Legally, you’re allowed to euthanize your pet through a licensed veterinarian in every state. In some states, laws even permit a non-veterinarian putting an animal to sleep, though these euthanasia techs are normally required to undergo training. For the purpose of “emergency” euthanasia, several states allow animal control agents, law enforcement officers and veterinarians to shoot or put down a dangerous, injured or sick dog that is beyond saving.
But as the saying goes, just because something’s legal doesn’t make it right. What really bothers most people about a pet owner’s ability to “play God” is that there’s no guarantee of a person’s motivation. You can only hope a pet owner has a dog’s best interest in mind when he or she chooses to end its life.
Just this year, a Phoenix dad was arrested for taking the law into his own hands and shooting the family dog that attacked his 4-year-old daughter — instead of contacting the authorities to have the dog destroyed. A California man killed a neighbor’s pit bull for killing his dachshund — another perfect example where authorities could have intervened. Even in my own family, two family members chose to put down their “aggressive” breed dogs instead of re-homing them because they didn’t think another pet owner could handle them. This is the kind of heartless pet ownership I’m talking about, where a dog is put down for all the wrong reasons.
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It’s culturally acceptable to put a dog down if you’re putting it out of its misery. “I think when a pet has reached the end stage of life, it is our responsibility to end its suffering,” says pet psychic Terri Jay.
Chris Mitchell, director of Animal Shelter, adds, “Pet owners should have the right to put down an animal when there is just cause. Animals should not have to live in pain as people do. Euthanization is sometimes the best course of action. Pets do not speak a language which we are fully able to understand, but we do understand pain through subtle hints.”
So we know that plenty of dogs are euthanized in this gentle process of putting a sick animal “to sleep.” But what about the pets people don’t want? PETA tells us that approximately 3 to 4 million cats and dogs, many young and healthy, are euthanized by animal shelters each year. What about the dangerous dogs known to attack? The Euthanize Dangerous Dogs Facebook community advocates putting down aggressive breeds, like pit bulls, that have viciously attacked children.
Clearly, there’s much more to this decision than simple legality. Pet owners aren’t the only ones who get a say in ending a dog’s life. Dr. Judy Morgan, holistic veterinarian, says, “Pet owners do have the right to make the decision of when they think is the right time to euthanize their pet; however, veterinarians have the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ For instance, when someone brings the pet for euthanasia because it is not house broken, or they just don’t want a dog any more, I will say no. Particularly if the owner has not done due diligence to train the dog or find another home for the pet. I am pro-life for pets, unless the pet is suffering and the suffering cannot reasonably be relieved.”
I’m all for pet owners having the right to protect their dogs from unneeded suffering, but I am wary of giving every pet owner the permission to end his or her pet’s life for any reason he or she chooses. In a perfect world, pet owners would only euthanize after considering every option and coming to a difficult decision. Back here in the real world, millions of dogs are dying each year because pet owners don’t know how or don’t want to deal with them.
Dr. Morgan provides a simple solution: Let’s keep pet euthanasia legal, but let’s make it harder to euthanize a pet. “I think if we make euthanasia easy, it will become an easy solution for a lot of people. Many pets are destroyed at shelters all over the country every day. People have come to think of pets as disposable,” she says.