Archive for the ‘euthanasia’ category

Thinking about Skinny

August 30, 2009

I was feeling very alone yesterday. I was trying to get some work done at the tail end of a chaotic summer while the kids spend their last weekend before school starts at the country house with their dad. I was supposed to be focused on work, but instead I could only think about myself. So alone, I felt like inviting the cat we call Skinny, one of the three black and white cats around here, inside the apartment, just for some company. The other two black and whites are fat and glossy, and run away when the kids try to make friends, but Skinny doesn’t even wait for us to come to him. It takes him forever to walk over to us, he never runs, just picks his way over the gravel and sits down for a chat and some patting. Lately, the kids have been giving him food while I pretend I know nothing about it.

Fatty and Glossy appear to have homes, but I’m not as sure about Skinny. The guy in the basement apartment has placed an old wooden chair, a blanket and a bowl for food beside the door (it’s always empty), and Skinny can often be found there, though not looking quite as if he owned the place. I don’t think he ever goes inside; and I’ve never even seen basement guy – I think he’s a hermit. Skinny is often wet, he’s no more than skin and bones – probably has chronic renal disease – and has the thick claws and appalling teeth of an elderly cat. The claws are only on his hind paws, the top of the front toes have been amputated. It’s what we still call declawing, something I deeply regret having done to one of my own cats, many years ago.

I need to find out more about Skinny. I’ll have to be the cat-home police, and go knocking on basement guy’s door to ask questions. Is this remotely any of my business, I wondered yesterday as I contemplated inviting Skinny inside. Not a great idea – he’s dirty and has a runny nose, and my three cats will come to live here soon…

When it suddenly got cool and started to rain, I figured I should make it my business, so I went outside and and downstairs to see if he was there. When I reached the basement apartment door, there was Glossy sitting on the chair. He saw me coming and ran away to hide under (his?) porch. I couldn’t find Skinny.

It’s raining again tonight, as it has been most of the summer, and I’m thinking about Skinny. If he’s homeless, he won’t last through the fall (and I don’t think he’ll last through the winter even if he does spend it inside) so I do need to at least find out if he belongs to basement hermit guy. If he doesn’t, I’m not sure yet what I’ll do. It wouldn’t be right to take him to the SPA, because an elderly cat like that is not adoptable, and he never gave his consent to spend the last of his days in a 2 X 2 foot metal cage, even if the deal includes regular meals and a warm place to sleep. And that would be the best option to hope for – it’s more likely a medical evaluation would consider his chronic disease to be a motive for euthanasia.

Ah, it’s just another homeless cat…

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Animal euthanasia

August 2, 2009

So I arrived at the clinic yesterday morning, it was my Saturday for the month (there are four of us, we take turns). Saturday mornings usually extend well into the afternoon, with non-stop appointments. The two young techs immediately informed me that Bad Things were waiting in the cages at the back. Namely, a very sick but still powerful and aggressive Bernese Mountain Dog, and two abandoned cats plus six kittens scheduled for euthanasia because no one would even consider taking them in: they had fleas, ear mites and cat flu.

Great. Just when I had been reflecting that the ratio of euthanasias for unwanted and generally healthy versus terminally ill patients had been noticeably decreasing over the nearly 10 years I’ve been working as a vet, this happens. I like to think I’m in a transitional position as a member of the class of 2000: I’m just old enough to remember the bad old days when the general public considered pets to be infinitely disposable, young enough to see the shift in attitude, and yet not quite young and unburdened enough by experience to act as if such disposal is completely unacceptable. I’m also in a rural region where we have only the barest of resources to take care of abandoned animals: municipalities still rely on the vet clinic to dispose of found animals, and I’m always afraid that one day we will euthanise someone’s animal before it can be traced. It’s happened, I’m sure. Everyone who works at the clinic has adopted at least one found animal in recent years. This past year, I’ve taken in two fosters, but only managed to have one of them adopted out. So besides my three house cats, there are now five cats in the barn competing for affection and warm spaces. Sometimes, too, we will let a particularly appealing stray kitten or cat wander around the offices or lie in a sunbeam in the waiting room, and if we’re lucky, someone will adopt it on the spot.

Well, by the time I’d examined the big bad sick dog and counted the cats and kittens (do not look too long, that is the rule), and called the dog’s owner with the desultory news, the waiting room was starting to fill up, so I put off the euthanasias till the end of the morning, and told the techs to call a small independent shelter about the cats, promising I would supply the flea and mite treatments.

In the middle of the morning, my boss and colleague arrived. He’s 10 years older than me, which puts him in that class of vets who are very seasoned, seen-it-all types who are adjusting like everyone else to a changing economic climate and increasing demand for sophisticated care and diagnosis. He can remember when all we had to do was say “your dog has a tumour” and that was enough for people to request euthanasia on the spot, no questions asked. Today, we have veterinary oncologists who seem to have a never-ending supply of updates for us plodding generalists on sophisticated staging techniques for tumours, MRIs, and the best combination of drugs, radiation therapy and surgical approaches to treat every single type of tumour. I really appreciate their work for many reasons, among them is that I now have more information to give people when they ask questions about prognosis, treatment and symptoms. Even though they usually request euthanasia, though maybe not right away, at least we’re all less in the dark about what we’re dealing with.

So as I waded though the usual Saturday morning caseload of major and minor crises, my boss proceeded with the euthanasia of the eight cats, and the poor sick dog. I was vaguely aware of what he was doing, and, I will admit, grateful (note to self: tell him that on Monday). Before he arrived, I had started to imagine myself responsible for at least seven of those eight lives (one of the cats was really very sick), and was trying to get my head around the impossibility of lodging them during the two months of flea and mite treatment, because the independent shelter had refused to take them right away for that reason. It didn’t compute; I don’t have the space or the inclination to become a seat-of-my-pants animal shelter.

But a day later, it still bothers me that it had to be done, and what bothers me most is that I can’t quite put words to my thoughts on how wrong it feels to erase a few lives just like that. They weren’t hurting or inconveniencing anybody, and with some efforts, or perhaps in a different place or with different people, it could have had a very different ending. Yes, I know – urban shelters struggle with this all the time, it’s their daily bread and butter. I’m considering taking on shelter work in the city, but I’m not sure I’m the right person at the right time for it, and I’m honestly not sure that I’ll be able to come to any better practices or thoughts about it all, no better than what anybody else has come up with so far.

Still, there’s been progress. After all, I’m old enough to remember a time when companion animals were disposable – that’s what they “were”, even if they were loved – but that attitude doesn’t have the same popular consensus it once did.

A few years back, I read Coetzee’s Disgrace, set in rural South Africa. Some of the best parts of that book include his philosophical descriptions of animal euthanasia and shelter work. At that time, it helped me to come to terms with euthanasias, but I think the effect has worn off. I hope to come back to that sometime, maybe I’ll have to read it again.