I have a friend on Live Journal who does dog rescue. She posted the other day that she has, at this moment: Blind dogs, deaf dogs, incontinent dogs, dogs with heart disease, kidney disease, cancer, hyperthyroidism, neurological damage and epilepsy, dogs who are missing fur, teeth and toes, dogs with luxating patellas, hip displaysia and arthritis. That's a lot of problems. And a lot of dogs. And a lot of compassion on the person caring for animals that otherwise might have been euthanized.
Dogs have been kept as pets for centuries. They've been found in graves, surrounded by items intended to help them in the next life. They've been pictured in drawings, following humans, feasting with humans, hunting with humans. They've protected us, loved us, been loyal to us. How could we kill them off in literature?
And, yet, it's been done dozens and dozens of times. I'm one of those readers who dislike reading of animals of any kind dying. Sure, I can see something being mentioned briefly about getting meat for food, but I don't like to focus on the life and death struggle between man and animal. And I certainly dislike having an animal die for gratuitous reasons only. Especially an animal that I have come to care about in some way.
So, I avoid using them in that capacity. I do find it odd that I can watch a show or read a book where humans die, but I get angry and upset if an animal dies. Maybe it's because I realize that humans have the intellect to understand what is happening to them, while animals don't.
I rarely put animals into my writing. Why? Several reasons, really. I get too attached. I forget they are there. And...I don't want them to die. And I'm not the only one, from what I've heard. Readers don't like to see animals die. I remember being in a critique group once and the manuscript being read had a pack of dogs. The dogs didn't perform as their owner desired and he had the entire pack put to death. It was done to illustrate the characters lack of compassion or sympathy. But you should have heard the controversy and upset over that!
Kill the dogs? Never!
So, what about you? How do you feel as a reader when animals die? Do you use animals in your writing to convey a plot point? Or do you protect them at all costs, and allow them to live long, healthy, happy lives?