The Real Cost of "Convenience Euthanasia"

An Ethical Dilemma

Convenience euthanasia is a hot-button topic in companion animal vet medicine. It happens when owners ask that their relatively healthy pets be euthanized for what, on the surface, appear to be trivial reasons: moving, carpeting, couch or stereo speaker destruction, marriage, divorce, job loss, travel, etc.

Whatever the case, the common denominator is the pet’s nuisance factor, not his welfare. He’s a bother. She’s more trouble than she’s worth. He's too big for our apartment. She sheds too much. A fill-in-the-blank hassle.

Plenty of veterinarians in private practice feel just as I do. We won’t euthanize healthy animals ever. It’s contrary to our veterinarian’s oath to go there.

But refusing a convenience euthanasia isn't simple either. Will the owner go to another clinic where the pet's history isn't known? Will the pet be abandoned on a country road or suffer an even worse fate?

Instead, we seek out every possible option to rehome the pet. We direct the owner to shelters and rescue organizations. We pin notices on our bulletin boards and lean on soft-hearted clients who may have room for one more pet. We add another "clinic cat," who will make his home in our front office. And often, a previous patient becomes part of our own menagerie.

Still, there's a limit to how many of these situations we can circumvent.

It's Not Always a Clear Decision

Between convenience euthanasia and euthanasia to relieve suffering in the chronically ill, painful or geriatric, there's a wide swath of gray area. Every week, veterinarians are presented with animals whose owners can no longer care for them for one reason or another. Some of these pets may have a manageable medical condition that unfortunately requires a significant investment in time or money. Others may need special care because of separation anxiety or another behavior problem.

Many of these pets are relatively healthy. Many of them are unlikely to be adopted. When we balance this with the fact that our shelters are often overpopulated, how do we decide what's right? It's one reason some veterinarians suffer emotional burnout.Yet veterinarians know that these are the ethical issues we're likely to confront in the environment we practice in.

Still, is it too much to wish that one day we won't be asked to provide euthanasia for minimally ill or "inconvenient" pets? Then there’d be a whole lot fewer patients like Uno for people like me and my staff members to wring our hands over.

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