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Ethical Dilemma: To Euth or Not to Euth

Updated: Jun 21, 2022

I have posted about Euthanasia in the past. It was the only part of becoming a veterinarian that made me not want to become a veterinarian. I was in grade 6 (so that age is what, 10 years old? I'm pretty sure), and a veterinarian came into our classroom to describe the work that they did.

My take away from that visit - veterinarians kill animals. Being an animal lover, growing up on a farm, tending to lambs that were less than hours old, I couldn't think of having to do that. There was a story about how they had to inject animals with toxins, and then try to determine what the toxin was to safe this animal (maybe I was dreaming about this as a child, but having gone through Veterinary Toxicology I know what those old videos look like - horrid).

So from that day forward, I didn't want to be a veterinarian anymore.

Fast forward to 2005, I graduated with a BSc in Biology with a minor in Psychology. I had an interest in animals and social evolution, as well as reproduction. But when I graduated, all I knew was that I wanted to work with animals.

I applied to a job ad as a Zookeeper. I didn't get that job, so I took a job as a laboratory technician.

I actually took a HUGE pay cut to go to work as a laboratory technician in an environmental toxicology lab. But I loved it! I was previously working as a junior accounting. Punching numbers into a computer, balancing bank statements, balance sheets, running accounts receivable/payables, real boring stuff - which I now use for assisting with my hubby's company Green Ghost Media. Anyway, the contract work that I signed on for as a laboratory technician was a set 3 month contract, and since I needed to have something else, I saw yet another ad to the same zoological facility, and sent another updated resume. This time, I got hired!

Becoming a Zookeeper can be difficult. In the U.S. it requires a BSc in an animal related field, as well as externships/internships as a junior zookeeper. I am not in the U.S. and while I didn't have an internship at a zoo, I worked on a hobby farm with sheep, swine, and cattle, which really are domesticated versions of Bighorn Sheep, Red River Hogs and Yak.

I wasn't satisfied with *just* being a zookeeper. If you think about the pay structure for zookeepers, you are hardly going to make a living. So unless you have the ability to live with your parents forever, or have a spouse who makes a lot of money to support the both of you, it's not really sustainable, at least in the privately funded zoo that I started out in.

Not that I want to discourage you from pursuing Zookeeping as a profession! Just make sure you know what you're getting into!

A few months into becoming a Zookeeper, I revisited my childhood dream of becoming a veterinarian. At this time, I'm 25 years old, 15 years wiser than my 10-year-old self. I started volunteering at a local wildlife centre. Initially thinking that I wanted to be a zoo and wildlife veterinarian - who doesn't?? But it was at the wildlife centre working with a veterinary technician that I learnt the analysis of euthanizing an animal. It was a raccoon. A young male raccoon that had fractured canine teeth, and a broken bone. The technician discussed with me that she was going to euthanize this one. There was too much damage, and for him to be rehabilitated to go back into the wild, he would not be able to compete with other male raccoons for resources and mates, and may not survive. Going through this weighing of costs/benefits for the animal, including the time for rehabilitation, the resources needed from the centre, while it was sad, things started to make sense on why we couldn't save them all.

Fast forward to today - 30 years after my divergence away from veterinary medicine. I am now a veterinarian that works in Urgent Care. I see a lot of death. I've posted about it recently on my TikTok if you have been following me over there.

But contrary to popular belief, I will not euthanize every single pet that presents for euthanasia. I have a heart and a mind that has to live with the decisions that I make, and I do not take these decisions lightly. I weigh out all the options in my head. Who is benefiting from the death of this animal. Does it benefit the animal to have its life taken from them?

We are allowed to say No. Does that mean that the pet parent goes elsewhere to get their pet euthanized? Yes. Does that also mean that my colleagues have to euthanize the ones that I will not? Yes. But I need to be able to sleep at night. So, I'm sorry I won't euthanize your otherwise healthy pet when you bring it in for me to "put to sleep".

I have had pets present for euthanasia, having never met them or their pet ever, and I ask if the pet parent can try one more thing - I give them one easily attainable task that does not require spending endless amounts of money on diagnostics or treatment. I just ask that they try. If I ask them for one thing, and it doesn't work out, then I can at least feel better that we tried. I may not be able to save them all, but I have saved some from death by tasking one thing to the pet parent. So the ones that I have saved I will cling to.

For all of the veterinarians or future veterinarians out there that think that death and euthanasia are the hardest parts of the job. It isn't. You just need to be able to stand up for what you believe in. It is not black and white.

The reason I decided to blog today was due to an angry TikTokker. I shouldn't let them get to me. I have a right to decline euthanasia.

So, to those of you sitting there thinking "Not another one of those vets" you can go ahead and wash the blood off of your hands, because I'm not doing it.


For more topics on Veterinary Ethics, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Bernard Rollin's book

Rollin, B.E. (2006). An Introduction to Veterinary Medical Ethics: Theory and Cases.

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