Last week I wrote a post on how hard we were all working to save one dog, who’s inherited vascular malformation meant he couldn’t keep food down and would likely die from his disease within the year. Well, I’m proud to say that Sharkey’s got his surgery all scheduled; so many of you came through. Whether it was $5 or $50 … you did it! 

It’s a feel-good story, for sure. But as some of you pointed out in the comments that followed, there was a hitch (as there always is anytime it comes to saving animals in need): How can we justify working so hard on just one dog when so many more could be helped for the same amount?

I confess that I have no perfect answer to the question — which is why I didn’t chime in last week. Nonetheless, I did have an opportunity to meditate on the answer when I found a dying kitten in the grass along the roadside on Labor Day.

Pulled along by a foundling beagle’s intractable nose, we found her under a tree looking like she’d want nothing better than to die. That is, until the beagle nosed her and she’d reacted most catlike with a fearsome hiss.

Not that she could do more than raise her head and spit in protest of the unwelcome sniffing, but it was enough; the beagle desisted long enough for me to reach down and grab her by the scruff.

Saved … for the moment, anyway. After investigating her many predator-inflicted, insect-ridden injuries, I came to an inevitable fork in the decision tree: to treat or not. Whether to face the slings and arrows of pain and suffering, with the possibility of a healed and homed lifetime ahead, or … you know.

This time … sadly … I chose the second option. So why was this one so very different than Sharkey? How exactly is it that one comes to these life and death decisions so easily?

OK, so "easily" doesn’t figure into it. At all. I mean, it’s never easy. But it is doable. You either decide … or you do nothing. And nothing is not an option. So it is that everyone applies some personal criteria to the issue. Here are mine:

1. The animal in question is eminently "adoptable." Though all are adoptable, not all are "eminently" adoptable. If it’s going to take a lot to bring one back from the brink (because it’s either expensive or painful) the pet needs to be one for whom an ideal home is easily doable. Sharkey, for example, met that criteria with flying colors.

2. The pet is fixable. If there’s serious doubt, as with Labor Day’s kitten and her exposed musculature (I could even see her jawbone!), then I’ll have a tendency to shove my emotions aside and do what’s probably best.

3. Other people would agree with you on the two above points. So much so that they might be willing to help you either pay for the problem or help you find the pet a home. Recruiting assistance is often crucial.

The key is this: There’s never an absolute right and wrong. That is, unless a race to see which comes first — natural death or euthanasia —  is an obvious issue. In these cases, euthanasia should come as fast as possible. No other option exists. But it can take a significant amount of experience to be able to discern the difference in some cases.

Luckily, my Labor Day kitten made it pretty easy: Aggressive (though justifiably), mortally wounded, and low on the adoptability scale, she wasn’t as worthy of all the resources that would have to be expended on her as Sharkey was (for example).

So does it suck to have to make that call? Oh yeah. But it’s what we all have to do if we choose to be thinking, feeling people in the business of helping animals.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Claude by aldinegirl87

 sick kitten, homeless kitten, sad kitten, helping animals