It’s one of the hardest decisions you’ll ever have to make. So how do you know when the time is right?
In the 1960s, I knew people who, before going on vacation, would take their dogs to a shelter to be euthanised. They reasoned that it was cheaper to have a dog euthanised – and buy a new one upon returning – than pay a kennel fee.
Two decades later, I was working at a veterinary hospital when a group of distraught bikers on Harley-Davidsons pulled up carrying a sick chihuahua. The dog was intractably ill, and required euthanasia to prevent further suffering. Afterwards, the hospital’s counselors felt compelled to find the bikers a motel room: their level of grief was so profound that the staff didn’t think it was safe for them to be riding their motorcycles.
These two stories illustrate the drastic change in how animals have been perceived. For thousands of years, humans have kept animals as pets. But only during the past 40 years have they come to be viewed as family.
While it’s certainly a positive development that animals are being treated humanely, one of the downsides to better treatment mirrors some of the problems the (human) health care system faces with end-of-life care.
As with humans, in many cases the lives of pets are needlessly prolonged, which can cause undue suffering for the animals and an increased financial burden for families.
The growth of veterinary medicine and ethics.
In 1979, I began teaching veterinary medical ethics at Colorado State University’s veterinary school, the first such course ever taught anywhere in the world.