There's no question about it. Euthanasia is one of the most unpleasant aspects of working with animals. Second only to being unable to alleviate suffering. God, there are times when I wish people had no access to pets. I don't begrudge people the love and opportunities that pets bring into their lives. I get mightily pissed off at people who see pets as an accessory, or a convenience.
Even that statement doesn't cut it.
I work with animals. There's no secret about that. And it is a very difficult job. Its physically demanding and emotionally draining at times. But its rarely the animals them selves that make it that way. Its the people. The idiotic, ignorant people who buy a gorgeous, innocent pup and lock in a tiny back yard. They don't train it and it acts up. They encourage rough play as a puppy, and are absolutely shocked when it kills something. They try to defend it. Most times, its not the dogs fault. Its the owners and the upbringing and the housing and the socialising. Don't get me wrong, there are times when the owners are perfect and the dog is still nuts. You can't help that.
Or the people who get a long haired animal that either don't have the time or inclination to have their pet groomed. The coat gets all matted, and often these animals have fleas too. So under the mat of hair is itchy, hot, red and painful. And quite often there is so much bacteria living there it stinks to high hell. If your pet gets a scratch under there, they are screwed.
These people are the ones who bitch most about how much it costs to anaethsetise their pet and cut the hair off. Its much cheaper, easier and better for your pet to brush them, or take them to a groomer. They are easier to handle and if you do it yourself, it reinforces the bond.
Or people who have cats with abscesses who don't do anything. We had someone bring in a cat at3pm on a Friday with a bloody great abscess on its foot, demanding surgery. We told her that she should have bought the cat in earlier. We had surgeries already lined up, and if we did hers it would be an after hours, at the appropriate rate. She went to a different vet for the surgery.
We once had someone come in telling us their cat had an abscess. It was the day before a public holiday weekend. She asked if it was ok to wash it with salt water (WTF??? NO, ITS NOT!!!) over the weekend and hope it went away. We advised her against it, she chose to disregard our advice and she walked out, convinced she was doing the right thing. The vet and I just stared at each other, mouths open.
People who take out their pets stitches shit me. Especially since our clinic had free post operative consults. If your pet needed drugs, that was all you paid for. Someone once took the stitches out of an ear (the dog had a haematoma) a few days after surgery. They're supposed to stay in for a few weeks. The ear blew up again and got infected. Not pretty. Then they wanted the surgery done again for free, because they were too stupid or lazy to bring the dog back in for a free check up.
I hate people who have obese animals. Obese people, I don't care. Its your damn fault. But obese animals are a case of neglect. There are some great weight management diets around. Even supermarket pet foods have weight management selections. Obesity in animals is dangerous and expensive. It causes breathing problems, general unfitness, joint problems, life threatening reproductive problems in females... I could go on forever. And it shaves years off of their already short lives. But when you talk to the owners, they don't care. They don't realise that obesity is a problem in animals. Its too hard to walk the dog, I don't have the time. I can't be bothered measuring out food. I love fluffy, but I don't want to see him go hungry. This is neglect. Plain and simple. And its cruel to have an animal morbidly obese. I've been obese. And while I'm still overweight, I am nowhere near what I was. And I feel so much better for it. Don't you want that for your pets?
Then there are the people who don't desex their pets. If you're not intending to breed, get them desexed. If your not going to run the risks involved with males fighting, maintaining a pregnant bitch, raising and rehoming offspring, then for god sake don't do it. Lets mention vet bills here, before I really get into it. If your pet requires a cesarean, its a few hundred dollars minimum, and there are times when people will attempt to avoid the costly procedure by waiting. These times can see the death of the offspring and/or mother. Are you prepared to bottle feed six or eight pups every few hours for weeks? Is anybody? I love my cats, but I don't know if I'd do it.
Most female dogs increase their chances of getting mammary tumours with each heat. Then there are pyometras (don't click if you don't have a stong stomach). Basically its an infection of the uterus. And it can be deadly.
But this is the bit that gets me. Its the unwanted pups and kittens. The ones that are given 'free to good home' but often go to homes that are run by people ignorant of their pets needs and desires. They will tote the fuzzy around to look cool and caring, and forget about it at other times. Leave it with water and chuck some food at it every now and then. Let them get fleas and worms, and be hungry or overweight. Don't pay them the attention that they crave and never notice if something is wrong.
Euthanasia is hard on the people involved. If the animal is restrained firmly (but not roughly) they are a bit relaxed. You hold them to you and as the drug flows into their veins, their life ebbs away. You hardly notice that you've taken their weight in your arms. As the needle is pulled away you let go of the animal and lay them gently on the table. Its that easy. But its more than that. There's two sides. You can either say you eased the transition by being the best nurse you could. You reduced the stress on that animal, and you tell them that everything is going to be ok. You talk in soft tones and you try to be calm. Most of the time euthanasia is carried out because the animal is old, in pain, unable to move, sick or injured.
The other is more obvious. You helped take a life, and that will be with you forever. You hold an animal and its alive, and you let it go and its not. You get desensitised after a while. Though its always hard and I still feel like crying if the owner is there. My first euthanasia was an elderly dog who was in respiratory arrest. He was on the table on an oxygen mask. We could take him off, but only for minutes at a time. The owners (and kids) came in to say goodbye. The first will always be hard, but that situation, an old family pet, with the kids there, that is hard.
But sometimes there is nothing you can say or do to make it better. I hate euthanasing newborns. Full stop. And this is where the irresponsibility comes into play. It is not uncommon to neuter a female who is pregnant. Though it is dangerous and irresponsible to let the animal get to that stage, and it does cost more for the owner. In all fairness, its not always irresponsibility that causes it. Some animals mature faster than others. I've seen a five month old female cat bought in early for desexing who was pregnant.
But I've also seen mid term animals bought in for neutering. The owners, through sheer stupidity, let their bitch get pregnant. They told us she might be in 'early pregnancy'. We would not have done it if instructed otherwise. The bitch was in late second trimester, maybe even early third. They were so far developed that when we removed them, they were trying to breathe. Thought heir lungs would not cope. We ended up having to euthanaise them. So instead of the owners forking out an 'early pregnancy desex' cost, they paid for a cesarean, which is a few hundred more, and we charged them for the lethobarb used to euthanaise TWELVE pups. I still have a very vivid image of the vet nurse holding the pup, ready to inject, and it gasped. In that moment she went to pieces and I held the needle for them. It was messy, and hard on us, to bring life into the world and then, in one moment, take it away. And it was damn dangerous to the bitch too. If memory serves right, she lost a fair bit of blood.
Though, in all honesty, those pups wouldn't have had a good life.
I love working with animals, and have already written tomorrows post telling more positive stuff. But the damage caused by people's ignorance, arrogance and stupidity make the job so much harder than it need be.