Euthanasia, putting to sleep, destroying, putting down....all of these terms describe the same thing, something that I had to actively participate in for the first time today....killing animals. Although I have been volunteering at my local animal shelter and also serve on its Board of Directors for a while now, I was never required to witness or participate in euthanizing animals.
Today a man brought in his female dog and her litter of six Shepherd cross pups right as the shelter closed. The puppies were judged to be between 2-3 weeks old and had yet to open their eyes. The vet tech examined each of the puppies carefully and determined that they were most probably sick and were severely dehydrated from being left in the hot sun with no adequate shelter. Evidently the owner of the dog was well known to the shelter staff and had been investigated in the past for animal abuse. Other dogs of his were also known to have Parvo. Because of the questionable health of these dog, the shelter manager, the vet tech and I had to make the ultimate decision to end the lives of these seven dogs rather than risk the health of the 50 other dogs housed at the shelter.
The puppies were taken to the back room of the shelter. One by one, the vet tech injected the bright pink euthanasia solution into their abdomens. They would whimper a little as the shot was given. The shelter manager, vet tech and myself each held a dying puppy as their three littermates waited their turn on a bed of towels on the floor. As they died, they each would start licking, then their heads would loll back and they started breathing more shallow, until they stopped all together. I cradled two of these babies to my body, sobbing over them as they took their last breaths, reassuring them the whole time that they were going to a much better place. After the last puppy had died, the vet tech left the back room, returning shortly with the pups' mother. As she was given her shot, she was licking the tears off the face of the vet tech. In less than one minute, she lie dead on the floor beside her babies.
At the end of this day, all I can feel is extreme bitterness towards irresponsible pet owners such as the owner of these dogs. Not only did he fail miserably in his responsibilities towards these creatures by denying them proper shelter, food and water, and vet care, but then he left his mess for the caring shelter workers to clean up. The most frustrating thing is that the whole situation could have been avoided had he ensured that his dog was spayed.
Unfortunately, scenes such as the one I experienced are all too common at animal shelters across the country. It is estimated that a shelter animal is euthanized every 1.5 seconds, simply because there are not enough lifelong, responsible homes. Please be part of the solution....spay or neuter your pets. Don't contribute to the problem of pet overpopulation.