When it comes to a badly injured or unpredictably aggressive animal, even a “no kill” shelter has to call it quits. Zoie, a young 82-pound Rottweiler, was both of the above. By the time she arrived at Paws and Claws Pet Shelter she’d been through numerous homes, tossed out of all of them due to her cat-killing and chicken-massacring ways. At some point in her young life she had been hit by a car, as x-rays revealed a badly healed rear leg lacking the cartilage necessary to keep bone from rubbing against bone. All that could be done was to put her on anti-inflammatory drugs for life.
Still, it was hoped that the right home could be found for such a dog, and for many weeks the staff tried to find her one. The trouble was, she might ignore or suddenly try to attack another animal through the chain link fence that separates the runs. Zoie’s fate was sealed over the weekend, when she managed to escape from her kennel and launched herself at a Shelter worker carrying a dog that was recovering from its second knee surgery. (Fortunately, neither one was injured.) Now, sadly, there was nothing left to try.
This is the third time a dog has been euthanized at the shelter in 2017. The “no kill” mandate is taken very seriously, but sometimes there is no other option. The first was an elderly black Lab with a head tumor and huge, open sores, all filled with hundreds of deeply embedded maggots. More recently, Animal Control brought in a young Labrador-whippet with a broken back. Surgery was not possible. In both cases euthanizing was necessary to relive the dogs’ suffering.
Zoie was different because, to outward appearances, she was young and healthy. True, she was certainly in chronic pain from the leg injury, but the main problem lay with her unpredictability. One minute she’d be indifferent to another dog outside her kennel; the next, she was lunging frantically against the mesh, trying to fight it. Such behavior made her impossible to adopt out.
The difficult decision was made to have Zoie put down. The staff gathered around her, saying their good-byes, then Jasmine, the Animal Care Manager, and Jennifer, the Kennel Tech, took Zoie to the vet’s office. To keep Zoie from seeing and possibly attacking other dogs, the two women took her into a secluded corridor and knelt on the floor beside her, offering treats and gentle comfort while they waited.
Finally, the vet arrived with a syringe filled with Telazol, a pre-anesthetic to make Zoie groggy. “We never want to euthanize a dog that’s awake,” said Jasmine. “Because,” Jennifer explained, “the animal is frightened and anxious, and the last thing to stop is the heart.” Within minutes Zoie was deeply relaxed, her head cradled in Jasmine’s lap, while Jennifer gently stroked the dog’s flank and paws. “There hasn’t been a single time that I haven’t second-guessed this,” Jasmine admitted, fighting back tears, as the vet and his assistant returned with a second syringe.
Slowly, the bright pink medicine was injected into a vein. All four humans knelt on the floor as the big dog took four deep breaths, then was silent. The vet examined Zoie’s pupils for dilation, felt for a pulse, and listened for a heartbeat. “I don’t hear anything,” he said finally, removing his stethoscope. She was gone.
Jasmine removed Zoie’s bright purple leash and the women placed the big body in a heavy plastic bag, to join other bodies in the vet’s freezer. At last Jasmine and Jennifer did not have to hold back their tears. Does it ever get any easier? “No,” said Jasmine. “If it does, you need to get out.” Jennifer, a veteran of many years of working in a veterinary office, was adamant: “It shouldn’t be easy.”
These women have taken care of Zoie from the day she arrived at the Shelter, bathed and fed and worked with her, in the hope that she would find a permanent home. Now they have stayed beside her until the end, holding, comforting, and speaking lovingly to her through the entire ordeal. They continued to murmur gently to her, long after she stopped breathing.
“Good dog. Good dog.”
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