Your Pet Deserves a Dignified End

Beach Metro News

By Dr. Nigel Skinner • September 20, 2011 • Print This Article
CERTAINLY THE most talked about current event in veterinary circles in Toronto at present is the investigation and allegations surrounding our Toronto Humane Society.

As I am sure is the case with every vet in the city, whenever I advertise for a new staff member, close to half of the respondents will have at some time either worked or volunteered at the THS. That the Humane Society in this city has a high staff turnover and a long line of former, often disgruntled employees, didn’t really come as a surprise.

Of course I always considered it very important to remain objective and consider that perhaps unhappy former employees may not always be able to represent both sides of a situation fairly. I tried to keep this in mind as I read the three part series in the Globe and Mail from which the current controversy sprang.

On one side I felt the articles risked being a little sensationalist, things like pictures of soiled dog runs and over- turned food bowls need to be kept in perspective. As anyone in the cat and dog care industry knows, if you have 15 cages to clean by the time you get to the last one, the first one can look a lot like some of those pictures. Young dogs especially can turn a perfectly clean environment into an absolute disaster in a matter of minutes.

It also occurred to me that the person who snapped the pics from their cell phone was probably the same person who was responsible for keeping the cages clean.

The Humane Society does deal with a very large number of often critically ill or injured patients, some of whom are going to appear less than happy on film. That all said however, there were two things in particular that stood out in these articles that left me worried.

One is the shear volume of people who have come forward with concerns raised during their time at the THS. It’s one thing to hear a handful of complaints about management from a few unhappy former employees; it’s another to see current employees coming out in number to voice specific concerns.

The second and most alarming point that was made is the rate of animals that died unaided while in the care of the Humane Society compared to those euthanized. The Globe reports that between Jan. 1, 2008 and April 10, 2009, 954 animals were euthanized at the THS and 1843, nearly twice as many, died in their care.

To put this in some perspective, over the same period at my own practice, we performed just over 100 euthanasias, one patient died while hospitalized and fewer than 10 died at home unaided. Obviously my own practice handles a lower volume of cases and far fewer neglected, abused and abandoned animals. The point is that as a rule when sick pets pass away, it is because they are humanely euthanized far more often than not.

I often will hear the statement, “I don’t know how you can do it, having to euthanize pets as part of your job, it must be so upsetting.” Of course it is always upsetting to see a pet pass away, to see the sadness and loss in the family, and to feel that sadness yourself. Often we have built great bonds with our patients. It’s certainly a part of my job that I do regretfully because of that loss. What I always remind pet owners though is that being able to provide a painless and dignified end to a pet’s life is a great honour and something very sacred that we are privileged to be able to do.

Our pets give us many great gifts. One is that they are constant reminders of a great way to be; they live in the moment. When your dog or cat persistently nuzzles you at 6 a.m., they’re not too concerned about getting the kids ready for school, the 9 a.m. meeting, or what to take out for dinner. They want breakfast. When you come home at the end of the day and they act like they haven’t seen you in years, it’s because at that moment you’ve made their day great just by being there, and that moment is the only important one.

Understanding this I think is the key to understanding when and why euthanasia is the best thing we can do for our beloved pets. The terrible bur- dens we place on ourselves when we consider death are because we know it’s going to happen yet understand nothing about it. It’s that certainty coupled with such uncertainty that evokes such fear in us all. Our pets know none of that, that burden is ours to carry. What our pets know is: “How do I feel right now? What do I want to do right now? Chase a ball, eat, curl up and sleep?”

When the answer to that question is, more often than not, painful, nauseous, or terribly weak, and we know that there is nothing more that can be done to change that answer, then our final act of true love and respect for our pets has to be that we consider letting them go. Euthanasia for our pets is not some- thing that we should be ashamed or afraid of. When used appropriately and given the serious consideration it deserves, it is often the ultimate expression of our love. It is our chance to be as unselfish to our beloved pets as they have been to us.

If the allegation is true that the Humane Society has failed to euthanize numerous patients when it was advised, only to have those pets die in their care, then this is a travesty.

I genuinely hope it is not true, but if it is, then it saddens me to think it’s taken this long to come to the surface.