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No Animal Should Have to Die Alone

Jan 07, 2020 | 813 videos
Video by Isa Rao

When Alexis Fleming adopted her pit bull, Maggie, the dog had been severely neglected. Fleming, who comes from a family of dairy and sheep farmers, decided to move somewhere more rural in her native Scotland so that she could give Maggie the care and attention she needed. The dog eventually recovered from her history of abuse, and Fleming and Maggie enjoyed seven years together. Then, in 2015, Maggie experienced unexpected complications from surgery, and Fleming, who wasn’t nearby, had to make the difficult decision to end her pet’s life.


“I couldn’t be with Maggie when she died,” Fleming wrote on her website, “so I decided that, in her memory, I would build a home for other animal-folk who found themselves in need of a friend and home as their lives wind down.”


Isa Rao’s poignant short documentary Crannog follows Fleming at her sanctuary, where she provides palliative care for more than 90 terminally ill animals. Some of the dogs, sheep, chicken, pheasants, and pigs that currently live at the Maggie Fleming Animal Hospice were abandoned by their owners and left to die in a shelter. Others were discarded by farmers due to a disease or disability and would have met their end at the slaughterhouse.


“Alexis has created a tiny safe space where animals can live and die in peace while experiencing kindness—often for the first time in their lives,” Rao told me. “To her, there is no difference between human and animal suffering.”


Fleming is herself no stranger to suffering. She has Crohn’s disease, an incurable affliction of the digestive tract. A few years ago, she was given just weeks to live. After a successful major surgery, she’s now doing better, but she lives with a range of symptoms, including debilitating fatigue and extreme chronic pain. In Crannog, Fleming is shown caring for a dying sheep despite her own physical pain. Her compassion and self-sacrifice seem to know no bounds.


While filming, Rao was taken by the bond she observed between Fleming and the farm animals at the sanctuary. “It was the first time that I ever saw sheep, pigs, and even chickens come up to a person to receive back scratches,” she told me. “They nuzzled their snouts and beaks into her arms. They wanted to be close to her.” Fleming knows each animal’s personality intimately and attends to their individual preferences.


Behavioral and neuroscientific studies clearly indicate that a wide range of animals, including pigs, cetaceans like dolphins, and birds, exhibit evidence of consciousness. Rao, who has a doctoral degree in cognitive neuroscience, said that while these findings may seem intuitive to people who own pets, many people experience cognitive dissonance when it comes to considering the feelings of farm and wild animals.


“A lot of us would agree that many animals are conscious beings and can feel pain, but we at the same time often just accept animal suffering as something normal,” she said. “We still do not give animals the same consideration as humans, in particular in death and sickness. If we want to be ethically consistent, we should treat farm and wild animals with at least the same dignity and respect as we treat our pets. We need to treat them as living creatures that can feel and should not be exploited—whose lives have value, whose suffering should be avoided.”

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Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.