A case of untimely euthanasia for one little dog (or, How to offer death 101)
Yesterday one of my clients came in with her two year-old Yorkie. The dog had spent the last four weeks and the lion’s share of ten thousand dollars in and out of multiple specialty hospitals.
After coming down with granulomatous meningoencephalitis (GME) the day before Thanksgiving, she’d failed to recover measurably. She could not stand. She could not see. She couldn’t even lay down without rolling over disorientingly. To make matters worse, she wasn’t really able to control her bowels well, either.
Despite the best efforts of everyone involved, this was looking like a lost cause. Had she been a human we’d persevere to no end. Because she’s a confused little dog with limited ability to tell us how she feels or what she wants, we have the luxury of making decisions for her based on what we perceive.
The specialists had faded out of the picture about two weeks ago. “There’s nothing more for us to do.” So they sent her to a rehabilitation specialist. At over $100 a day, every day, this dog was getting the best care she could get in the area.
When I called to check up on her earlier this week, however, the owner completely broke down over the phone. Despite the upbeat attitude of the doctors and staff at the rehab hospital (who told her, “we don’t believe in euthanasia here” when she asked about the possibility), this owner had finally forced herself to admit that her dog was not recovering.
During the call, she admitted that, “I didn’t want to come see you because I knew you’d know right away she wasn’t getting any better. And when they said no to euthanasia I was able to cling to my unrealistic hopes. But when you see her I think you’ll agree it’s time.”
Today I euthanized her at her home. I agreed with the owner. It was a dignified solution to a dreadful disease.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “We don’t believe in euthanasia here.”? What the heck is that all about? Don’t vets believe in euthanasia?
Well…that can be a sticky subject for some vets. The vast majority of vets are proud of the fact that we can relieve suffering and wouldn’t hesitate to do so in this case. It’s never easy to euthanize a two year-old, but this dog was sick enough for any thinking person to see she was never going to be anywhere near normal again. It’s not only completely defensible, this situation is sufficiently grave as to practically demand euthanasia after a month of miniscule improvement.
Nonetheless, a small minority of vets feel it’s not their place to discuss euthanasia. They believe it’s such a personal decision that it’s one the owner must arrive at on his own. An even tinier minority takes the above vet’s view that even Terry Schiavo-esque pet cases should not be euthanized, believing it’s God’s will that the animal was rendered thus.
I think that’s weird. Though I can respect this view when it comes to humans, it seems unduly harsh to expect an owner to deal with the 24/7 care, the angst and the grief that comes from seeing your pet this way day after day. Not everyone can handle all that.
And how about the cruelty visited upon an animal who is confused and disoriented? Is that not enough of a reason? What if she were in pain? I just don’t get this at all.
In this case, I also believe this vet’s view is exploitative—not to mention self-serving. $100 a day for the rest of a dog’s “natural” life is a pretty big-ticket item, even for an owner who can afford it (and this one can).
I can understand not offering euthanasia because you believe it's best for an owner not to feel influenced by your personal morays. That position may be a tad odd, but it’s utterly defensible, nonetheless.
Still, my preference is always to let owners know all their choices, even if one of them takes their pet physically away from them forever. Without offering this option, many owners will never feel the freedom to consider it, assuming they’d be judged harshly by their vet should they be the first to bring up the E-word.
Humans are funny creatures. There are as many ways of thinking about and dealing with death as there are individuals in our species. That makes my job harder, for sure, but it’s a challenge made easier by knowing that all I can do is make available everything my profession has to offer Ultimately, I think that position acknowledges the plurality of human belief while minimizing animal suffering to the greatest degree possible.