On Advances in Euthanasic Technologies
Back when I was a kid in the 70’s, when you had to euthanize a pet, there were pretty much two ways to do it (depending on whether you lived in an urban or rural area):
1. Take it to the vet, or
2. Take it to the back yard and shoot it.
The latter had the benefit of being fairly economical (my research tells me that .22 long rifle ammunition was around $0.08 per round in 1974 though it seems to cost around $0.07 a round today… adjusting for inflation, 1974’s prices are like $0.35 in 2016 cents which is still pretty cheap) but the former, while costing more, was far more clinical and, on top of that, they took care of the whole disposal issue for you.
(I understand that back before people took their pets to the vet (like in the 1940’s), vets made house calls where they would bring chloroform and, if necessary, a gun. So the whole antiseptic needle on a stainless steel table in a sterile room was, technically, a step up. Kind of.)
Given these particular alternatives, I can kind of see how someone might have hoped for further advancements that resulted in yet another way to do it.
Now we’re living in the future. We don’t have the flying cars we were promised and the whole Cubs in the World Series thing didn’t quite pan out the way we were promised (YET!) but the future has some very, very strange options in some unexpected corners.
There is a business called Peaceful Partings here in town. They will come to your house and euthanize your pet for you. More than that, they not only provide disposal services, they provide such things as cremation services (with urns and everything), they make paw prints from the paw of your deceased pet, and, this is the part that blows my mind, they provide light grief support in that part of their job is to listen to you talk about your pet in the minutes that the process is going on. They bring white blankets and urine pads that they wrap your pet in as they walk back to their vehicle. They provide *HUGS*.
We got the package that involved getting the ashes back in a lovely carved wooden box, getting a terra cotta pawprint of Cecelia’s right front paw, getting a card the night of the procedure with a copy of The Rainbow Bridge (if you haven’t read this before, make sure you either have a hell of a lot of ironic distance or a box of Kleenex because even though it is 100% pure unadulterated glurge, it gets you right in the place that makes you remember your number one buddy from back when), and, on the day that they return the ashes and give you the pawprint, another card with the condolences and signatures of the people who performed the procedure.
When I think about what their job actually physically entails, it’s pretty emotionally intense. You’re going to someone’s house. This person will most likely be an emotional wreck. If there are other people there, these other people will be an emotional wreck. If there are children there, holy cow, will those children ever be an emotional wreck and a half. Then, once you’re there, you perform euthanasia on a pet and, here’s the kicker, part of your job is to *NOT* be emotionally distant from this experience. You have to listen to the story about how this pet got adopted, stories about funny habits the pet had, and how he or she (not “it”, he or she) was a particularly good pet, as pets go.
And then to go to another house and do it again.
When we called (around 5PM) to schedule our euthanasia, after asking questions about the address and name and weight of the pet, they said that they were booked up for the next few hours but they would be able to schedule something for 8:30PM that night. They mentioned a team that would be in our area and from that I gathered that there was more than one team and this other team/these other teams were *NOT* in our area. Assuming that the process at our house was not particularly short and not particularly long, and given the size of Colorado springs that would be split up by a maximum of two teams, and assuming that their evening started when we called around 5PM, and assuming they can do between one and two of these an hour… means that, on the night that we called, these people performed about 4 procedures before they got to our house.
And they still had the strength to cry with us.
Three days later, the phone call came that they were in the neighborhood and they had Cecelia’s pawprint and ashes for us. I confirmed that we were home and they came to the house and dropped off what remained of little Cece and the lady gave me a gentle pat on the shoulder and she got back in her car and the team was on its way again.
I can’t even imagine doing that particular job with a requirement of being emotionally present, pet after pet. They’re providing a, for lack of a better term, sacred service for people and I’m sure that they know that that is what they are doing and I suppose that that provides a bit of emotional strength for the emotionally wearing work that they do… but I can’t even imagine.
So when I asked Maribou “hey, how much did that end up costing?” and she answered that it was somewhere around $300, I immediately thought two somewhat contradictory thoughts at once.
Man, those guys don’t get paid nearly enough.
Man, I can’t believe that we spent $300 on euthanizing our cat.
That was money that could have been spent on almost anything else. From other luxuries (fun ones!) to charities that were mostly self-regarding to charities that actually did measurable good, it seemed so strange to me to have spent hundreds of dollars on *THAT*, of all things.
I remembered Brother Jason Kuznicki’s essay on Charity, from way back when. Specifically this part:
Or consider the Make-A-Wish Foundation. By the numbers, it’s horrifying: In 2009, its budget was $203,865,550, and it gave 13,471 children trips to Disney World, shopping sprees, cruises, and chances to meet celebrities. That’s an average of $15,133.66 per kid.
Meanwhile, in Mozambique, the infant mortality rate stands at around 10%. If these kids could be saved, they would be very likely to live full adult lives; young childhood is still a deadly time there, as it was for most societies in most of human history. Children in Mozambique succumb to infectious diseases that could readily be prevented or treated—things like measles, tetanus, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and the like.
Between 2002 and 2008 VillageReach ran a pilot program in the Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado designed to improve the province’s health logistics. This program was dramatically successful. One tangible indicator of impact is that VillageReach increased the percentage of Cabo Delgado infants who received the third and final dose of the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine from 68.9% to 95.4%, yielding a final percentage higher than that of the average in any sub-Saharan African country. When one looks at the available evidence in juxtaposition with the cost of the program and runs through cost-effectiveness calculations one finds that under conservative assumptions VillageReach saved an infant’s life for every $545 donated to VillageReach.
So. One wish for one relatively privileged (albeit distinctly unlucky) first-world kid. Or almost twenty-eight lifetimes — fifteen hundred years of life — for children who will otherwise die. (Are they any less unlucky?)
If I’m right, we should probably be ashamed that the Make-A-Wish Foundation is even a thing. Can you imagine arguing for it in Mozambique?
In that same way, I sit thinking that I killed my cat for half the price of saving an infant’s life in Mozambique. But I got a lovely container for the cat’s ashes. I got a terra cotta pawprint. I got a professionally printed little poem.
I got a hug.
What a strange luxury.
What a strange place the future is.