I get a lot of clients, and scattered acquaintances or friends, who tell me they always wanted to be a vet, except for they never did well at school, or they are afraid of needles, or they can’t handle blood . . . and, well, there’s no helping that. The schooling is hard, there are a lot of needles, and there is a lot of blood.
However, there is one ‘excuse’ that always gives me pause: when someone says “I always wanted to be a vet, but I could never bear the thought of euthanasia”.
This thought is one I’m told often. Sometimes people bring in an animal for euthanasia and comment on how they don’t know how I can do it, put animals to sleep. Or a client witnesses sad faces in the waiting room and guesses at what happened and makes a comment to me in their appointment about how they could “never do that”.
I get it. I get why the idea of having the euthanize cats and dogs could be horrifying to people. And certainly, if you don’t think you’d be able to cope with that, do not go into veterinary medicine.
But the truth is . . . euthanasia is WHY I’m a veterinarian.
Now, don’t misunderstand me: I don’t like it. It’s definitely far from my favourite thing about my job, and I will happily go weeks between euthanasia appointments.
I like science. I like medicine. I enjoy blood and guts and gore. I like problem solving. I like a high paced workplace. So why veterinary medicine instead of human medicine? It’s more than just a love for cats and dogs. It’s more than just the added challenge of having patients that can’t speak. I could probably ramble on for pages about why I’d rather be a DVM versus an MD.
Euthanasia is at the top of that list.
Why? Because when my patient is suffering, with no possible end in sight except death, I can quickly and painlessly help them along.
I have known of too many people, who are on the brink of death, that have been kept alive by the miracle of modern medicine but now there is nothing more that can be done but keep them comfortable, who linger on that edge for days. For weeks. Not really living, not quite yet dead, but just waiting. And I know that when it happens to someone close to me, it will kill me inside to watch them fade away slowly and painfully.
I hate euthanizing healthy animals. I hate euthanizing a young healthy dog just because no one wants him. I hate euthanizing an entire litter of kittens because no one wants them. I hate euthanizing an animal with a very fixable problem that the owners just can’t afford to fix.
But for every euthanasia I hate doing, I have at least one I’m thankful for.
The dog with the oral tumour that has gotten so foul his people don’t want him near because of the smell and so large he can barely eat. The cat that is wasting away to nothingness, in kidney failure, who gets all his fluids and nutrients through various tubes. The dog who was hit by a car and sustained injuries so severe it’s only a matter of a few painful hours before he dies on his own. The cat that has an incurable viral disease causing his chest to fill with fluid, who is literally drowning on dry land. The rabbit with a broken face that wouldn’t heal. The rat riddled with tumours.
I could go on.
Yes, euthanasia is hard. No, I don’t like doing it. It breaks my heart to kill a beloved pet while the ones that love it are crying in front of me. But it breaks my heart even more when I have to stand by and watch a creature, any creature, die slowly and painfully, knowing they won’t get any better and they’re just waiting for the end.
I’m a veterinarian because while I will do my best to heal my patients, I want to be able to end their suffering when there’s nothing more I can do.