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This is a tough topic. I mean REALLY tough. The editor of Petplace.com suggested this controversial topic and I wasn't sure that I wanted to do it. Most veterinarians I know (myself included) have very strong feelings on this topic. It isn't an easy thing to write about but I'll give it a try.
As you may know, I'm the Irreverent Veterinarian. I speak my mind and give you my honest opinion. When the truth is uncomfortable, I won't "sugar coat" it or try to spin it. I speak the truth – to you, the drug companies, pet product manufacturers, breeders and pet owners. Some might say I'm truthful to a fault. I've had situations where pet owners and breeders have gotten really angry at what I had to say. It is hard hearing the truth.
There was a national news story about a guy who passed away and in his will, he indicated that he wanted his chocolate lab euthanized and buried next to him. I've personally seen this happen and I've heard about it happening to other vets. I've seen it with dogs and cats, but it seems more common for dog owners to make this request.
Some people think this practice is perfectly fine while others feel that it's wrong. Here are some things to consider:
• Is it right to euthanize a healthy friendly dog just because the owner wants us to?
• What if a dog is ill tempered? Or what if the dog has a peculiarly strong bond to his owner? Is it okay then?
• Is this a selfish request on the owner's part, or is it unselfish?
• What if an owner has 3 dogs that are uncontrollable and the dying owner feels that he or she is the only one that can "handle" them? The owner may prefer that the dogs be euthanized rather than leave them behind. Is that OK?
• What about a pet owner who is elderly and can no longer take care of their dog? Is euthanasia a solution?
• Or maybe the pet is sick as well. Is it OK then?
As you can see, there are a lot of variables to consider. That's why this situation is best assessed on a case-by-case basis.
My Final Thoughts On People That Euthanize Their Pets When They Die
There are times when euthanasia seems logical and OK. And other times I have a real problem with it. If the dog is happy and healthy and there are people that would be willing to care for the dog, then I feel it is wrong to euthanize the dog.
But I also realize that there are times when it may be better for the pet. For example, what if someone has a cat that urinates all over the house but the dying owner is "okay" with it? This has become an established long-term behavioral problem. When the owner dies, a new owner may not be willing to on a difficult situation like that. If the cat has been an indoor only cat or if the cat has been declawed, putting it outside is unfair. In this case euthanasia is a more reasonable option.
What if someone has an aggressive dog that only they can handle? When the owner dies, is it fair to make someone else deal with this behavior? This is especially true when a dog can hurt other animals or people.
I had a dog owner "Bernie" who requested that, upon his death, his 12-year-old German Shepherd "Max" be euthanized. He talked to me about it and I promised him that I'd do it. At the time – to be honest – I never thought it would actually happen.
Bernie and Max had a great life. Every day they would walk past my clinic and down to the local store to get coffee and a bagel. I looked forward to seeing them go by. Bernie would tell me he got an extra bagel for Max every day. As time passed, Max developed severe hip dysplasia, arthritis and had a lot of difficulty getting up.
His trips to the coffee shop became less frequent and eventually they stopped going altogether. On top of that, Max had heart disease and required medication twice a day. Bernie had no family who could care for Max. Bernie died and yes, I euthanized Max. It was very sad and it made me cry, but I know it was what Bernie wanted. And it was Max's time.
I like to think of them in Heaven together walking to a local bakery and coffee shop once again.
The Irreverent Vet is a columnist that regularly contributes to PetPlace.com to add a balanced and alternative view of some controversial pet issues. Most of the time veterinarians can't say what they really think without offending some clients. This commentary allows vets to truly speak their mind and it gives you, the pet owner, the opportunity to consider another point of view. All opinions are those of the Irreverent Vet. They are not necessarily the views of PetPlace.com and are not endorsed by PetPlace.com.