“And He was Gone, Peacefully;” What are We Afraid of, anyway? Have Animal Advocates Lost their Wits about Euthanasia

Yesterday I read a blog about an adoptive puppy turned 8 year old dog who terrorized his owner by attacking various innocent people and dogs for nearly a decade.

The owner finally found the ability within herself to do the right thing, and she had the dog she loved euthanized following a day of fun and love. Peacefully, he went over the Rainbow Bridge never knowing a bad day, and his reign of terror on his owner and those around him ended.

This was a first world problem, really. Only in very fortunate places on the planet can someone spend 8 years tormenting themselves over trying to decide what to do with an aggressive pet. . .or a sick pet. . .or pets that have no where to go for various and very real reasons.

I’m thankful for that. . .but we do have to recognize it is a luxury many in the world will not be offered or even be able to understand.

“I want to save Dogs.”




“Roosters. . .”

The line of would be rescuers grows longer the more I browse the comments on Social Media beneath images of various woebegone creatures on my newsfeed. Heck, half of the time, it is under a photo of the bedraggled creature I’ve assisted in rescuing.

Yet Save has such a strange interpretation among animal lovers, advocates and activists.

I find It harder and harder to understand some of the versions of what “Rescue” and “Save” mean to people these days.

Six or so years ago, a vet told me the story of a rescue group that is quite large not especially far from us. The doctor was dismayed at the number of animals being kept for years on end in crates and pens. These animals were highly unadoptable either due to behavioral or physical issues. Not only were these animals unadoptable (in his words) but it was being proven out with each passing year because they were not being adopted. The animals were not only unadoptable (some will debate what that means regardless), this vet felt the conditions were not humane. . .either because of the extreme behaviors these animals were trying to cope with while living in little cells or because their medical conditions made life quality poor. This rescue organization was rendered almost useless year after year because they refused to ever let a single animal go with a peaceful end to have space to then save those with a viable chance at adoption – those were turned away, instead.

Somehow this organization felt the animals facing each day in mental anguish or physical pain over and over again made more kind sense than just being gone.

How can that ever be? How do we consign this as a real answer to anything? Isn’t it really more a lack of action?

How can we live in a society where we know when people become very sick, either mentally or physically, so many speak openly of wishing to just be at peace, but we deny this dignity to animals over and over again when we can help them?

Before I go further, there are a few things we should agree on or you are going to feel this blog was a horrible waste of your time:

*** Animals, while feeling and loving beings, are not humans dreaming about tomorrow. Animals live in the here and now. They are instinctual creatures craving the ability to come and go at their leisure, painfree with plenty of food and without fear in their “Today.”***

I can agree to disagree if you feel otherwise.

We’ve developed a society of severe blacks and whites. Extremes that lead to detriments where one side or both suffer, but who cares. . .we have an agenda, right?

To keep life going at all costs. . .forever? Because, you know, forever here does not work. It is going to end, eventually, for that dog, cat or turtle (though the turtle has a more viable chance at outliving you, for sure).

We have crossed the line. People somehow feel we have the right to interfere up to the point of making the call to say this degree of suffering is too much and it has to end for a companion animal. Yet they feel we can interfere with life to keep it going, just not to let it go.

I mean. . . who remembers the horse with his eyes, ears and most of his face mauled off, his skin mostly gone over large portions of his body. . .but it made people feel cheerful to “save” him. Save him? No. That isn’t a fair use of the word. To keep him alive. That is what happened. And people loved it. It broke my heart.

Moving on,

It begs the question, when the vast majority of Americans believe in a wonderful afterlife in Heaven (and if not that, others accept death as a peaceful lack of being), why is simply “not being” so hysterically feared by us for dogs, horses and cats (and ourselves when we are healthy, but that is another story). The only answer, whatever you come up with, is based in the selfish and not in compassion.

I’ve seen neglect and abuse. . .I’ve witnessed enough of what really should be feared and hated, so I cannot despise a peaceful end the way so many pet owners do, the way too many in rescue do. Further, I’ve had an aging parent explain to me day in and out how much he wanted to just “Go on,” and that stays with me. I wish it stayed with more folks.

Where is this going?

We rescue. We own pets.

We hold on too long and do so cruelly with good intentions. But good intentions do not matter to the pet. At all.

How many starving horses I’ve picked up from owners with good intentions. They made a mistake. Horrible Mistakes. Rescues and otherwise good pet owners make mistakes, as well.

If you are a pet owner and are holding your dog or cat together with glue, paper clips and weekly vet visits, who are you doing that for because it certainly isn’t the for the animal you say you love.

If you are a rescuer with dogs waiting for 2 years in a crate 23 hours a day for a home because his behaviors, fears or health make him unadoptable, who are you holding him for because that choice you are making isn’t for the animal.

How many dogs will be pulled out of a loud, crowded cell in a facility to be killed (because in many animal control shelters, what happens isn’t peaceful euthanisia) after waiting for a home never knowing real kindness (because for over 2 million, that home isn’t coming this year) when a rescue that has no space to pull and hold for an adopter could still pull that cat or dog, love him or her for a small bit of time with good food and a quiet environment and then let that animal go having known “rescue” for a bit of time and a peaceful end. Well, who wants to do that? No one, it seems.

Standing at an auction letting horses be loaded up on semi trucks heading over to Mexico while we complain there was no space, there were no homes. . .while the horses head on down to have their skulls haphazardly fractured, are hung upside down, bleed out and go in boxes because we have no holding space and donors will not fund pulling and euthanizing – isn’t a call we make for the horses’ benefit, folks.

What does our Lack of Action really say about Rescue?

The rescue world need more rescuers with fortitude, not afraid of a peaceful end or afraid of breaking idealisms – we need rescuers determined to end actual suffering.

Keeping hoping for an ideal world, but Work in the Real World.

END actual suffering, folks. . .


104 thoughts on ““And He was Gone, Peacefully;” What are We Afraid of, anyway? Have Animal Advocates Lost their Wits about Euthanasia

  1. Thanks for your input. I recently had a horse euthanized. She was only 9 but suffered from severe anhydrosis with respiratory complications. We live in Florida and this summer seemed to affect her more than it did in the past. Even standing under the mister in the shade she would have her head down and would be breathing over 60 times a minute. She couldn’t tolerate grazing and just looked miserable all the time. It broke my heart to lose her but I believe she is better off now. Your blog has made me see things in a different light and has me feeling much less guilty about having her euthanized.

  2. Thank you for this. I work with a lot of rescues and shelters. I am presenting on this very controversial subject at a big rescue conference in a few weeks. It discusses the many variables that should be considered when choosing to euthanize, manage, or manage and modify a dog with behavioral challenges. “In Whose Best Interest?” takes into account the many things you mention in your article.

    1. Where are you presenting? I would love to hear more on what you are presenting. It needs to be addressed.

  3. Thank you thank you thank you for writing this. I just found it but I cannot agree with it more. When I started and ran a dog rescue I made it clear to all our volunteers, foster, board members, etc. that we were pragmatic. We had to euthanize for health as well as behavior. I’ve seen dogs at “no kill” shelters who do nothing but pace and jump in their run all day long. I’ve seen dogs get less social by the day. I’ve cleaned out hoards. I’ve seen friends hold onto their own animals until they are nothing but skeletons because the animal can still wag a bit of tail or purr. Just. No. Always always always better a day too early than a day too late.

    1. Morgan….I totally agree with you! Love the sentiment/statement…always, always, always better a day too early that a day too late. We need to think more like this than how we are now doing in the rescue business by trying to save ALL when maybe it isn’t the best thing for the animal. I always say…is the dog/cat still with us because of how we feel because we feel better not having to make the right decision for the animal?

  4. This is the best I have read on this subject! Keep up the good work. I work in animal rescue here in Houston, and too often letting go is never considered. For many animals, it would be the best option. So glad someone has shared it exactly the way I feel.

  5. I love your article and am a former director of animal control in a Florida county. Your sentence with “love him or her…..” is exactly what I lived by. My kennel tech once asked me “do you think God will forgive us for killing them?” and I said, “these past few days/weeks with us are the best they have ever had and we don’t let them see each other be euthanized. They quietly fall asleep in our arms while we whisper comforting words to them.” My soul hurts when I think of the question she asked and knowing I personally euthanized thousands due to the situation in this particular county prior to my improvements and uphill battles with county commissioners. I hope people who read your article realize that “rescuers with fortitude” doesn’t mean that rescuer has no heart, caring or feeling. It means those are the qualities that are the driving force behind their decisions to euthanize not drag out the misery, pain, suffering, sadness.

    1. Bless you. As a rescuer with fortitude, I believe it is infinitely more loving and kind to know when to let go peacefully and painlessly…

  6. Wonderful article. People need to realize that animals live in the moment, they don’t know about death they don’t know they are going to die. Pet owners are keeping their pets alive for themselves. However there needs to be an option for horse owners after euthanasia. Most owners don’t want their beloved horse going to a rendering plant but what are the options? Cremation is often way to expensive. If you board or don’t live on a farm burial is also not an option. Plus in some communities it is illegal. There has to be a better plan! Also veterinarians need to get on board, why should I pay an exorbitant amount of money for you to kill my horse. Veterinarians should be taught to explain exactly what happens during euthanasia. There are things far worse than death.

  7. Wonderful article. People need to realize that animals live in the moment, they don’t know about death they don’t know they are going to die. Pet owners are keeping their pets alive for themselves. However there needs to be an option for horse owners after euthanasia. Most owners don’t want their beloved horse going to a rendering plant but what are the options? Cremation is often way to expensive. If you board or don’t live on a farm burial is also not an option. Plus in some communities it is illegal. There has to be a better plan! Also veterinarians need to get on board, why should I pay an exorbitant amount of money for you to kill my horse. Veterinarians should be taught to explain exactly what happens during euthanasia. There are things far worse than death.

  8. Way too many generalizations, and way too much anger and responsibility directed at the people who are trying to do good. (Animal owners should not be absolved from the disasters they create.) I believe in humane euthanasia as do many of the rescues I support and my fellow animal advocates. For instance, I support rescues that hold free horse “dump” clinics so that people who will not pay for humane euthanasia have a free option. This is done in kindness to the horse. Don’t paint everyone with a broad brush, because plenty of us do have our “wits about us.” For those why may not, vitriol such as this is not the way to convince them.

  9. I work in an animal shelter. I see this day in and day out. Thank you for your words. They resonate with those of use who rescue and adopt but wish to live in the humanity and reality of the individual situations.

  10. First I want to say I love the article. It truly makes people think. There are many different aspects of this article that I agree with and many I do not. But, I LOVE hearing other people’s views and thoughts. So Thank YOU for writing yours down.
    I wish animal lived in the moment… then maybe they wouldn’t remember the abuse, neglect etc. Curious to hear what your thoughts are on a dog that was abused and beaten by a man for a prolonged period of time… and why it would be afraid of men? Seems to me… they remember the abuse… which would squash the theory they “live in the moment”. Or why they react with fear the same way every time you go to pick them up… when the Amish breeder always picked them up harshly with no care. Because… when we would pick them up… they reacted the same way until they come to the realization we mean no harm. Then they are at ease and slowly become less fearful of being picked up. This would prove to me… they do not live in the moment. But that they truly remember. Thank you

    1. No one is claiming that dog’s don’t remember their past. The phrase “living in the moment” refers to the fact that they have no concept of the FUTURE. That is why abused dogs react with fear until they learn through repeated experiences that we mean no harm.

    2. I agree animals don’t completely live in the moment, neither do horses otherwise the abuse would never be carried forward. We need to remember that our basis of beliefs that all animals are much more sentient than believed even a decade ago….we learn so much every day and we need to tread very carefully on the subject of animal euthanasia, euthanasia period.

  11. I have been a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator over 15 years and have had to face this decision many times. I see many who want to keep the animals alive at all coats and I hurt for the poor critter. Most would prefer a peaceful death to a life of sickness with parts missing etc, caged for life. One day free in the trees as God intended beats years in a cage. There are worse things than dying peacefully in the arms of someone that loves you. I just pray that God will always give me the strength to do what is best for the animal. To all who I have had to make that decision for, I hope it was always the right one.

  12. The word I see most in comments is “I”.
    It isn’t about you.
    It’s about them.

  13. We are never closer to God than when we turn over a life in need to his hands – it is done for that life, not ours.

  14. Thank you for writing this. The no-kill movement has resulted in horrible examples of warehousing dogs. I have always felt that quality of life is much more important than life itself. Please continue to spread the word!

  15. I totally agree, this has been a sticking point for me for awhile. We need to focus on saving them from pain and suffering, not death. Death is inevitable, but quality of life is something we CAN control, even if it means… when there is no hope of any… letting them go.

    Not just with rescue’s, but in my years as a vet tech, the saddest thing I dealt with was not the euthanasia’s, it was the animal that was suffering, going through desperate treatment after treatment, not getting better yet the owner wanted to “Try this one more thing.”. Meanwhile the pet is spending way too much time both suffering AND away from it’s family in a clinic.

    By far the worst thing I’d experience as a vet tech… coming in to open in the morning to find a hospitalized patient passed… alone, in the dark, in a metal kennel. Sometimes an unexpected outcome, but most of the time it was an animal that had been going through every treatment we could think of at the owner’s insistence. The owner wouldn’t give up, no matter how far gone their poor pet was.

    I would NEVER want that for my pet.

  16. I had a beautiful boxer girl that had a stroke & heart attack both! I rushed her to the vet and knew what was coming! I had this girl since birth helped her momma tear the birth sac, had tons of fun and loved her unconditionally but knew what I had to do as her life would have been more than miserable not being able to hold her bladder or feces, not able to walk run and have fun, no more kisses or chillin on the couch to watch tv, no more rides or walks! It was with a severe heavy heart and month upon months of grieving and mourning we said goodbye and held her till she took her last breath and her heart stopped breathing! Then I knew she had crossed the Rainbow Bridge where she would be that beautiful loving running freely no more pain babygirl! R.I.P. DDAnne!

  17. Ah….but the power to determine life or death should not be taken lightly. If the decision is easy you may not be the person that should be making that call. So few can walk that line and remain mentally healthy when they love animals the way rescuers do but the fight for life for all the wrong reasons needs to stop. I’m most frustrated with the need to save aggressive animals putting others pets and children at risk. Makes no sense to me……..

  18. Nice justification and rationalization piece to make killing animals feel just as good as saving them.

  19. “doing good” often means ‘feeling sorry for’. doing good sometimes does mean euthanizing. no one feels good about it– a wasted life, a mean life, etc. That’s why this article is so good.

  20. Thank you for a compassionate, well thought out post. How many have lost sight of the fact that we have the ability to end their suffering, and mental/temperament problems do cause these animals to suffer: by being warehoused

  21. After 10 years in dog rescue (and many more years of just hanging out with dogs) I am 100% with you. It infuriates me when thousands upon thousands of dollars are poured into one crippled dog in response to an emotional press article, while others with far more manageable (but less emotionally stimulating) needs are ignored and shoved aside. I’m a firm believer in no kill when applied to healthy, adoptable animals, and when I can I’ll help the less adoptable – those who need training, socialization, surgery, or other help. But quality of life is the top priority, and although rescue can’t be a numbers game – because we do fall in love with individuals; if our hearts weren’t involved we wouldn’t be doing the work – we should try at least to spread our resources among the many rather than pouring all we have into a few particularly unlucky ones. There are far worse things that can happen to a creature than humane euthanasia.

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