Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Making the Call

Today, I delivered an old, ill, befuddled male chihuahua into the arms of the Shelter Vet Tech for euthanization.  I made the decision on an animal that people had been fretting about for two days.

One volunteer thought the dog was just "despondent."  Another admitted that the animal was near its end, but felt that someone should take the dog home and let it "pass away" on its own.  A staff person desperately wanted the dog to have time "outside the Shelter" before it died.

The dog in question was a stray-hold dog whose time was up today.  He was a tiny, old, cinnamon-colored male chihuahua, coated in flea dander, gummy-eyed, disoriented, shaking, and hacking with advanced heartworms.  The poor old man couldn't even stand--when I set him on the grass outside, his hindquarters quivered and he staggered once, then collapsed.  His ears were at half mast and his head was as jiggly as a bobble-head toy.

I have two foster dogs.  My own dog just died (and this little guy's staggers looked suspiciously similar to what I saw in my own dog during his last hours).  A staffer gave the old dog a Capstar with a bit of wet cat food.  Cat food works wonders with ailing dogs--he perked up and ate a few more bites.  I gave him a bath to wash off the bulk of the flea crap and rubbed him warm with a clean towl, then wrapped him in a piece of fleece.

I took him outside and set him down on the grass.  He staggered, then collapsed.  He didn't whine or complain.  He just worked himself into a down position and lay there, blinking blearily in the warm sun.  I watched him, tears filling my eyes.  I couldn't take him home.  No one else had volunteered.  We had no way to diagnose what was wrong with him.  After about twenty minutes, I bundled the old dog up and took him back into the Shelter.  I showed him to the Shelter Director, who is a Vet.  She watched him wobble and sag.  She told me to go to see the Vet Tech, neatly avoiding pronouncing the death sentence.

I admire our Vet Tech immensely.  Some of the volunteers think she is harsh and curt with people, but she is focused on doing what she can with exceedingly limited resources.  I unwrapped the little guy, set him on the floor.  He listed, then fell.  The Vet Tech looked at me and said, "There are two options for this dog.  Take him out of here, make him comfortable, and let him die.  Or put him down now."

"I can't take him home," I said, which was not an excuse.  "I want to put him down." The Vet Tech nodded. I carried the dog and we walked out of the receiving area, up the hall to a door marked "Private."  The Vet Tech unlocked the door, took the dog and his paperwork and turned.  Just before she closed the door, I said, "Wait. Let me say goodbye."  I kissed his little head and rubbed his flea-scarred ears.  "You were someone's good Chihuahua," I said, "You are a good boy.  It will be better now."  She turned away with the dog.  The door shut with a click.

I have a message on my phone from a volunteer praising me for "taking that poor dog home."  She won't be happy to know that I made the decision to have the dog put down.   He had as good an end as I could give him--he was cleaner, warm, fed and stroked.  He went to the Euthanization room wrapped in a clean fleece blanket.

Some people will consider me the villain.  But I hate the way we throw energy and resources at dogs that come to us in such horrible shape.   The person at fault is that dog's owner.  If that dog was abandoned or turned in as a stray, it was because his owner was too cowardly to make the difficult decision I made this afternoon.  That dog's suffering is over.  I sent him off with as much dignity as I could muster.

I didn't have my camera with me today or I would have taken a dozen photos of that old Chihuahua.  This photo has been altered from an Internet image.


  1. I don't consider what you did to be terrible at all. You tried what you could and made the right decision for the dog. You were more humane to him than I imagine a lot of others have been to him in his life.

  2. you did good. he had care and loving when he needed it from you. may he rest in peace.

  3. I am grateful there are people in this world who will make a hard decision, for the animal, when necessary.
    The old man is in a better place. Thanks.

  4. That is incredibly inspiring! I had a ferret that I had to put down. I had no choice in my mind. I *could have* taken her to a shelter or rescue hoping they could spend the hundreds of dollars fixing her up (she had cancer and it was spreading, she couldn't use her back legs at this point). I was 14 years old and no way was my father about to fork over more money on something that likely would not work at the time.
    Long story short, she fell asleep on my shoulder where she felt safest. She never woke up, she got to stay in her dreams.

    I am very thankful for people like you.

  5. Kudos to you for making that decision. That old chi was not scared of death like humans may be, he just knew he was suffering, and you, as a compassionate person, ended that suffering for him. I'm sad that it sounded like he had a rough life previous to his stay in the shelter, but I am not sad that his life has ended.

  6. It was the best decision you could make at the time. I wish that it were possible for every animal, or for that matter every person, to die at home, comfortably, at the end of a long, happy life, but it just doesn't work that way. And as sad as it is to end one dog's life, in the long run, resources are better spent on animals who still have the chance at a long, happy life, not the ones who arrive at a shelter already at death's door. The only villain in this situation is the owner who didn't have the guts to do what needed to be done and left that heart-wrenching decision up to someone else.


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