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.

That’s where VillageReach comes in:

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.

(Featured Image is Kyleakin Castle, Skye by Oliver Clarke. Used under a creative commons license.)

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Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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58 thoughts on “On Advances in Euthanasic Technologies

  1. We did that for our Shepherd, not so much for all the bells & whistles, but because we didn’t want our dog to pass away at the vet, but instead in her home, on her bed. Perhaps it was a silly luxury, but it was as much for us as it was for her, and that is important. As pet owners, we have total responsibility for our pets lives, including, quite often, choosing when they die. If that pet is a family member, and not just a step above livestock, then that final responsibility is much more of a burden than a duty, and I think we can be forgiven if we want to make that burden a bit lighter for everyone involved.


    • The last two dogs I lost — one I had to put to sleep at the vet’s (I was there, poor thing. He always hated shots, but I hope he’d forgotten it by the time has passed. Still makes me sad. Glad my wife wasn’t there for that). The other passed away the next morning — she’d been at the vet’s because she’d gotten REALLY sick, and she died about 45 minutes after the vet had called to say her fever had broken.

      Never did find out what was wrong (she was old, it didn’t really matter). But at least I knew she’d felt better. Good enough to drink a little water and wag her tail, by all accounts.


      • The Shepherd was losing a battle with cancer, and she’d had a round of chemo and surgery. She was a good dog and loved everyone at the vet, but we felt she’d had more than her fair share of time in a vet’s office.


  2. , I don’t want to pick on you, the thing I’m going to point at is quite normal and everyday. We often say that someone who is experiencing grief is a “wreck”. I’m starting to think that language is a problem.

    Grief, loss and sadness are entirely appropriate things to feel when someone you love has died. Those feelings are like a door, a portal that one must go through. “Wreck” kind of implies a traffic accident, something that is incidental, that could have been avoided. Death cannot be avoided, though.

    I think the word “wreck” also is meant to imply a lack of functioning. I understand the sense of distraction and the inability to focus that one might have at these times, but I think non-functioning is at best a hyperbolic description for most of us. But yeah, it can impair things.

    I know some people who have refused to engage with grief – who have shied at that portal – and have become stuck, unable to let go. Perhaps it’s the unpleasantness that puts them off, or the sense of lack of control. I see no sign that this has happened to you or your family, though.

    One thing that is remarkable about things here in the US is how much death is hidden from sight – removed from us. I have lived a long time now, and have many loved ones die. I have never seen a dead body, though. It isn’t “done”, I guess. It’s at a remove. I don’t know that this helps us. I doubt this is the case in Mozambique, which might well have a much better social system in place for processing grief; one that involves neighbors and friends. One of the things that’s happened to us in the US is that we are replacing social ties with economic/financial ones, and emotional obligations with bills.


    • Good point… but if someone asked me tomorrow what my emotional state was at the time of the process, I would still say “emotional wreck”. I couldn’t complete a sentence without my voice breaking, I had difficultly focusing on much of anything…

      I suppose I should say that I was processing an exceptionally intense set of emotions and, I suppose, I was processing them somewhat healthily… but that’s not the set of terms that comes first to mind.


    • In addition to the viewings and funerals I’ve been to, I’ve seen two people actually die. In one case it was in a hospice and another in an ICU. In both cases it was a foregone conclusion, at least by the time it happened. One case was dramatic, where the person was breathing, took in a breath (I don’t remember seeing him exhale), and stopped living. The other, the only way we knew he passed was that the machines he was hooked up to told us so.

      I’m not sure whether or how this actually addresses your point, Doctor Jay. It certainly doesn’t refute it at all. Just that the last paragraph in your comment hit home for me and brought those memories up.


      • Much the same experience here. I’m not sure when my father actually died. He was propped up in his hospital bed, not conversing with my mother and me. Just breathing. And then, at some point, he wasn’t. No outward sign, no nothing. It wasn’t until a doctor came in and couldn’t get a response that anyone realized it.


  3. Yep, although the paw print thing and home service are new to me, we had the cremation and box of ashes deal done for two cats. We were going to put them in the yard until the divorce / sale of the house came about. I’m sure she still has the containers. She’d never give them up. They are likely still in her office, on the shelf, “close by”.

    Now, I think I’ll go home and hug my cat.


    • Thank you very much, but this wasn’t really intended to be a “I’m grieving/I have grieved” post as much as a “there are roving bands of vets who go house to house and provide hugs to the mommies and daddies of the doggies and kitties they just euthanized for $300… what the hell?” post.

      Edit: (Though if you want to feel maudlin, you can visit that post here. There’s a picture and everything.)


  4. I’m sorry for Cecelia, I do regret not having an opportunity to meet your cats when I was out in CO (I love cats).

    The economic musings have a certain element of Ouroboros to it. We ‘waste’ such portions of our acquired wealth on things that would flabbergast an outside observer considering the opportunity cost yet the human condition is such that it is the potential of having the wealth (And more importantly being able to ‘waste’ it) that drives so many of the gains that have led to that same wealth.


    • Next time. Hey, this time you can meet Alice! She looks just like Tiger, only a miniature version of him.

      It’s kind of weird, actually.

      Sadly, they don’t like each other so we can’t do a “never talk to me or my son ever again” photo with them but we totally could.

      Anyway, you can meet her.


      • That’s a relief, 2nd on my Jaybird related bucket list to hanging out and playing board games is meeting and befriending your cats. Knowing my luck they’ll hate me, my friends say it’s something about wanting it too much that cats dislike.


        • Our cats hate everyone, almost. So maybe your luck will reverse!

          Also, Alice is curious about all comers and Momo adores strange men. He belonged to a gay couple in his youth and I think he still keeps hoping every dude who comes through our door is his long lost original owner, until he’s thoroughly convinced himself otherwise. So the odds for the two of them are good :D.


  5. This was a beautiful and honest intellectual exercise. Thank you for that JB.

    I have really been thinking a lot lately about how we feel it is such a humane thing to euthanize a pet, to relieve them of their suffering, but how we don’t offer the same to people. I just can’t seem to justify the contradiction and rather than becoming a euthanasia-for-people supporter, I can’t help but wonder if the ethical thing to do is to let our pets pass naturally. But then someday my friend Murphy will be suffering and I won’t want him to suffer anymore, and like that line from Marley and Me, I’ll ask him to tell me when he is ready to go. Damn, I love that dog so much it hurts sometimes.

    I’ll also add that I once had to have my dad’s German Shepard put to sleep and our vet, who had been practicing for close to 40 years, cried after he did it. I kept thinking, “Does he do this every time?” and I later found out the answer was yes. I am still utterly amazed by that.


    • Sometimes I wonder if the revulsion we felt toward Kevorkian was not toward what he was doing but because he seemed to be angry/trying to prove a point by doing it.

      A million years ago, when we discussed Scott Adams and his father, we had a fairly interesting (or so it is to me… but I probably don’t have perspective) set of comments starting here.

      If you don’t want to click on it, what reminded me of it was Dr. M. Scott Peck’s anecdote at the beginning of Denial of the Soul — Spiritual and Medical Perspectives on Euthanasia and Mortality in which he describes euthanizing a patient (or effectively euthanizing one, anyway).

      He opened a book by talking about how he killed a patient.

      Which is amazing to me.

      But, unlike Dr. K., Peck spent a lot of time discussing stuff like grief and morals and ethics and other topics with sufficient gravity to make what he did the fodder for the opening of a book rather than Exhibit A.

      I kept thinking, “Does he do this every time?” and I later found out the answer was yes. I am still utterly amazed by that.

      I can’t even imagine. I’d have to quit immediately after the first time I performed the procedure.


    • Letting pets pass naturally assumes they’re suffering from natural ailments.
      I used to ride horses a lot — a horse with a broken leg (generally compound) isn’t something people generally fix. And allowing it to “pass naturally” would be inhumane.

      Murder, Euthanasia, whatever — death is quick. I can’t abide suffering for no reason.


    • I doubt that’s true. It’s certainly not universally true. I used to volunteer at a humane society for 25 hours a week, and while I was too young / unpaid to assist with the euthanasias they had to do (every damn week, for hours, more often at times of year where supply far outstripped demand), I helped prep and clean the room. And I worked side by side with the workers who did kill the animals, before and after. They felt every death. They didn’t make jokes. Often, they cried.

      Now, the corpses in the freezer? Yes, when the manager was out of earshot, we sometimes made jokes about those. How else could we deal with a freezer full of corpses? But everyone who worked there – even the guys who were jerks a lot of the rest of the time – treated the death itself as sacred.

      So I doubt jokes were made about our pet, or about our grief. Now, about the state of our house, or Jaybird’s beard, or random other quirky things like that that come up from home to home? I bet they laugh themselves silly over those. Gotta find a release somewhere.


  6. Well, $300 is about what you’d pay for two sessions with a therapist.

    Would you say that your experience provided more comfort than two sessions talking it over with a therapist?


  7. My father in law passed away on Monday. Right now my wife, an only child, is in Phoenix dealing with everything that comes after, which she and her dad did last year when her mother died.

    Two weeks ago we had to put my cat, Zwak, to sleep. She had cancer and at 15, know longer ate or could go to the bathroom.

    I am stuck at the house, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is to take care of our animales, Barnaby and Monkey. Also to get the house ready for the two cats that my wife will be bringing home, her fathers cats, Smokey and Millie. That she has to be in a strange city (her parents were in the process of moving when her mother died) taking care of a horrible business alone is disorientating and humbling. She has to ask all sorts of strangers for help, from funeral parlor directors to estate lawyers to neighborhood watchmen (Sun City, so at least this is familiar ground for them.) Everyone is doing there utmost for her, as they all have either been in this situation or knows they will be. While she didn’t have to actually view the body, the people all know exactly what she is going through, how tough it is and how confusing the post death needs can be. Everyone.

    I really wish I could be there.


  8. Once upon a time I was cat sitting. Poorly, it turned out. The poor thing died. Or, rather, was dying and I had to take it to the vet to learn/determine it’s fate. The vet — or someone from the vet — explained to me that there were two options: a private cremation wherein the kitty would be cremated solo and all of its ashes returned to the family; a group cremation* wherein multiple animals would be cremated together and some of those ashes would be returned to the family, containing a mix of kitty’s and those of other animals. I don’t remember the numbers but there was a significant price differential, so much so that the family opted for the group one.

    Given how the pet industry has grown and the developments shared here, I wonder if they even offer that option anymore.

    I also wonder if they ever really performed the private cremations or if they just told people they did. Because even in matters of death, people can be awful.

    * I don’t think these were the actual terms.


    • “I also wonder if they ever really performed the private cremations or if they just told people they did.”

      Yeah, based on my experience with cremation, there’s not much difference between cremation remains and what you might find in the bottom of a charcoal grill. (If anything, the charcoal grill stuff looks more impressive.)


  9. Sorry for your loss, Jaybird. This post hits home with me. In the past couple of years, we’ve had to put down five cats–one foster and four of my own–all of whom were suffering from Feline Infectious Peronitis (FIP), an almost always fatal disease that most often strikes young cats.

    While I’ve looked into home services, I ended up taking the cats to the vet’s office. One of the vets I use treats cats exclusively. They have a special room set up for euthanasia, complete with comfortable chairs to give it a more homelike feel. They give you all the time you need to say good-bye to your friend. You can hold the cat and stroke it while they do the procedure. You come back later for the ashes and the paw print; plus, they send a condolence card. It makes the process somewhat easier.

    The other vet we use is the vet for the rescue group I volunteer with. They provide services for our fosters at a great discount. The setting is the typical cold sterile room, but I will be forever grateful to the primary vet who, when we had to let our beloved Sergei go, came in after hours and spend over an hour with us, explaining the disease and just chatting with us. She went out of her way to make us feel like we were doing the right thing for our furbaby. Sergei’s brother Nikolai succumbed to the same disease a couple months later. Both cats were pure white, and Sergei was one of the smartest cats we’ve ever had. We still miss them.

    I’ve never been present for a person’s death and have no idea if being present for pets’ passing will have prepared me. But it’s something I think about more frequently these days. Both the Russian’s parents and my own are still living. His parents, whom we moved from Chicago to Greensboro, are particularly fragile.

    Sorry to get all maudlin.


    • A special euthanasia room is a good way to do it, too. Set up like a hospice rather than a hospital. Definitely an improvement from what I remember from the 80’s. I googled FIP and it sounds dreadful. That really, really sucks.

      It’s strange that the professionals I’ve met who have the best bedside manner I’ve ever seen have all been veterinarians.

      The professional surgeons I’ve interacted with? Cold fish. Distant. Kind of like what I’d have expected professional euthanasia experts to have to be like, honestly. (Of course, the pediatricians and GPs I’ve interacted with have all been awesome.)

      I wonder if my experience there is an outlier.


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