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Posts Tagged ‘pet euthanization’

The burden of euthanizing an aggressive dog

August 12, 2013 179 comments

Jack Russell Terrier SnarlingYesterday I read a painfully poignant post by Phyllis DeGioia about her dog, Dodger and her decision to put him down due to his aggression (“Euthanizing Aggressive Dogs: Sometimes It’s the Best Choice“). Her words were not only  powerful because they came from her own experience, but also because they so clearly articulated the conflicting emotions and guilt one feels when faced with euthanizing a dog due to aggression.

Societally, it is so much more acceptable to euthanize a dog for old age or illness than it is for a dog with behavioral issues.  And yet, many a pet owner has had to face making this type of decision.  I admire Phyllis for her courage in writing about her decision to euthanize Dodger.

In 2011, I wrote about a dog park friend who had to make this difficult decision after her cream-colored Golden Retriever showed serious signs of aggression at just 11 months old. After trying to resolve the issues herself, then seeking out a trainer, and finally taking Sally to a veterinarian animal behaviorist at the University of Minnesota, she was faced with two options, constantly supervise and manage Sally around her two young children or put her to sleep. The veterinarian made it very clear that Sally’s aggression was not something that would ever get better. It was not her or her husband’s fault. There was simply something wrong with her wiring. And so, she made the difficult decision to put her to sleep. I cried with her as she walked with Sally one last time around the dog park. It was a heartbreaking a decision, but I supported her.

Sometimes something just goes wrong with a dog. He is born with genetically bad wiring or is mentally ill or has suffered so much from abuse, that euthanizing him is almost a kindness rather than a cruelty.

I feel for the pet parent who has ever had to make this type of decision. It’s never an easy one. There is so much guilt, shame and fear. Guilt because you feel like there was something more you could have done or that you somehow failed your dog. Shame that others will think you a bad pet owner. Fear at what might have happened if you hadn’t made such a difficult decision.

I used to be one of those people who thought every dog could be saved, but my experience as a shelter volunteer has taught me otherwise. Probably one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make was to recommend a dog I loved, one I had worked with for weeks, be put to sleep. His  aggression had reached such a level that even I, the one who loved him most, became afraid of him.

Phyllis’ own words from her experience with Dodger summed up exactly my last experience with him – “Being attacked by someone you love is a visceral slam to your gut. For a short while, rational thought is gone. It happens so quickly. Your body shakes, and your heart pounds as the instinctive fight-or-flight response is set off.”  My recommendation to euthanize him was not an easy one, but I don’t doubt my decision to do so. Sometimes, the most difficult decision is the right one.

Reading Phyllis’ piece made me think of one I had recently read on Patricia McConnell’s blog titled, “Love, Guilt & Putting Dogs Down.” Although Patricia’s post was addressing the guilt we all feel as pet owners when we have to say goodbye to beloved pets, I think these words were particularly applicable to those who must make the difficult decision to put an aggressive or damaged dog down.

“It is easier to believe that we are always responsible (‘if only I had done/not done this one thing….’) than it is to accept this painful truth: We are not in control of the world. Stuff happens. Bad stuff. As brilliant and responsible and hard-working and control-freaky that we are, sometimes, bad stuff just happens. Good people die when they shouldn’t. Gorgeous dogs brimming with health, except for that tumor or those crappy kidneys, die long before their time. Dogs who are otherwise healthy but are a severe health risk to others end up being put down. It’s not fair, it’s not right, and it hurts like hell. But please please, if you’ve moved heaven and earth to save a dog and haven’t been able to… just remember:  Stuff happens. We can’t control everything. (Difficult words to dog trainers I know. . . Aren’t we all control freaks to some extent?) You didn’t fail. You tried as hard as you could. It’s okay.” (“Love, Guilt & Putting Dogs Down“, by Patricia McConnell, The Other End of the Leash)

If you have ever had to euthanize a pet for reasons other than illness or old age, I feel for you. You carry a burden that is more difficult to bear than most. It’s hard enough to euthanize a pet when they are ill and you know that you are easing their pain, but harder still to do so when it involves dog aggression or mental illness. Shame and guilt might be feelings you have, but they have no place here.

Sometimes bad things happen. Sometimes doing everything you can to save a dog is just not enough. You did your best.  You did not fail.

If you are facing a difficult decision about your dog, consider looking at this list of resources first. There are some great people doing great things with dogs these days. All is not lost. My thanks to SlimDoggy for putting this list together.

Petsmart Study on Pet Owners and Pets – We have some work to do

August 22, 2012 15 comments

Back in May, I shared a study released by Banfield on the state of our pets’ health. It was quite an eye-opener when it came to pet health trends (pet obesity being the most concerning of all). But there is another study I found just as interesting and even more concerning from the perspective of animal welfare. I read it a year ago, but for some reason forgot to share it. It’s still worth sharing now.

The study, conducted by Petsmart back in 2009, focused on pet adoption and the spaying and neutering of pets.

Among the objectives of the study were:

  • Measure awareness of pet adoption and spay/neuter problems in the U.S.
  • Gauge whether perceptions of and attitudes toward pet adoption and spay/neutering problems differ by geographic region in the U.S.
  • Identify the drivers for using pet adoption and spay/neuter services
  • Determine the barriers to pet adoption and spay/neuter services

What I found the most surprising (and yes, shocking) was the lack of knowledge and understanding people (especially people in the 18-34 year old category) have about the pet overpopulation problem, and how much it is impacted by choosing to spay or neuter a pet. Granted, this study was done in 2009, so maybe attitudes have changed since then, but I suspect they haven’t changed all that much.. Social media certainly has helped to educate people on the pet overpopulation problem, but there is clearly so much more work to be done.

I encourage you to read the full report yourself, but here are just some of the statistics I found interesting:

Pet Overpopulation

  • 62% of 18-34 year olds and 47% of people over 55 thought the number of pets euthanized each year was under 1 million. (Estimates place euthanization rates somewhere between 4-5 million a year.)

Acquiring a pet

  • Between 10 and 20 percent of dog/cat owners have had a litter (53% of dog owners and 54% of cat owners said it “was an accident.”)
  • The largest percentage of people got their pet from a family member (25%) or an adoption organization or animal shelter (24%).
  • For those that acquired their pet from a breeder/local pet store, the primary driver was they wanted a specific breed/purebred.

Spaying/Neutering a Pet

  • More than 1 in 3 recently acquired dog/cat owners have not spayed or neutered their pet.  (Younger adults and those living in the South were least likely to have their pet spayed/neutered.)
  • Many owners are confused about “when” to spay or neuter their pet, with men having the most misconceptions about when is a good time to spay or neuter.
  • Among the top reasons given for not spaying or neutering a pet were – young age of the pet, cost and time, “Haven’t gotten around to it”and “Did not feel it was necessary…”

Pet Adoption

  • Those who chose not to adopt listed these top 5 reasons – did not have the type dog or cat they were looking for (17%), wanted a purebreed (13%), don’t know what you’ll get with shelter animal (12%), don’t know much about pet adoption (10%) and adoption process is too difficult (10%).
  • “Saving an animal’s life” is the key motivation for pet adoption.
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