Convenience Euthanasia? Just Say No

by Veterinary Practice News Editors | April 17, 2009 4:06 pm

His face was flushed and his ears were red. He was leading two big, beautiful German shepherd dogs toward the back of the clinic.

I knew something was wrong. He was upset, exasperated, frustrated. He said that the owners of these dogs were going on a long vacation and they wanted the dogs put down.

It was 1972, my first job, my boss. What could I say? What should I say? Something like this came from my heart: “You shouldn't do this if you don't want to. They can take their dogs to the pound where they might have a chance to be adopted. A pet hospital is not the place for healthy pets to be conveniently killed. If it is against your personal ethics, tell them to take their dogs elsewhere.”

But he looked at me wistfully. Then he dutifully shrugged his shoulders and continued walking to the back, closer to the freezer. Death was in the air that day.

Since foreclosure fever has added to the meltdown of the U.S. economy, more animals are being dumped in the nation’s shelters and veterinary hospitals.

I will never forget that moment and the look in his eyes. His spirit was broken. We were generations apart. He was from the old school, more utilitarian.

I was from the new school, human-animal bond oriented. The entire hospital knew that this was a travesty against “The Bond,” forever to be broken that day. 

The impact on our staff made that day linger on like a long funeral.

Later in the day, I proposed that we, as a veterinary hospital, unanimously agree to defer convenience euthanasia.

Our options would be to: educate clients, offer assistance, rehome the pets with another family or refer to the ASPCA or a local rescue organization. I helped my boss redefine his purpose and the services that his veterinary hospital would be proud to perform.

It was a blessing for my goodhearted boss to recognize that it is OK for veterinarians to delegate convenience euthanasia to the shelters, because that is what shelters do. Taxpayers pay shelters to perform the grim role of killing society’s disposable pet population. That is a role the private veterinary clinic must eschew to stay sane.

In the old days, pet owners might have had some justification to avoid the pound. Conditions were deplorable and death by gas chamber was scorned as cruel.

They might have felt justified in having their pet euthanized by their kind veterinarian as the best and most loving option for a pet that they were leaving behind.

Those scary days are vanishing with the refreshening of many area shelters, adoption programs and the “no kill” philosophy that is sweeping the nation.

UC Davis Symposium Honors Oncologist Theilen

The Theilen Tribute Symposium, held at the end of May at UC Davis honored Gordon Theilen, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM (Oncology) for his prolific contributions to veterinary cancer research and medicine.

Dr. Theilen is considered veterinary oncology's greatest forefather due to his work in cancer virology, diverse clinical research, and his first textbook, Veterinary Cancer Medicine.  He assisted and mentored many young researchers, residents and clinicians who have become leaders in their respective fields, including Niels Pedersen, DVM, Ph.D.; Max Essex, DVM; Barb Kitchell, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, Ph.D.; Guiermo Couto. The symposium, titled, "50 years of Cancer Research," reviewed breakthroughs in research, cancer genomics and therapies for the future.

Read the full manuscripts of papers online at[1], Vol. 6, June/July 2008.

For more information, go to[2] or[3]

Since the horrible foreclosure fever has added to the meltdown of the U.S. economy, more animals are being dumped in the nation’s shelters and veterinary hospitals. Those who are judgmental may label these animals as abandoned for convenience euthanasia.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to move into rental units with animals, especially in areas that enforce breed bans. Many people have been forced into prioritizing the survival of their families vs. the family pet.

What price do we pay for convenience euthanasia?

The highest rate of suicide in our profession in America involves workers who euthanize dogs and cats in animal shelters and pounds on a daily basis.

Researchers from the University of Southampton School of Medicine in Hampshire, England, report that the rate of suicide in veterinarians in the UK is four times that of the general public and twice that of doctors and dentists.

Richard Mellanby, David Bartram and David Baldwin published this sad information in the October 2005 issue of the UK’s journal Veterinary Record. They listed several factors that influence suicide in their veterinary surgeons, such as access to lethal drugs, euthanasia being an encouraged and justified procedure, job dissatisfaction, job stress and predisposition to depression.

A website[4] now pools support mechanisms so they can be accessed in one place by veterinary surgeons, nurses and students.

I personally feel that this study failed to mention the emotional impact that bovine encephalopathy—or mad cow–disease had on veterinarians and co-workers in the UK. They were asked to supervise mass killings of millions of animals. Being involved with that misery must have taken its toll in job dissatisfaction and depression.

Is convenience euthanasia on the rise? Society is deluged with the mentality of obsolescence for cars, computers, electronic gadgets, throwaway plastic and Styrofoam containers. Let’s hope that the human-animal bond, which nurtures attachment and loving relationships, will offset the deafening drums to cast animals away when things get rough. 

Some practitioners are refusing to put down animals that aren't ill, dying or in intractable pain. The pet may have become a lifestyle burden to the family due to behavior problems and old age issues such as incontinence, arthritis, blindness or degenerative myelopathy.

Often we are actually staring at economic euthanasia, especially for pets that do not have health insurance. Many families are in economic crisis and it is hard to distinguish whether they want their pet euthanatized for convenience or for economic purposes.

A good veterinarian-client relationship is essential to resolve this situation with the pet’s best interests in mind.

Referral to a behaviorist might help the cat with inappropriate urination or help the dog that chews and digs. Families with feeble animals may benefit with quality of life counselling using the Quality of Life Scale[5].

Contracting for doggie day care or routine veterinary home care services may also ease the burden. Old dog and old cat rescue and pet hospice organizations are emerging as “rest homes” for pets. Their purpose is to accept failing animals and rehabilitate them or place them into end-o- life care programs. Some pet owners donate considerable money when placing their pet(s) in these “pet rest homes.” Visit Nikki Pet Hospice[6] for more details. 

Veterinarians are innately burdened with the pull and push dilemma of being both the healers and the executioners for their sick and geriatric patients.

We routinely juggle and struggle, asking ourselves, “Do we serve the animal, our client or the human-animal bond?” Every encounter with this ethical dilemma oscillates with intensity.

These issues are inherent in our profession and can cause compassion fatigue and burnout. Precautions to prevent maladaptive behavior in our profession should be taught in veterinary schools. There should be no dispute regarding convenience euthanasia.

The sincere answer is a straightforward, “No,” followed by, “Please allow us to give you some viable options that may work out for you and your pets.”


  4. website:
  5. Quality of Life Scale: /images/pdfs/Quality_of_Life.pdf
  6. Nikki Pet Hospice:

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