The hardest part of our profession is administering euthanasia.  We do this mostly as a result of bad pet ownership.  Euthanasia is a two part process: determining which animals are placed on the euthanasia list and then administering the euthanasia.  This is an area of our profession where we are overwhelmed with arm chair quarterbacks.  It is a very volatile part of our business and as a result of the hostility that results in the decision process, I always made the final decision.

It is tough enough for the employees who have to kill the animals that they have cared for; it would be unfair that they have to suffer the consequences for having to decide which animals are selected.  Although people, including volunteers, think that the decision process is abritraty, it is really a thought out piece of engineering.

Euthanasia is the most contentious issue for animal shelters.  It frequently pits volunteers against staff.  At my last shelter, the volunteers went to war with staff over the decision to euthanize two dogs that had become aggressive over their lengthy stay with us.  The dogs would act friendly to a few volunteers, but show aggression to the staff caring for them.  Euthanizing the dogs angered the volunteers and they called into question our decision making process.  The went to board meetings to verbalize their anger.  The board put together a group to investigate our euthanasia process and issued a report.

Given the volatility of creating a euthanasia list and the tremendous number of things that can go wrong as a result of euthanasia, I have created a few rules that I followed in making the decision:

Always keep an animal two days beyond the date that the animal is “supposed” to be euthanize, especially if you are waiting for an owner to reclaim the animal.  I have encountered countless incidents in which an owner shows up to reclaim their pet after the stray hold time has expired.  Although they don’t care enough to timely reclaim their pet, they will blame you for not acting on their schedule.  So whatever arrangement that you make with an owner to reclaim their pet, keep the pet a few days longer because that is when they will likely show up.

Document the animal’s condition when the decision is based on medical or behavioral condition.  It is not uncommon for a pet owner to surrender their pet as a stray to you because of an animal’s medical condition and try to adopt the animal back after the animal has been treated.  Many times the animal may be beyond treatment and the owner will return claiming that he/she has been victimized by you failing to treat their pet.

Always make sure that you use competent and caring staff to perform euthanasia.  The last few moments of a pet’s life should be as stress free as possible.  Since you are using a controlled substance in performing euthanasia, you can save yourself a lot of grief by having employees who can perform simple mathematics.  You would be surprise as to the number of staff that I’ve had who could not subtract numbers with a decimals. 

Don’t ever get talked into adopting out an aggressive animal.  Many shelters have offered an animal a second (or third) chance, only to be sued and raked over the media for putting their community at risk for making a careless adoption decision.  The best community preventative for an aggressive dog is euthanasia. 

Do not allow anyone to bully the staff who preform euthanasia.  It is a tough task and no one has the right to bully them.