Can you guess how many animals I euthanized last year? Sadly, this morbid mental exercise is kind of like guessing how many jellybeans are in a jar. But it’s undertaken less as a senseless descent into morbidity than by way of reaching into my profession’s heart of darkness … and attempting an exorcism of the demons that live there.

That’s what whatikilledtoday.com was all about. Though it's sadly gone the way of other great blogs, it was an excellent blog on one wildlife worker’s euthanized cases. From crabs and fish to small mammals, this not-for-profit employee had it rough on the death front. (I can only hope he's got a less stressful job now, wherever he is.)

Mostly, these "beautiful deaths" are recorded matter-of-factly, allowing any of us to read into its grim words what we will. It’s nothing short of brilliant (if you like Nietzsche and Pink Floyd, that is).

Yes, it’s sobering stuff, all this euthanasia talk. But when you do what we do — whether you’re the direct supplier of death or the one paid to caress the dying and attend to their remains — it takes its toll. Sometimes it really can be every bit as gut-wrenching as you’d expect it to be.

That’s why counting all the dead who have passed through our hands is a worthy practice. After all, it deserves some contemplation, this serious detail we take on as veterinarians.

To that end, my stats for 2008:  85 dogs. 112 cats.

It might sound like a somber way to ponder what we do. And you’d be right. But, somehow, there’s much more going on behind the numbers, just as I intuit in whatikilledtoday’s cold, hard facts.

Whenever we discuss euthanasia among colleagues, there’s always a spectrum of emotions attached: relief, sorrow, fear, and the blackest kind of humor reserved for those who require collegial commiseration and personal expiation. You might find it dark and lurid to count off the pets whose hearts we’ve stopped. But where would we be without the willingness to accept this opportunity for reflection?

Dr. Patty Khuly