When Owners Ask to Put Down Perfectly Healthy Pets
Published on March 28, 2012
Imagine that you've just graduated from veterinary school a few months ago, and you’ve finally progressed to a point in your internship where your presiding resident thinks you’re capable of flying solo on an overnight shift.
That is, until you receive your first client of the evening: a cat owner who wants to tax your no-longer-insubstantial skills only as far as your way with a syringe full of euthanasia solution is concerned. What’s worse is that when you perform the obligatory physical examination, it becomes clear that this prospectively dead patient is a perfectly healthy feline specimen.
The rationale behind the request? (Owners always supply one or more reasons for engaging in this kind of drastic activity.) In this case, the predominant complaint: Said cat would not let the owner or her husband sleep, urinated inappropriately on expensive furniture, and — sin of all sins — refused to live outside, preferring to yowl at the door to regain entry than “enjoy his freedom.”
Why a cat would want to be let back into a household willing to do away with him is beyond me, but I’m given to understand that abusive relationships are complex beyond most uninitiated individuals' ability to fathom.
In any case, the intent of the office call was obvious: “Kill my cat and, if possible, make me feel better about my wanting to do it.”
Flawed Reasons I've Heard From Owners
With this information in mind, perhaps you can understand why I apply such harsh, judgmental language to cases like this one. But, in case you need more explaining, here’s some background.
You’d be surprised at how often veterinarians are asked to end an animal’s life for no good reason. In fact, not a month or two goes by that one of the three vets at my office isn’t asked to make a healthy animal less of a problem for one of our clients by effectively doing away with them.
Here are some common scenarios for your consideration:
This cat attacks the others. There’s no way that I can let these three sweet things suffer the wrath of Brutus the Bully. He’s ruining their lives!
She’s so nervous that I never see her anyway. What kind of a life could she possibly be living? And all those poopies underfoot! Disgusting! That’s no life. It’s for the best.
He hates my husband. He bites him every single time that he swats his nose with a newspaper. Makes me wonder why he keeps doing it. Why won’t he learn? We’ve tried everything [a naked falsehood], and we just can’t handle the aggression anymore.
Why I Can't Stomach the Practice
To my way of thinking, such problems are no excuse for whipping out the Euthasol willy-nilly, which is why many veterinarians make a big distinction between the term euthanasia — a word that stems from the Greek for “beautiful death” — and killing, a word that confers no artificial niceties and means exactly what you think it does.
Unfortunately, the veterinary industry has condescended to devote diluted language to these transparently immoral calls for death. “Convenience euthanasia,” the profession’s preferred terminology, may not be pretty, but it’s a far cry from the more appropriate “selfish kill” I’m inclined to apply.
Such straightforward verbiage is preferable to sensibilities like mine, which decry those who'd dispose of their animals and — to make matters worse — uniformly seek absolution in the process. As in: “I know you’d feel the same way if you could walk in my shoes!” and “You have no idea how much we’ve suffered before arriving at this difficult decision.”
Yeah, well, no more than I would if I actually had to carry out the sentence. So what makes them think that they can lay it on me? To do so is not just an abuse of their dominion over animals, but it's also a complete abdication of their responsibilities as pet owners, a maddening display of disrespect for the role of a sworn defender of animal life — meaning me.
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