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  • Aug
  • 28

Living Wills: The Same Standard for Shelter Dogs and Cats?

Posted by at 5:04 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Living Wills: The Same Standard for Shelter Dogs and Cats? by Scott VanValkenburgI have yet to meet anyone who wants to be kept alive by whatever medical treatment is possible if the end result is months, years, or the remainder of one’s life in a nursing home or institution dependent on assistance with even basic bodily functions. Have you? After my late father filled out a DNR agreement, I moved beyond the verbal agreement I had with my wife to formalize my wishes with a living will and health-care power of attorney.

With the dogs and cats who are members of our family, we are basically given the right to make decisions on how much care to provide (although PETA and local humane agencies often use anti-cruelty statutes to require “owners” to provide minimal veterinary treatment to prevent suffering). A recent Prime post provided a wonderful statement about our responsibility to put the interests of our animals first. What would we want if we were in their paws?

I recently made the acquaintance of an old dog named Cassius who had entered an animal shelter as an “owner request for euthanasia.” I am still upset when I try to place myself in that old gent’s head during his final weeks of life. Like many animal shelters, this otherwise excellent organization reserves the right to place “owner request” animals up for adoption.

Despite his grey muzzle and cloudy eyes (two factors that mean an extended shelter stay—at best, as potential adopters say, “He’s too old!”), Cassius had a gentle and friendly disposition that put him on the adoption-screening track. A veterinary exam indicated that Cassius was a senior dog but suitable for neutering.

Stress-induced diarrhea the next day sent the dog to quarantine instead of surgery. In quarantine, my old friend developed kennel cough, and new meds were prescribed. Shelter workers fell in love with this dog, but they could only devote so much time to his needs. During surgery some 10 days later, tumors were revealed and removed, so follow-up treatment was prescribed. Foster homes were already full of young, healthy animals who were on meds or otherwise unavailable for surgery, so Cassius would face more time in the animal shelter. Finally, a shelter worker who was tormented by the suffering of the dog demanded that the medical, adoption, and animal care staff put themselves in the dog’s place. What would they want? The veterinarian sided with this worker’s argument: that the dog was being used like a test subject. Cassius finally left this world in the arms of those who loved him.

Many animal shelter volunteers, donors, and even staff who are influenced by the so-called “no kill” movement are pressuring animal shelters to establish “special needs” funds and otherwise move from prevention of suffering to maintaining life at any cost. I wonder if such folks are willing to experience the same thing Cassius did?

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  • JoAnne Fowler says:

    I have an elderly cat who has some medical problems. Once I found a vet who was willing to teach me how to medicate Punkin, his quality of life improved. He has had another 2 years with us, and I am quite certain he has a lot of good quality to his life. He will never get over his illnesses (inflamed bowel disease, hepititis, and diabetes),but he is stable with the medication. I feel the owners of Cassius were cold hearted. In the first place, if he was so sick and old that his life’s quality was that bad that they decided euthanisia was best, then the right thing would have been to be there with him when he was put at rest, not to desert him at the shelter. He was probably scared and lonely, apprehensive, and a lot of other stressful emotions. I will not hang onto Punkin for my own sake to his detriment, but as long as he has a good quality life, I will care for him. And when it’s time to let him go, I will be holding him through the whole transition.

  • LeeAnn says:

    Recently we adopted a very senior dog from one of the local shelters, who had been abandoned due to his age and condition. Right now he is stable and we will love him until the end, and try to make the right decisions for him, but I probably have to admit he should not be alive. Once we had his records, I was astonished to see that the shelter, already in financial straits, had spent thousands of dollars on having him neutered, and treated for many medical conditions. I just cringed when I saw all that he had gone through too, even putting all of that cost aside, just to buy perhaps another year of life, at best. I know all life is valuable and these decisions are difficult ones for the shelters. This dog is easy to love, like the one in your story, and no doubt he won over some hearts as he did ours, but sometimes loving an animal means you make the best decision for him/her.
    When the time comes that he is again going downhill, we won’t put him through any more pain. I liked your article and thought it was sensitively written.

  • Lori P says:

    It is sad that the original owners of Cassius brought him in to be euthanized rather than provide the old guy who had probably loved them all his life, with the comfort of a familiar home until it was ‘time’ because he no longer had a quality of life. Although it was probably best that Cassius had been euthanized rather than spending those last miserable weeks at the shelter, it is obvious that he still had quality time left and it is sad that his owners found it preferable to dispose of him this way.

  • Magdalena Zingg P says:

    Thank you all for the care, love, dedication and decicions you maded for Cassius… God keep helpin all of you to keep with all the wok, decicions and love you need.

  • Joan Squires says:

    No one who loves animals wants to advocate indiscriminate killing, nor
    do they want an animal to suffer. We have to find a balance here. It
    just takes a little common sense to know that if an animal is old and has
    many health problems that will require stressful treatment with minimal
    results, the animal’s best interest is served by euthenasia. Money that is
    spent and time and effort of doctors that is necessary to “save” these
    animals would be better chanelled into saving younger, healthier, more
    adoptable animals. It is my understanding that in most shelters animals
    are euthenized in the order of how long they have been there and not by
    a more logical criteria – like age and health of the animal. We need to
    be wiser in our use of funds to get the most good for the most animals!

  • Steve says:

    Great post, Scott. In so many cases, extreme medical intervention makes the final days (weeks, months) of life miserable instead of peaceful, for animals and humans as well. I met a wonderful family of PETA members a couple of weeks ago who have made the compassionate decision to forego chemotherapy for one of their dogs who has cancer and would undoubtedly be miserable if treated. Instead, they are making sure every day is a good one, a happy one, for as long as possible. Deal me in for this approach when my time comes, as well!

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