Behavioral Euthanasia--Remembering the Human Side of the Pain

Today has been a hard day--we woke up to no water because of an electrical short in our well.  We have a house full of people because of a death in our immediate family last week.   Lots of grief.  Lots of company.  No water.  And those things aren't what makes this day so hard.  

Behavioral euthanasia.  BE. That's what does it.  

A lovely client is facing BE with her rescue dog today.  It's a terrible decision that no dog lover, dog owner, dog trainer, dog rescuer, or dog veterinarian wants to be a part of, but our love of dogs, our passion to make their lives better, occasionally asks us to make this awful choice.  This dog has an incredible team of dog lovers and dog professionals in his corner--an amazing owner/rescuer who has exhausted all of her options, the help and support of a breed rescue, a behavior professional (me), a veterinarian who has been fully on-board with every behavior intervention we can try, and a few dedicated individuals who helped with the dog's initial rescue.  What a team!  Can you imagine if all dogs had such support?  Had so many people trying to help them become comfortable in their own troubled minds?  Our shelters would be empty if we could assemble such a team for every dog.

But we can't.  Truth be told, we can rarely assemble such a team for well-loved dogs.  And this dog, with all of our support, is not safe in his own mind, in his own home.  This dog is a danger to his family.  To visitors to the home.  To other dogs.  

Can he go to the mythical home with no kids, no dogs, and be safe?  No.  That home doesn't exist.  Humans lead messy, complicated lives.  With other people.  Just today, before noon, I've had Amazon Prime here for delivery and my well-drillers here twice.  They will be back several times, most likely.  None of those individuals visiting my house would be safe to come here if this dog were a part of my life.  Innocent people, just doing their jobs, waiting to go home at the end of the day, would be at risk because of this dog.  And let's keep in mind--those people are here on my rural, 27 acre farm in West Georgia in the middle of the Covid Pandemic.  What would life look like in a neighborhood?  Without the pandemic?  Other families, children, pets on walks down the street, repairmen, deliverymen...Even in a single-adult household, these people and animals are a part of our lives, even if just peripherally.  There is no safe place for this dog.  

Now--what if we found that unicorn of a home?  A hermit, in the middle of 50,000 acres.  Couldn't this dog go there?  Live out his life?  Learn to be a dog?  I wish it could be that way.  But this dog isn't like other dogs.  He isn't affiliative with his humans.  He doesn't care for other animals.  His brain--whether it's genetic, or chemical, or learned--isn't normal.  I'll share what I told the other member's of this dog's team:  Ted Bundy was good-looking.  Smart.  Articulate.  Charming.  What if one day a police officer came to your door with Ted Bundy in tow.  The officer tells you that Ted is a really great guy.  He just needs a chance.  The police have noticed that you have a lovely family, 2.5 beautiful children, a dog.  They think that Ted could learn to be human by living with such a wonderful family.  Would you do it?  Would you risk it?  Or would you recognize that sometimes no matter what we see in a person (dog), no matter what we feel about that person (dog), there are some things we can't fix?  And some risks too great?  

As behavior professionals, as breed rescuers, as veterinarians, we have three main responsibilities:

1. Responsibility for the safety and well-being of our human clients--and all of the humans this animal may encounter in life.

2. Responsibility for the safety and well-being of the other animals in the home or who the dangerous animal may encounter.

3. Responsibility to the breed we love--you all know what stigma has been attached to pit bulls.  It only takes one incident with any breed for the stigma to be attached to them as well.  For the love of the breed you have chosen, protect it.  

And finally, when the owner follows through with this tragic decision, humanely letting the dog go, we all owe it to the owner to support him or her.  To acknowledge their grief, pain, guilt.  To let them use us as a sounding board for their emotions.  To listen to them without judgment.  To HEAR what they say.  This isn't something we can be an armchair quarterback for, or a backseat driver.  This is gut-wrenching.  It's real.  It's beyond judgement.  Try to remember why we all came together--a love and passion for dogs.  And let's let that love carry over to our fellow-human beings too, ok?  Don't reserve it just for the dogs.  

Just my thoughts on this very hard day.

Monique

4 comments

  • Dee
    Dee NC
    What a well-written, insightful, caring article. You see through animals like no one I’ve ever met. Thanks!

    What a well-written, insightful, caring article. You see through animals like no one I’ve ever met. Thanks!

  • T
    T Ga
    Thank you for that it is great Info. My heart and prayers go out to the family. RIP sweet baby

    Thank you for that it is great Info. My heart and prayers go out to the family. RIP sweet baby

  • Erica
    Erica NJ
    Thank you for sharing your story and just know you aren’t alone, 9 years later and well I just really appreciate reading this. Thank you doesn’t even express enough.

    Thank you for sharing your story and just know you aren’t alone, 9 years later and well I just really appreciate reading this. Thank you doesn’t even express enough.

  • Stonebriar Animal Behavior & Training
    Stonebriar Animal Behavior & Training
    I'm sorry that you have been through this, Erica.

    I'm sorry that you have been through this, Erica.

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