When to Euthanize

The Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) announced last month that January 2010 would be The First Annual National Train Your Dog Month.

You know how some people don’t like to stop to ask for directions? The result can lead to taking a very long time to get to the destination, getting hopelessly lost or worse, getting into an accident. So it is with raising a dog well. Not many people realize that there are very simple things to learn and practice that will help shape a puppy from the beginning or rewire an unruly adolescent or adult dog into a well behaved and adoring companion animal. Note I said simple, not easy.

Lack of simple and consistent training ends up becoming a death sentence for many very wonderful dogs (and cats and other pets). The adorable puppy crawling out of the box on Christmas morning isn’t so adorable after a few weeks or months of NORMAL DOG BEHAVIOR you decide you don’t like. Pup hasn’t learned where to consistently pee or poop because no one taught her. He’s destroying property because no one is managing him or giving him appropriate chewies each and every time. She is jumping up on owners or guests; he is pulling on the leash and maybe even barking and lunging at strangers/other dogs/anything it sees. Perhaps the dog is running off and at risk for being hit by a car or lost or injuring someone or something.

Fed up with behaviors that aren’t cute anymore or new ones that are overbearing, owners give up on the dog and, because the owner can, the dog ends up in a shelter or rescue group or almost incomprehensibly, just dumped. [AUTHOR’S NOTE: Lily was herself a rescue — she and several litter mates were serendipitously found by a passerby who heard them whimpering — they had been dumped in a box in the woods in late December to freeze to death. My rescue cat Grace was from a litter thrown in a dumpster in the back of a vet hospital where I used to teach — she was the only kitten in her litter to survive. How? She managed to escape the dumpster and find me in the parking lot . From day one this feline exudes a cerebral calm and cunning that makes her such a survivor.]

According to the Humane Society of the United States, between six and eight million dogs and cats are turned in to animal shelters each year, and about four million are euthanized for lack of good homes. These are often healthy, nice and potentially amazing pets whose only crime was owner impulsivity, ignorance and irresponsibility. Check out their video.
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My own dilemma regarding euthanasia has to do with the flip side of that coin.
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At what point does one make the decision for a beloved and cherished dog in their care that euthanasia is indicated? A dog you really don’t want to lose but are coming to accept you will lose. Now at 3. 5 weeks post diagnosis and thus at the tail end of the time frame guesstimated on Diagnosis Day, I called in to Lily’s medical doctor, Dr. James Preuter of Shaker Animal Clinic.

I’ve known Dr. Preuter for years but never had the need to have one of those emotional conversations revolving around the painful topic of death and dying: “When do I know when it’s time and when and if that time comes, what will I do?” I was very grateful for his gentle tone and willingness to discuss options available even though I knew he was in the middle of a hectic work day.

I was most heartened that he was willing, should I need it, to provide a house call to euthanize her in her familiar environments. I also probed him in detail about what the actual cause of death might be and what it might look like if she went on her own. I was heartened that although gruesome sounding to a lay person, her probable cause would be bleeding out in whatever internal organ was “winning” the hemangiosarcoma tumor war. Since the cancer wouldn’t spread to her bones, he indicated her continued deterioration shouldn’t be painful. She might be walking about and just drop dead suddenly and relatively painlessly, or, in best case scenario, she would simply fall asleep and die peacefully sleeping.

Since a good 90% of Lily’s time is spent resting/sleeping and I’m making an effort to minimize her excitement/arousal level since that causes breathing trauma, I’d like to think that she is savoring the end process because I have worked it out to remain near her much of the time. She seems to take great comfort in me being near her, which is really the greatest gift she could give me. Thank goodness for slow periods like endless snow of January!

Lily is proof positive that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. And treasure her I have. And do. And hope to for many more days to come.

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