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Life with Emerson

Keeping my dog happy and healthy is a top priority for our family. As he grows in his golden years, his needs have changed and care has taken on new forms. How do we make choices and decisions for his care that are best for him as a senior dog?


When I went to nursing school, I learned about the ethical principles that form the backbone of our code of ethics. Applying these principles to Emerson's care has helped me to make choices that are based on love, respect, compassion, and kindness.

Principle #1: Beneficence
This one's easy! The principle of beneficence represents compassion, promoting goodness, and taking care of others. This is the main principle I use every day with Emerson. Each day he gets a comfy bed, healthy food, emotional and physical engagement, and all the love we have to give. He also gets medicine to keep his arthritis pain at bay, and he has regular visits to the vet to make sure he’s staying healthy.

Principle #2: Non-maleficence
Non-maleficence means avoiding harm and not intentionally causing hurt. I would never let anything harm him intentionally, but applying this principle is also more subtle. As a senior dog, Emerson can't tolerate as much physical exercise as he once could- when he was younger he would run miles and miles and never tire. He still has that heart, but not the joints or the lungs. Non-maleficence, for me, means letting him run and play for short periods, then providing other stimulating activities that aren't so hard on his joints.

Principle #3: Justice
The principle of justice is complex, but for me, ultimately boils down to one word: fairness. To me, that means that Emerson deserves protection and care no matter what his age or medical condition, because we took on that responsibility when we took him home. It's something I do gladly, and it's something I think everyone should consider when they're going to take an animal home. I wouldn't want anyone to turn their back on me when things got rough, and in turn, I won't do that to Emerson. I think that "for better or for worse" is for our dogs, too!

Principle #4: Autonomy
For me, this one's tough but important. This principle addresses the concept of self-determination and respecting another's choices and wishes. This means that I would like others to respect my decisions when it comes to Emerson's care. Some may not think that loving and caring for a senior dog is "worth it", and may think he's "really getting old", or may even think it's crazy to put time and energy into caring for Emerson when he's "just a dog". I believe that Emerson deserves the respect, compassion, and love that I would give to anyone else who has a piece of my heart, and autonomy allows me to care for him in this way even if others don’t understand why.

How do you make decisions and choices about your dog’s health in difficult circumstances?

I'm Erica, a senior dog lover living on the East Coast, sharing my life with a good dog and a good man. We're all navigating the process of aging gracefully together.

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