In one day I euthanized three dogs, all for vastly different reasons. Each dog died peacefully, and each time, I was immensely grateful for the kindness of euthanasia. People tell me all the time that this must be the worst part of my job, or that they think it’s wrong and we should just let animals go in their own time. I respectfully disagree with both counts. To illustrate, let me tell you about each dog.
The first dog was brought in to the clinic parking lot in the bed of a pickup truck, and the speed and sharp turns of the truck indicated an emergency. The owner rushed up, saying that her son’s dog had been hit by a car. We went out to the parking lot and climbed in, carefully kneeling by the the obviously distressed chocolate lab. He was a two year old male with pleading eyes and heavy breathing. Within the first 60 seconds, I knew that he sustained major internal injuries and was bleeding out into his body somewhere, likely his lungs. He was struggling to breathe and had fluid filling up his lower lung fields, and his gums were almost white and tacky. I told the family what I found on physical exam, and said that we could take him in for radiographs to assess the damage completely, but he was suffering immensely and fading fast. I offered a narcotic injection to help ease the pain and allow him to rest a little more comfortably while they asked questions and came to a decision. They accepted the offer, and through tears asked what I thought was best for him. Honestly, I told them, his age is a great asset to his healing, but even if we find the source of the injuries and repair them with surgery, stabilizing him until surgery and the recovery after will both be very prolonged and painful spans of time for him. The son was crying and wouldn’t say anything, but his mom asked if he wanted to just end his pet’s suffering and he slowly nodded, not willing to look at anyone or stop holding his beloved dog’s paw. After the consents were signed and everyone said goodbye while the sedative kicked in, I placed an intravenous catheter and slowly administered the euthasol solution, speaking softly to the dog the whole time, and telling him what a good boy he was and how loved he was and how happy and whole he will be up in heaven. After he breathed his last, blood poured out of his nose in a way that indicated the extent of the internal hemorrhage, and the family felt that affirmed their decision. They took him home to bury on their property, and thanked me for helping him go so peacefully after such a horrendous event.
The next one was brought in by our amazing Animal Control officers. The dog was a 3-6 year old intact male bloodhound mix, and he was alarmingly aggressive and fearless. The officers said that he was an owner surrender, because he kept trying to bite the family and neighbors, and no one could touch him or train him. He kept getting out of his yard and killing local goats and smaller animals, and was a true threat to safety and well-being. We sedated him with some oral medications in a treat first, then after that set in sedated him more fully with an injection. After the sedation took full effect, I placed the catheter and administered the euthasol, all the while telling him softly that it wasn’t his fault, he was a good boy, and he could be truly happy in heaven.
The last dog was an 11 year old male neutered black lab with a history of severe separation anxiety, heat stress, and worsening generalized anxiety that could be a sign of canine cognitive dysfunction (doggy dementia). His body was healthy, his owners were doting, and his furry siblings always deferred to his alpha role, but his feeble mind was slipping away from any help of medications or behavior therapy. I counseled them on knowing “when it was time”, and they agreed that a good last day was infinitely better than an emergency last-minute decision. His owners wrestled with the decision for months, and finally decided that his worsening was going to lead to a seizure or self-harm, and that wasn’t the life they wanted for him. They chose to have him euthanized at home in the cool shade of their barn, after his favorite treats and some human food, with them holding him and all of us talking to him softly about what a good and faithful dog he was. The sedation brought what we swear was a contented smile to his lips, and after the euthasol was injected he gave one last sigh and then left us to go to the rainbow bridge. It was peaceful and calm, and he was surrounded by the humans who loved him most. We all sat around afterward telling stories of his glory days, and they, too, elected to bury him at home.
Three completely different scenarios, same outcome. For one, the pain and suffering of a traumatic event was too great, and the arduous process of healing and recovery was asking a lot of his damaged body and his owner’s tight resources. For another, he was a threat to himself and others by being incredibly aggressive and unable to be contained, and a merciful euthanasia is far better than an angry neighbor’s shotgun or an oncoming car or territorial bull. For the last, death was imminent but the suffering prior to death was all mental and excruciating, and his owners elected to spare him that fate. Each one was treated with the same dignity and respect from myself and my staff, and each one was told during the entire process how he was a good boy, how happy and whole he would be again soon, and how loved he was. Because, truthfully, euthanasia is an act of love. It’s a mercy, a kindness- a gentle transition from this imperfect world full of pain and stress, into one of peace and restoration. It’s choosing to relieve our beloved pets and companions of their present suffering, so that they can have some dignity and a goodbye as they leave this world and arrive at the rainbow bridge. It’s not the hardest part of my job by any stretch, since I know it’s the best choice for so many animals, and it’s also preferred to letting them continue to suffer until their poor bodies or minds finally give up. These are my opinions, I know, but I am not alone in these, and am sure that many vets agree that it is one of the kindest options we have. (I also believe that our animals go to heaven, and that the ones we say goodbye to on earth will be waiting for us when get to those pearly gates, but that’s my personal view. I mean, why else would God create dogs to love so unconditionally if they weren’t a furry reflection of His unconditional love? ♥ )
I pray these three pups made a joyous arrival to bridge, full of health and happiness and vitality. And they’ll wait for their humans, or the right human will find them on their way, and then they’ll cross the bridge together.
Strumming my pain with his fingers/ Singing my life with his words/ Killing me softly with his song/ Killing me softly with his song – Fugees
Grace and Peace,