Dear Dr. Fox: I read with interest your column on whether other pets should be present when a dog is euthanized. Based on my experiences, I believe that other pets definitely should be present.
Several years ago, when we had to put our sweet Aussie, Mattie, to sleep, we found a wonderful vet who was willing to come to the house. He suggested that our cavalier King Charles spaniel, Lillie, stay with us through the whole process. Lillie was absolutely glued to Mattie until literally the exact moment that the doctor told us she no longer had a heartbeat. As he was telling us, Lillie got up and walked away. I pulled her back, but she refused to stay and walked away again. The doctor told me to let her go. He said dogs recognize the smell of death and know what it means, which was why he said she should be there. He said that even though she would be sad, she, like us, would know what happened to Mattie and she wouldn’t always be waiting for her to come home.
He was absolutely right: She grieved, but didn’t search for Mattie. It was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever witnessed. In contrast, when Lillie died, sadly, we did not have the option to include our other dogs, Annie and Roxie — she went into cardiac arrest at the animal hospital. When we came home without Lillie, both Annie and Roxie were constantly and obviously looking for her, especially Roxie, who was very attached to her. Fortunately, I had clipped some of Lillie’s fur after she died, and after a few days of heartbreaking sadness (they were unusually quiet, and they raced to the door whenever someone came in, walking away dejected when it was never Lillie), my husband suggested we let them both smell the fur. We did, and it worked. After that, they were still clearly sad, but they began to perk up, and never again raced to the door expecting her to be there. It was amazing.
I truly believe dogs know so much more than we realize. — P.W., West Palm Beach, Florida
Dear P.W.: I am glad to revisit this question with you, since many people have more than one animal in their homes. As in prior columns, however, I urge people not to allow their animals to witness the euthanasia procedure if done in-home.
For the cat or dog whose time has come because of intractable suffering, in-home euthanasia is the ideal and least distressing method. Some people would prefer a “natural” death for their animal companions, but chronic organ failure and eventual shutdown can be protracted and distressing for all. I always advise an objective, yet empathetic, clinical evaluation by a veterinarian.
I agree with you that dogs realize much more than we give them credit for. My concern about having other animals present during the administration of the euthanasia is that some may become disturbed and protective, or fearful toward the veterinarian and his/her assistant. Better, in my experience, to allow the dogs/cats to see their animal companion laid out on the floor after the procedure has been completed. As you have confirmed, there is more distress and a lack of “closure” when the deceased animal is left at the animal hospital and not brought home for the other animals to examine; and yes, most do seem to comprehend that their animal companion is deceased. This generally shortens their grieving time significantly.
Call to reform religious ritual slaughter in the U.S.: In many communities in the United States and abroad, animals are being killed inhumanely because of religious tradition.
Religious freedom is an essential democratic principle, but should not preclude impartial evaluation of various associated traditions and beliefs. Ritual slaughter by butchers following Jewish and Islamic traditions involves slicing the carotid and jugular blood vessels in the neck. Suddenly receiving less oxygen, the brain triggers panic-suffocation reactions. This makes the animals struggle and gasp for air with blood being inhaled and exhaled through the trachea (wind pipe), which is also severed.
Furthermore, this form of ritual slaughter does not lead to immediate unconsciousness, because arteries supplying the brain (and therefore maintaining some degree of consciousness) travel through the bony vertebrae and are never reached by the knife.
Aside from that, animals show fear when being led to and restrained for slaughter. Advocates of more humane ritual slaughter are calling for pre-slaughter stunning to render animals unconscious prior to throat-cutting.
We appeal to all Muslim and Jewish communities around the world, and their leaders, to adopt this practice that has already been accepted, or is being considered, in several countries. Pioneering animal rights scholar/activist Al-Hafiz B.A. Masri, the former imam of Shah Jahan Mosque in Woking, England, proved in his 1989 book “Animals in Islam” that the captive-bolt stunning method is more humane, and is also in perfect consonance with the animal slaughter principles of Islam. We therefore appeal to these communities, globally, to urgently adopt this practice, as a way to move forward and mitigate further suffering. — Michael W. Fox, veterinarian, Golden Valley, Minnesota; Nadeem Haque, Al-Hafiz B.A. Masri’s grandson, Toronto, Canada
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