Becoming a Realist in a Cuddly Puppy World

I was the kid who needed to save every animal regardless of what it was, how sick it was, how soon it was going to die, or even how dangerous it could be.

I really was a bleeding heart.  Once when I was riding in the car with my dad (who always was my partner in crime with the animal rescues) I told him there was a really skinny, sick cat near the side of the road.  He turned around so we could help it and it was a really fat, happy cat basking in a sun beam.  I just wanted to make sure it was ok.

I rescued a lot of animals as a kid: A pigeon, a dove, a baby squirrel.  If I learned that someone had an animal they did not want or could not take care of anymore I was first in line to take in the poor helpless creature (which is how I ended up with eight finches in my bedroom when I was fourteen).  I have loved animals for as long as I can remember so after some soul-searching I entered the veterinary field.

I had high hopes that first day of school.  Saving so many animals was going to be fantastic.  I was going to be a part of something bigger than myself.  I kept singing a modified version of the Pokemon theme song in my head: “Gotta Save ‘Em All”.  I was ready.

In spite of all of my knowledge, I was unprepared for the reality of what being a veterinary technician was.  A veterinary technician cleans up a lot of shit, literally and figuratively.  Veterinary technicians mop a lot of floors, listen to a lot of cranky clients, wrangle a lot of insane dogs, and handle a lot of unidentifiable substances.  Veterinary technicians are also the ones that hold the hand of an owner having to make the decision to euthanize a best friend.

Veterinary medicine doesn’t always have a happy ending.  After three years in the field, I don’t know if I am harder emotionally, if I am numb, or if I have just become more realistic.  Not every ending is a happy one.  My eyes were opened and I learned quickly that life is rarely fair.  I know that not every animal can be saved and there are some cases where euthanasia is the best case scenario.

There are days full of cuddly puppies and warm fuzzy kittens but, when it comes to working in veterinary medicine, sometimes life is down right shitty, literally and figuratively.


Before I Go

I love animals.  I would not be in the veterinary field if this was not the case.  Unfortunately, sometimes loving your animals means you have to make difficult decisions.  I have not yet had to make that choice for my own pets, but there are many owners who do have to make this heart-wrenching choice.

I am a supporter of euthanasia.  Many of my readers will remember Marley’s story.  Euthanasia is a very difficult and sad decision and it is very personal.  However, I have seen sick and dying animals, animals who are scared and because of the fear they are dangerous, and there are the loyal pets that have grown old and their bodies won’t allow them be the best buddy anymore.

Euthanasia, while painful and difficult, can be a very loving act.  Euthanasia alleviates pain, suffering, and anxiety for a loyal friend and companion.  Animals do not fear death the same way humans do.  Animals can feel pain and discomfort in much the same way, however.  When a pet is too ill to play, in too much pain to walk, or too old to move, one must ask; “Is my pet happy anymore?  Does he want to live like this?  Would I want to live like this?”

Despite the difficult nature of the decision, it is a compassionate act and the last measure of true love that any human can show for an animal.

The Proof is in the Collar

This is the third and final installment of Marley’s saga.

Part One: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Part Two: The Only Way We Could Make It Better

Friday came around like any other day (time doesn’t really care how difficult your week has been) and the second year class was meeting at the barn for our end of the year clean-up.  As soon as I arrived I knew something was going on; everyone was all atwitter about something that was said during an early morning review session.

I was told by a friend that the college need a statement from me regarding the incident with Marley.  I found this to be odd since it was a routine euthanasia of a dog with documented aggressive behavior.  However, one person did not see it to be that way.  Now many animals’ lives were on the line and the credibility of a good technician and a caring instructor.

It seems that the girl contacted the animal rescues in the area and told them the college was needlessly euthanizing healthy, adoptable dogs.  In truth, Marley was the first dog to be euthanized for aggression in the past seven years.  That fact didn’t matter to the rescues.  The girl’s statement changed everything in a matter of moments.  Now the rescues don’t want to deal with the college’s dogs.  This means that the dogs and cats pulled from high kill shelters to  be treated by the college; spayed/neutered, vaccinated, medicated for disease; will most likely be returned to that same high kills shelter.  That would be a death sentence for sure.  The girl had been so focused on saving one un-savable dog, that her hasty decisions, made out of anger,  may now cause the death adoptable animals.

Now it is all over and done.  Classes are finished and I am finally a graduate.  Everything in those two weeks happened so quickly.  If I did not have that blue, camouflaged collar as proof that Marley existed, I might believe the whole ordeal was nothing more than a bad dream.

The Only Way We Could Make It Better

When I spoke up regarding Marley’s well-being, I did not intend to open the can of worms that resulted.  My intent was to end the suffering of a clearly anxious creature that had a very low chance of getting a happy ending.  However, I did not take into account the feelings of some classmates who might object to euthanasia.  I knew that the fallout would be bad, I just did not realize how out of control it would get.

When Marley’s sentence was passed down, one student, who also cared very deeply about Marley, became very emotional.  She had not witnessed Marley’s shocking behavioral changes, his blood lust, therefore she saw no reason to euthanize.  She desperately tried to find a last-ditch rescue to take Marley, but it soon became clear to her that Marley would not be going home that night.  I went with her to sit with Marley in the lab bathroom they had become his safe place.

Classes were finishing up and finals were fast approaching.  I knew I needed to get back to class for the review and I told the girl I was leaving.  She told me that I needed to stay in the bathroom with Marley on his last day.  Perhaps I am harder than I used to be, maybe I am just more realistic, either way I told the girl that my life would continue even though Marley’s would not.  Then with a heavy heart and tear-stained cheeks I returned to class alone.

During the break I went back to the bathroom where the girl and I put a blue camouflage collar around Marley’s neck.  I too felt that Marley should spend as much time outside as possible on his last day.  So Marley and the girl went to take one last run in the balmy April sun.

When the first year students were told of Marley’s fate, I was there.  I wanted them to know that this was nobody’s fault; not the students, not faculty, not Marley.  It was just an inevitable part of the job we will sometimes face.  When I left, two students thanked me for taking the more difficult stance.  When I returned to the lab, I cried openly for the first time that day.

Soon after I made it back to the lab, Marley and the girl arrived as well.  She was crying while Marley was getting belly rubs and hugs from 18 other students who loved him just as much as we did.  I asked the girl if she wanted to be with Marley during the procedure.  She said yes and then it was time.

Marley’s bathroom was a great size for just him but it was a tight squeeze for four adults.  We crammed into the bathroom with Marley and the girl and I scratched his ears and told him we loved him.  During the procedure it became clear that Marley would require more of the euthanasia solution that was normally required.  When things did not go perfectly, as is often the case in already tense situations, the girl became angry and left the room.  I then helped the assistant roll Marley over so the final dose could be administered.  As we flipped Marley, he opened his mouth and placed his teeth on my arm.  In his last moments on Earth, Marley tried to bite me.  All of my doubts disappeared that second.  The right decision had been made.

Then it was over.  He was gone.

I thought that was where the story of Marley would end.  Unfortunately I was wrong.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: Marley’s Story

Yesterday and today have been very difficult for me, tomorrow will be as well.  This is one of those job hazards that come with the veterinary technician territory.  You hope to avoid it, but it is inevitable and more so than it needs to be.

We have a dog at school named Marley.  He is a fantastic dog around humans; very loving, gentle, well-behaved.  When around other dogs, however, he becomes uncontrollably aggressive and dangerous.  The only way to describe him is out for blood.  I don’t believe he would ever willingly attack a human, but if a person came in between him and another dog, that human would be fair game in Marley’s world.

Yesterday, due to negligence, Marley was allowed out of his kennel with another (dog aggressive) dog.  As second-year students (with only 5 days until graduation), we knew not to allow him around other dogs due to his rage and viciousness.  Most, if not all, of the first year students were aware of this rule, too.  Marley unfortunately ended up on the losing side of the battle (what did he expect taking on a dog 30 pounds heavier).  We washed Marley’s wounds and stitched four (of numerous) puncture wounds.  Marley did not walk away from this battle unharmed as his foe ended up with a nasty ear laceration.  It was a brutal battle and the students involved were lucky they were not injured.

Sadly, this was not Marley’s first incident.  As I said earlier, we knew he had issues the day we took him into our care.  He cannot go in the kennels with the other dogs, his prey drive makes him too dangerous to get in and out of the kennel.  I wanted to believe that his beating yesterday would be a lesson.  It was silly to want that because dogs have no concept of reasoning or lessons.  But I hoped nonetheless.

Today, I was walking Marley.  I needed to give him a second chance before I did what I knew I would have to do.  I love that dog.  He is awesome around me.  He sits and stays, he’s great on a leash.  However, another dog entered the room unexpectedly and that loving dog that was licking my face not two second prior nearly took me out in his desire to attack.

Today, I voiced my opinion about Marley.  I love that dog and I am all about second chances, but I don’t believe that Marley can have that option.  I advocated euthanasia for Marley.  I was a very difficult decision that I did not take lightly.  If I had thought that there was any other way for Marley to go about his life, I would never have mentioned it.

If Marley were to be adopted to anyone: a student, an adult, someone with experience with aggressive dogs; Marley would still be an incredible liability.  It only takes a split second for a dog to bolt out an open door, with Marley’s prey drive and desire to destroy, it could be a disaster.  His options would be to spend his life, another 12 years, in a basement or a single room with little human and no animal contact.  His owner could have no other pets, no small children, no walks in the park with Marley, for 12 years.  It is not fair to that owner and it certainly is not fair to Marley.

I’m so torn by this case because there is no happy ending either way. I love this dog, but he can’t leave here. Everything about him changes in the presence of another dog. I never understood what it meant when people said “he looked through me” until Marley. He will kill a human in the event they tried to stop Marley from killing a pet.  God forbid that person be a child.  It is painful to know this because Marley is so loving and caring one minute but then shockingly and terrifyingly different the next.

Tomorrow, Marley will be humanely euthanized.  I know it is in his best interest, I even advocated that this be the course of action.  He can’t live his life in a basement because of his aggression.  He could get out of a house and be shot while attacking an animal or human.  Or, he can be humanely euthanized while I pet him and tell him I love him and none of this is his fault.

Either way, Marley loses and it’s not fair.