removed from the usual perspective, are very powerful and compelling. We don't forget these things, and they are with us always, teaching us, guiding us, leading us somehow. It's good.
    Thank you for sharing 🙂

  30. It's ok…must have needed it:)

  31. hehjude says:

    i asked my teacher your question a few years ago when i came across a suffering and almost dead animal. it died, just as i got to it, so the question was simply for future use. i was terribly upset by the option of ending it's suffering, but i wondered if that is what buddha would have wanted me to do. her reply is that it is never our right to deny another sentient being his experience. that rather than end the suffering, being with the being and wrapping it in love and pure energy so that as it left, it would know it was a loved and cherished being was the appropriate choice in such a situation. i completely understand the desire to end a beings suffering at the same time i completely understand just stopping and sitting with love while the person, animal goes through their experience. if it happened to me now, i would simply stop, sit, and do a tonglen meditation as the being lived out its experience.

  32. Lori says:

    You did the right thing.

  33. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi hehjude,
    I think that there are some situations in life (well, many!) that are not meant to be lived according to someone else's ideas. You have to sometimes do what you feel is right, in your heart.
    Otherwise you do not grow into your own teacher.

  34. Ben_Ralston says:

    Hi hehjude,
    I think that there are some situations in life (well, many!) that are not meant to be lived according to someone else's ideas. You have to sometimes do what you feel is right, in your heart.
    Otherwise you do not grow into your own teacher.

  35. 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.

  36. Ben_Ralston says:

    Kids always have a deep wisdom. If enough adults don't listen / make them feel stupid they lose it (stop listening and believing in their wisdom / intuition). Sounds like yours is being listened to though 🙂

  37. 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…

  38. 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.

  39. Ben_Ralston says:

    Yep. Some people are able to completely remove themselves from any empathy or compassion for non-humans. Makes me wonder why they would have a dog in the first place, but then I guess there are many possible reasons…

  40. Ben_Ralston says:

    I have to agree, it certainly wasn't anything even remotely resembling a 'good idea'.

  41. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thanks for sharing Barb – doesn't your last statement also apply equally to the bird and the rabbit though?

  42. 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.

  43. Tanya Lee Markul says:

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

  44. 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

  45. Ben_Ralston says:

    Thank you for your understanding and compassion.
    I see it extends not only to kittens, but blog authors too. Not always the case… 🙂

  46. 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.