Rescue Journal

life and death with dignity

Carol  ·  Dec. 19, 2013

it is almost impossible to navigate rescue waters and not disagree with someone else. we all have our own opinions, beliefs, experiences and practices that have helped to shape us. and all of those things are going to make us different from each other in some respects.

I have spent the last 25 years working closely both in animal rescue and human nursing with the aging, sick, and dying. it has intricately and uniquely shaped me in many ways and does make the way I do or not do things sometimes different from the rest.

I remember when Pops was here and there was a great deal of questioning about the fairness of not putting him down. our vets were monitoring him closely and were comfortable with continuing to move forward with him, we his caregivers truly believed that despite his problems and disabilities..Pops really was happy. but the questions kept swirling around the rescue periphery whether we were doing the right thing for Pops or just being unkind and selfish.

SAINTS is in a unique position, as a rule we do not have young and healthy animals..this means most of our animals are old or sick. at any given moment anyone can come here and see old and sick animals. how old is ok? how sick is ok? and who and with what kind of knowledge and experience gets to be the judge?

you have to understand that the opinions about quality of life in rescue when lined up together can run longer and further apart than a football field. I know someone in rescue who euthanized a cat because the cat was diagnosed with thyroid disease..she felt shoving a pill down his throat every day was unfair. I know someone else in rescue who NEVER euthanizes...obviously dying animals are left to die naturally, she believes this is how nature intended and it is right.

so SAINTS is in a unique position of not only having our own beliefs and opinions on when it is appropriate to end an animals life..but all of our doors and windows are wide open so anyone can come thru and actually see what we do and it may or may not match what someone else would do.

this means I have to exercise great caution in ensuring that what we believe and what we do does not ever cross certain lines. with both Pops and even Gideon, I absolutely had to have ongoing and recent vet medical visits and documentation to prove we were in fact taking very good, careful and responsible care.

at one point I asked Dr Paton and his medical team to come out and have a look at Pops to offer a second opinion, they are not our regular vets but they are highly respected. I think it hurt our vets feelings a bit and they thought maybe I didn't trust them when I absolutely did. but I needed that extra back up opinion with Pops to irrevocably prove that we were doing ok by him. Dr Paton came with another vet from the clinic and one of their vet techs. he examined Pops thoroughly, took more xrays and then told me this...

he said that when I had called him and sent him photos and xrays of of Pops and his feet, he was really worried. he felt that sometimes rescue goes too far in misguided good intentions in trying to save horses that really should be euth'd. he said that on the way out here, they had a long discussion on how to handle the situation to ensure that Pops would not be allowed to continue to suffer. I laughed and were afraid we were one of those crazy rescues who thinks everyone can and should be be saved (lets call a spade a spade.) he said that this was exactly what he was afraid of and he was glad this was not the case. in the end his recommendation was...put Pops down when he was ready. he said we were doing all of the right things for him and he had no concerns regarding his quality of life or his care. we really did do the very best for Pops that we could...specialized housing that included soft surfaces under his feet, appropriate pain medication and medical treatment. he said our vets were doing an excellent job on slowly trimming back his feet. and he said Pops was very obviously happy. I asked when I would know it was time to let him go and he said just by looking at Pops and the care he was getting, that we would know when it was time and he was right. we knew when the time came to let him go and we did.

I always appreciated that Dr Paton took the time to let us know that he valued the efforts and the care we were taking to do right by that little crippled horse and that he was fully comfortable with the decisions we were making surrounding Pops and his quality of life.

it no longer mattered what others thought, I had responsibly confirmed what we who knew and loved him that moment in time, Pops was doing ok.

I want people to understand and death are not black and white..there are so many different factors in play.

I believe there are two responsible and compassionate times to euthanize animals..the first is when their life and continued care becomes a burden to them to have to continue to live each day. the second appropriate time is when their life and continued care becomes too great of a burden to their caregivers. if the burden of continued care becomes is too great for their caregivers, then the animals will suffer from the inability of their caregivers to continue to provide that level of care.

when either of those times are reached is always unique to each animal and caregiver., it is dependent upon us to recognise when either time is here. I think if we truly care, I think if we truly are trying to do what is best, I think if we are honest enough to see not only our own feelings but what the animal is feeling, we will usually safely, compassionately and respectfully get there.


Katrina Wright

Incidentally I also had a cat, Mishka, who one Vancouver vet simply cast off 10 years ago with a smirky self-righteous attitude, "Oh no she's definitely got cancer. We just haven't found it yet {after two full ultrasounds}, but I know I'm right." And you know what, he was dead WRONG! Thankfully we didn't give up on our kitty, we decided we would do whatever we could for her and, with the guidance of a new, holistic vet and several second opinions, we worked out a treatment plan for Mishka's on/off ailments and ongoing dietary the point she lived a long, comfortable and very happy life, to the ripe old age of 16.....and only at the very end, when she suddenly showed signs of fluid in her abdomen, was there any renewed talk of cancer.

Had we not had the determination to work with Mishka and to let her guide us in her wellbeing, and had we been too broke to afford any medications, we might have given up the fight when she was just 6 years old, when she really wasn't dying from cancer at all. But we held strong on our commitment to her and for that we were rewarded with 10 more wonderful and largely trouble-free years!

Needless to say we have never gone back to that particular smarmy vet and we are ever grateful that we followed our gut instinct and the bond with Mishka that we would do all we could for her, as long as she was still happy to stay. And we are forever blessed.

Katrina Wright

I couldn't agree more with this post - and thank you for your delicate and candid words. We've said our farewells to 5 senior cats in almost as many years and know only too well that inner questioning of 'are they still happy' and 'are we being fair by them', loving and caring for them in every way we could and guided by their wellbeing, until the day they each let us know, they were ready.

As things near their inevitable end, the kindest thing we can do for our animal friends is accepting when they tell us it's time to let go and to let them go with love and dignity. A huge part of our commitment to loving them is the honesty and integrity to accept when they tell us it's time. It takes love, strength, unwavering compassion and the very kindest heart to give this one, last, selfless act of love - when saying goodbye is the last thing we want.


hugs to you barb...and wishes for a safe and peaceful journey to molly.

Barbara DeMott

Thank you Carol
We are euthanizing our Mollie at 13.5 years this Monday. She had a huge vestibular event that she has not recovered from and has not starting eating/walking again. We will have a retired vet, the one who spayed her as a pup, do a home visit for this since she can no longer walk.
Despite the fact that we have been caring for her lupus, lameness, and other ailments, Mollie has been a gift from the day we got her at the Sechelt SPCA. We remember her as a puppy chasing yellow butterflies in the white daisies along the forest path. Always joyful, always playful, and incredibly beautiful


Really great post.

Sometimes, one realizes that some people / groups / rescues dont know the difference between an animal who looks like crap (due to age or disease) yet who is under a vet's care and who is still happy (according to those who know him/her) vs an animal that looks like crap due to incompetance or neglect. Perhaps it is because they have never seen the former?

Justifying when an animal is NOT ready to give up his/her life can be challenging. It seems counter-intuitive to have to explain to someone that just because it hurts their eyes to look at animal who has lived a good long life and who's body is displaying the outward signs of that long life, that the outward appearance is only a portion of the factors to consider when determinging what time is the *right* time.

And the needs and coping mechanisms of each INDIVIDUAL animal must be taken into consideration. Sure, prior experience and lessons learned from previous animal's with similar situations shape and effect decisions, but ultimately, it is the objective review of individual animal's needs that trump all else.


you did your very, very best for oliver. and the second they are gone from this life Leila, whatever they lived is gone forever. what you still worry about is not worrying oliver..he has moved on. it is ok for you to let go of it and move on too.
give yourself a hug and a break...oliver did the best that he could and so did you.


Good post!
When you first wrote Pops I was thinking about the original Pops and Jacob and it still worked as I'm sure some people would have euth'd them but they were so happy (and ridiculous, especially all the slobbers).


"I believe there are two responsible and compassionate times to euthanize animals..the first is when their life and continued care becomes a burden to them to have to continue to live each day" ----- This sentence reminded me of Oliver .... chocked me up there... I still worry about him.