Dear Dr. Thompson: What are the ethical considerations for veterinarians regarding when animals should be euthanized? A friend of my family who lives in Columbus had a lovely 8 to 9-year-old golden retriever that she couldn’t handle. The dog was friendly and docile, but he had a tendency to run off and was a big rambunctious dog. He was by all accounts healthy. She decided that she couldn’t keep him anymore because of “allergies” even though she had had him for about 18 months and shockingly had him put down. Is this an ethical practice?
What you are describing is a terribly sad situation and I would be cautious in drawing any definitive conclusions without knowing what the veterinarian was told at the time. Most often in this situation veterinary hospitals will direct people to local shelters or humane organizations to try to find a home for healthy pets. These organizations work closely with many breed rescues and will make every effort to place an adoptable animal.
Columbus has a well-respected humane society that may have been able to help. I sincerely hope your friend was offered this option.
Where this situation becomes more complicated is what the veterinarian might have been told at the time the decision was made by your family friend. Euthanasia is an incredibly difficult decision for everyone involved and the only solace is that you are easing a beloved pet’s suffering. If that were not the case in this situation, or the situation was misrepresented, it would be devastating.
Your question highlights a more serious aspect of the responsibility of bringing a pet into your life. Often people will act on an impulse, underestimating what a large energetic dog needs to be happy and healthy. From what you described, he was not a good fit for your family friend and with a little guidance before adopting him this could have been avoided. A long-haired dog that sheds continuously like a golden retriever may not be well suited to someone with allergies. High-energy dogs need regular exercise and if you are unwilling or unable to provide it, a smaller, more sedentary breed might be a better match.
Animal shelters across the country are filled with unwanted animals who were surrendered because people underestimated what pet ownership entails. Pets need regular exercise, medical care, and social interaction and you are making a lifelong commitment. There are many resources available to help you match the right pet with your lifestyle and expectations, including your veterinarian, the humane society, and Web sites.
Questions for Dr. Gary Thompson can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Blade, Attn. Ask the Vet, 541 N. Superior St., Toledo, OH 43660. Dr. Thompson regrets that he cannot answer individual letters.