There I was, writing my last blog about drug reps - bit dull, wasn't it? I even bored myself, writing it. But a small part of it stuck with me.
It was the bit where I mentioned that people often say to me 'It must be the worst part of your job, putting things to sleep' - I followed this with a facetious comment about how seeing drug reps was really the worst part of my job.
That's a lie, of course. Never let the facts get in the way of a good blog, I say! (Or a crappy blog, in the case of my last entry). In fact, that isn't really the case.
I genuinely used to feel this. When people hear you're a vet, the first thing they tend to say (well, second thing - the first is 'Oh yeah, had your hand up a cow's arse, recently?' Look, if that's your first response, I would respectfully suggest that it's you that have got the bovine anus fetish, not me, okay? I just do it for a living, all right? Not for fun) is 'Oh, I couldn't do that. I couldn't put things to sleep.' And I used to think they were wrong. I used to feel that it wasn't that bad. Why? Because I was relieving suffering. Because there was nothing but misery left for the animal, and because it was probably the kindest thing I would do for that animal.
Now, ten years down the line, I'm not so sure. Not that I was wrong about it being kind, I still think that's true. In fact, I believe it's the greatest gift I have, to ease an animal's final moments. But nothing is ever quite as simple as it first appears, is it?
There are a number of problems associated with the act of killing. The first is this - the inappropriate euthanasia.
The most obvious case of this is - the healthy animal. The animal that would otherwise get better, but because the owner can't pay/won't pay/doesn't want the animal 'to suffer', they make you put their pet to sleep anyway.
The most blatant example of this that comes to mind is a cat that I saw with a fractured hip. The hip really needed an operation to heal properly. The owner couldn't afford the operation. I suggested that the owner telephone the RSPCA and the PDSA, two organisations that will readily help with financial problems. The owner didn't want to do this. Not having hearts entirely made of stone, we then offered to treat the cat at a cut price. The owner still couldn't afford to it.
Getting a sinking feeling of where this was going, I next offered to treat the cat for free. No. The owner didn't want the cat to go for surgery - it would be 'too much for it'. Okay. Deep breath. Y'know what, even without surgery, the cat would probably walk again. He would need 6 weeks rest in a cage, but he would be able to get back to a relatively normal life afterwards.
No. The owner didn't want the cat to 'go through' 6 weeks of cage rest. It wouldn't be fair. (This was, I may have neglected to mention, a two year old cat. It had, in all probability, ten to fourteen years of life left to it. Maybe it might have been prepared to spend 6 weeks in a cage.)
Would they consider rehoming the cat? No. It 'wouldn't be fair' on the cat. What they wanted was to have their cat put to sleep.
It was me that ended up doing it. I ended up with it because my colleague was hoping against hope that having someone else suggest to them they were doing the wrong thing might change their mind. It didn't. They were adamant. The owners, a young couple with two children, came in to speak to me one final time. Towards the end of the consultation I gave up any pretense of being polite and asked them if they wanted me to 'kill their cat.' They said that they did. I said that I would, hoping, secretly, and very illegally, that I would just be able to rehome the cat. They wanted to stay with it whilst I put the cat to sleep. So, my next plan was that I would sedate the cat whilst they were there, revive it and rehome it when it awoke. The owners wanted to take the cat home and bury it.
So, I did it. I killed a cat with a broken bone that would have healed in three weeks with surgery, and six weeks without. After I listened to the cat's heart beat its last with my stethoscope, the lady's daughter started crying over the dead body. The lady asked me 'Do you think we did the right thing?'
I could not speak, and I left the room.
The memory of that moment is with me strongly now as I write these words. I was the instrument of that cat's destruction. What good would it have done me to refuse? Vets have been struck off by the Royal College for refusing to perform euthanasia. I had no power to seize the cat - this would have been technically theft, and I could have gone to prison.
So I killed the cat.
I'm sure many vets have similar stories to this. Obviously hyperthyroid cats that the owner doesn't want to 'go through' being given tablets. Arthritic dogs that, instead of being given painkillers, the owner would rather that they 'didn't suffer'. Problem behaviour dogs that the owner has never given a thought to dog training, and that they are now scared of.
It always surprises me that people are arrogant enough to assume that they look after their pet so well, that rehoming can not be thought of even for a second - no one else could possibly look after this pet at all! Death is preferable than life without me!
Well, ask yourself - who are telling this lie to? And who is really going to come out worse because of it?
Okay, that's the first problem with euthanasia, and I have many more things to say on this subject. Part two in a few weeks. Stay happy!