Rescue Journal


Carol  ·  Sep. 28, 2008

chris sent me a link for a post on the drugs used in euthanasia and then someone asked a question on one of the forums...are there "no-kill" shelters who do not euthanize to end suffering at the end of life?

so i am thnking on this. i know of one shelter that does not euthanize, ever...and yes animals do die i guess that is could be considered a "no kill" shelter but is it really and is it humane?

and that brings up the ALL dying animals need to be euthanized to end their suffering? well the ones who are suffering sure do but not all deaths are full of pain. here is my take on this...

with my human patients that are dying...we do not euthanize. we support them and medically give them the best that we can to maintain their comfort while they die.

to some extent this can be done with animals too but not as easily because animals cannot talk and tell you how they feel.

i have consciously allowed a few animals to die here without interference...they APPEARED to be comfortable and were coping well but to cover all bases i gave them appropriate meds just in case. the reason i did not interfer in those few instances was because death is a natural process and if symptoms are controlled, there is no reason to push them along if they are doing fine on their own.

but MOST animals are euthanizied here...simply either because i knew their suffering is reaching beyond what i can care for or because i see what COULD be coming up next and i knew that was way beyond us both too and not worth the risk.

there are some animals who just up and die without sending me prior notice and others like nola that i just don't read what is going on correctly until after we hit an end of life crises.

death is sometimes cooperative and somewhat predictable and gives me the opportunity to decide what is best for them. but sometimes it is not either of those things, it is just a sneaking, twisted, convoluted occurence that leaves me dazed and confused.

i have learned a few things over the years...dying is not always linked to suffering but sometimes it is. death is not predictable or always user friendly so extreme caution is needed, and death itself is not the final is. and these animals are alive until the moment of their deaths...we as rescuers are responsible for each and every second of happiness or suffering that occurs while in our care.

so we better be prepared to accept what that responsibility and burden entails and not just brush it off with some kind of excuse.

suffering comes in many forms, physical, emotional, mental or spiritual....unredeemible suffering needs to be dealt with. and yet not all creatures suffer at the end of their life and this is true for a couple of reasons.

like humans...animals have unique personalities...some are strong and cope well with adversity and others do not. some have the ability to peacefully accept the ending of their life...others do not. some have pain issues or breathing issues or nausea issues and that impacts their comfort level, others do not suffer these things, they just slow down, and become tired as their life fades away. some are fearful of what is happening to them, and others are content. nature herself has some built in mechanisms to decrease the suffering at death...hypothermia, comatose states, some hormonal releases to create a separation of body and mind as they near death.
all of these things and many more determine the quality of a life ending plus a whole lot more that we just do not know about yet.

true no kill shelters are NOT something to brag about....this means that they turn a blind eye to the suffering of those they are sworn to protect. shelters who only euthanize at the end of life or to end suffering are not really no kill but as yet we don't have a word to describe what we actually do...low kill is not right...maybe compassionate-kill.

lots of folks have issues with the word "kill" but if you take something that it alive and then actively do something that took that life away...that is killing. was it absolutely necessary because of suffering? maybe, but it is killing none the same.

and trust me, the act of doing nothing at all? is still killing too...death in our care is still death in our care and we need to be aware of this, it does not let us off the responsibility hook.

i could think on this all day and could find new paths to explore, but i have work to do so i better get moving here.

but one last thought before i is pretty darn easy for someone to second guess me here from the comfort of their happy, controlled and organized little life....second guessing comes easy to those not standing on the actual responsibility and action line. what you would do,if you were the one responsible, means nothing to me. you are not responsible because you have chosen not to be. it is a good idea to keep this in mind, life and death is not a "if it was me" fantasy.

does this mean you can't have a valid opinion? of course you can.... as long as you understand that an opinion on what you are not living may not match the the one that is actually being lived.

be fair...this is hard enough as it is.



That is why you are such an excellent rescuer; you are constantly soul-searching and asking the hard questions. I love the line, "stops me from fabricating a new reality..."

It's so true that people fabricate new realities on a daily basis to make things easier for themselves or assuage guilt or any number of negative emotions. The fact that you are constantly poking at yourself to get to your true motives means the animals are in very good hands. I know you don't always get it right but the very fact that you KNOW you don't always get it right already sets you apart from a lot of people.


i call it killing because i never want to forget that i cannot come to this decision without a whole lot of soul searching. i don't want to make it soft or compassionate or noble because then it just might get too easy to fool myself into doing it when maybe i don't have too.
as long as i recognize that i am consciously taking someone else's life, i am respectful and fearful of the power over life and death that i ultimately have here.

i love these guys, but sometimes like is just too hard to care for them anymore and i don't want to lie to myself when i am the issue and i am really desperately searching for an end to my own suffering in the burden of caring for them.

it sucks but it's true. and that kill word stops me from fabricating a new reality...i might do it anyway but i know what i am doing.

and maybe it is stupid because still i suffer anyway....i really miss clyde and i want him back here again.


I know it's debatable but I do make a distinction between killing and euthanasia. I think rescues can still call themselves "No-Kill" if they practice euthanasia. And I guess to me it does come down to the emotional value we assign to words.

Semantically, you're absolutely right Carol. Euthanasia actually means "the art or practice of killing" but here's the interesting thing. It also means "permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals". Now there's an interesting turn of phrase, "permitting the death". Also, note it's "the art of killing" other words an action requiring thought, skill and intuition.

Kill to me is an ugly word which means depriving someone of life. And I do believe this is what we do when we kill animals for space reasons, for behavioural reasons and for all sorts of other reasons which would make no sense to the animals if we could explain it to them. And many of us in rescue have had to kill (often it's a behavioural reason which prevents the animal or others from being safe). And those deaths are often the ones that haunt us because, indeed, we deprived those animals of life. And that is very hard to come to terms with.

But, when we all make those tough euthanasia decisions for suffering animals and when people actually request euthanasia do we or they see it as "deprivation of life" or do we see it as "permitting death"? I have read many times on this blog, "there is no quality of life" which really means there is no LIFE as we value it. So, in essence, euthanasia, when carefully considered does NOT deprive a being of life because the life has already disappeared. Rather, it gives the gift of death. And that's what people struggle with...that death CAN be a gift. It's why we balk when we hear about people unplugging their loved ones at the hospital. Because we can't see that the life was gone long ago and that person simply wanted release in the form of death. Not deprivation of life but allowance of death. Death is a natural process and often we fight harder than we should against it.

At some point all rescuers have to come to terms with death, killing and euthanasia and we all have to be as honest as possible about what these all mean to ourselves and the animals in our care. And, Carol, based on your blog I have never encountered a rescuer who seems to "get this" better than you. You don't have a set policy or a pat answer as to how to deal with these issues. You look at each situation and each animal individually and then you make the decisions you have to make which are never easy. This is how every rescue should do it. Every situation is different and needs to be reassessed every single time despite what might be on your letterhead or your brochures.


Many animal shelters that once prided the "No Kill" banner are now referring to their organizations as "Adoption Positive". That term allows for a lot of actions to be taken. Humane euthanization due to health issues, euthanization carried out on "unadoptable animals", even euthanization for space reasons. It's ugly, but it's honest. "No Kill" sounds great in a perfect word, but in reality it can mean a long, sad, painful, or hopeless life. I do not, in any way, shape or form, support destroying healthy animals, but I do believe that there are worse things than a good death.

Marie Bellemare

Thank you Carol for this very "rich" message this morning... I feel you are so generous to take the time to share what's within you on top of all else you got to do !!!!!!!!

Being in "the present" allow to make the right decision in "the present" nothing else really counts... no opinion no nothing... just "the present"... that's all there is... Spritely just taught us that once more...