Facing up to euthanasia

“Surviving the Heartbreak of Choosing Death for Your Pet”
by Linda Mary Peterson
Publisher: Greentree Publishing
Translated into Japanese by Hitomi Ohta
Japanese Publisher: Julian Ltd.


When a certain dog that had earlier been adopted from ARK fell into a critical condition, I went to the animal hospital to see the dog. At that time, the owner asked me, “I believe you are an experienced owner. What would you do in this case?” I answered, “There’s no such thing as the ‘same case’. This dog doesn’t belong to me, or to ARK. I think you should make the decision by yourself, because you may regret it if you don’t.”

I’ve dealt with many dogs and cats that have been put to sleep, but each case is different. Each animal had its own background and personality, and there were various hows and whys. All the staff members at ARK think together about what is best for the animal, and make the decisions that have to be made.

In my personal experience, I helped my dog who couldn’t eat by himself to stay alive by putting medicine blended with honey in his mouth. All because my family couldn’t make up our mind and couldn’t put him to sleep.

Of course, even though I’ve seen this many times, I’m not confident that I’d be able to make the decision without any hesitation if it were my own dog that I’d been living with in the critical condition.

I’m sure, I would be depressed, feel desperate, blame myself, vent my frustration on others, cry, regret and waver and waver...I would not be able to accept reality.

That’s why I read this book.

This book is about the situation in the U.S. so not everything in it applies to Japan, but nonetheless, we should be prepared for the farewell that will come we don’t know when. This is one of our duties as a pet owner.

I’ve talked with my husband about things as specific as, “If malignant tumor were found, what should we do?” and “If we did decide to put our dog to sleep, how long should we wait?”

We talk about this issue in our usual calm way to try to prepare ourselves to face the fact that our dog will not live forever. This will also prevent us from panicking when the time does come, forestall any relationship difficulties between my husband and I, and help to avoid causing our children any undue stress.

This issue is really painful just to think about, but we can’t avoid it. If we pet owners didn’t think about this, it would be an abdication of our responsibility.

This word is still a kind of taboo in Japan.
We sometimes suggest euthanasia to people who ask ARK to take a dog or cat in. It is also tough for us to discuss euthanasia with someone who has come to us as their last resort. Even for people, it causes great stress when the environment an elderly person is in changes suddenly. It’s the same for animals. They don’t understand our language, and that’s why some can’t understand the situation and end up getting sick due to stress. We owners have a responsibility towards our animals. You cannot put him to sleep because it’s too tough for you? Please think about his feelings. Should he suddenly be separated from his owner, forced to live with his loneliness and anxiety? Or die an agonizing death with unknown animals in a gas chamber at local government “health” center (hokenjyo)? If you avoid facing up to the issue of euthanasia, the animal that you’ve been living together with could die a tragic death. Please, owners, don’t abandon your responsibility. It’s hard to talk to people who are not calm enough to listen, and most of the time, they don’t understand even when the staff member politely explains the issue. It’s a big burden for us.

At shelters like ARK, we sometimes have aggressive dogs and dogs who can’t communicate with people well (such as former stray dogs). This happens a lot, but it’s still tough to handle. It is also tough for us to find a new family for a dog who has at one time bitten someone. Even if a new owner is found, the dog may bite somebody else at his new home. Can a dog live in peace at someone’s home if communication with people is stressful for him? But on the other hand, is it really any kind of happiness to live at ARK?

So with respect to euthanasia, we can’t find an answer even if we think about it all the time and discuss it endlessly. But we can’t avoid this issue either as long as we have animals.

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