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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Euthanasia Is Not "On Demand"

My associate ran into a rather difficult client this past Tuesday.  I wasn't there, but heard the story from her and some staff members.  The lady brought in a nine week old puppy to be euthanized because of multiple health problems.  According to the owner the puppy was very sick, couldn't do anything with its mouth (while it was chewing on her pants leg), had some sort of neurological problem (while it was playing on the floor), and had been to another vet and specialists who couldn't figure out what was wrong.  She had come to our clinic to have the puppy put to sleep because the staff at the other vet's office were too attached and she didn't want them to have to do the deed.

When my associate examined the puppy she noticed a very healthy, happy young dog who was in good body condition.  The only abnormality was a "cherry eye" (prolapsed third eyelid gland), a disorder that is considered very fixable and isn't close to being fatal.  She saw no signs of the kinds of problem the lady was talking about, and certainly didn't see any reason to euthanize.

So she declined euthanizing the puppy.  The owner went ballistic!  She started ranting and raving, actually yelling at our doctor.  One of our staff took a position just outside of the exam room in case the owner became violent and intervention was necessary.  Eventually after being quite loud the owner left with her still-alive puppy.

There were many things strange about the lady's story, mainly that this supposedly deathly sick puppy had been eating well and was playing in the room.  She had bred the dogs that resulted in this puppy's litter, so there was speculation that she want the puppy put to sleep because it had the cherry eye and didn't want to have to try and sell it.  That was pure guesswork, but it made some sense.

Let me be very clear here.  Veterinarians have no obligation whatsoever to euthanize a pet simply because an owner wants it.  This is an irreversible decision that ends a life.  Putting it very bluntly, we are killing an animal.  We do not do so lightly.  

Euthanasia has its place and time and requires careful thought.  We use it only to end suffering, and not as a convenience to the owner.  I have refused to do so many times, and don't regret any of them.  Though I will counsel owners and respect their decision if it makes sense, but in the end it is MY decision to actually perform the act.  I have every legal right to refuse this service and it is not malpractice to do so.  The ethical side of things may be a bit trickier at times, but I use a pretty simply rule of thumb...what will the quality of the pet's life be if we do nothing but leave it alive? If that quality is very poor, euthanasia is often the right choice.  If the pet will be perfectly fine, then I will usually disagree with the choice.

This lady was unreasonable and I feel no regrets at her leaving.  The right decision was made and I fully support my associate. 


  1. Well said Chris...
    Although I worry what she went on to do with that puppy!

  2. I also worry what she chose to do with that puppy instead. But that brings up the point if she was just looking to get rid of it because she didn't want to try and sell it, or whatever her reason was, aren't there cheaper, easier alternatives to euthanasia? Surrendering it, give-away, etc? It seems like such an odd scenario...

  3. The staff also worried about the puppy and even considered calling Animal Control. However, we had no threat or evidence that the owner would do anything wrong, just the worries, so I couldn't justify going down that road. It would have been a huge slander or wrongful accusation risk and liability if she wasn't going to do anything.

    And we also wondered why she just wouldn't give it away if nothing was actually wrong. Definitely a strange case. But it shows some of the moral decisions that vets have to make every day.

  4. People. suck.

    That is all.

    Breeders are my fave!

  5. It's even better when they bring in a healthy dog to the ER demanding a euthanasia for "aggression." I refuse to do these and refer the owners to their veterinarians for discussion of behavioral modification, medications, training, and euthanasia IF appropriate.

  6. Good for the Vet that refused! I am sure she will find someway to get rid of the puppy though. People just suck sometimes.. for every pet guardian that cares deeply and does their best there seems to be a greater number who just suck.

  7. It's too bad she didn't decide to be honest about her reasons. I'll give her points for at least going for a humane death for the puppy instead of just drowning it in a sack. However, her sense of "responsibility" for a litter she bred is certainly far different from many of us reading this post. If she didn't find someone else to kill the pup, or she didn't have it drowned, I'm sure it ended up in some over crowded shelter instead.

  8. I too worry about what happens when I refuse a convenience euthanasia. But I still refuse them, I have to sleep at night.

  9. Oh the worries. Last year I saw a case at a clinic I tech-ed at that showed me how lightly some people take euthanasia. This woman brought in a apparently very elderly in very poor body condition miniature poodle who was convulsing. As I was taking vitals and history (doctor was on her way) I became increasingly disgusted. The owner had tried to give the pet an overdose of Valium in order to "let her go". Obviously it was not successful and after a day of convulsions the owner thought she should bring her in. She didn't want to pay the 40 dollar euthanasia fee.


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