A final act of kindness: The humane side of euthanasia

August 29, 2022
Orange kitten with vet

It was a typical warm summer Saturday. A community member sat in a drive-thru line, waiting for her morning coffee order. But she noticed something strange on the curb.

It was a kitten, and it wasn’t moving. She got out of her car to get a closer look and discovered he was suffering from multiple injuries. Immediately, she picked him up and drove him to Animal Humane Society for help.

The small orange kitten was frail, in pain, and in shock. He had abrasions on his nose and face, with large patches of fur missing across his body. Worst of all, he had several deep burns on his belly and all four paws, making it impossible for him to stand or walk.

He had likely been sleeping inside the hood of a car and was burned from being trapped on a hot engine.

Despite his wounds, the kitten was responsive and welcomed gentle pets from our veterinary team. We hoped he would recover, and we were ready to do everything in our power to give him a second chance.

The community member who found him asked for his name to be Frisky when he was ready for adoption.

Orange kitten with injuries

Caring for Frisky

A team of medical experts, including Dr. Sara Lewis, Managing Shelter Veterinarian, immediately started a plan to treat Frisky’s pain and swollen, infected skin. Several team members spent time syringe feeding him, which he happily accepted.

Even as he struggled to stand long on his injured paws, Frisky still tried to walk gingerly around his kennel. 

We were rooting for him, but it would be an uphill battle. With the severity of his burns, Dr. Sara and the team knew it would be several days until they showed the full extent of their damage. Frisky was in critical condition and needed an intense regimen of antibiotics and creams to soothe his feet and belly.

Over the course of just a few days, Frisky became a beloved buddy to our team of vets, with staff members taking turns letting him sleep on their lap.

He sat with Dr. Sara, snuggled up in a pile of blankets, for hours in her office. A few times, you could even hear the quiet noise of his gentle purr. There were hopes he may be moving in the right direction.

But Frisky soon took a turn for the worse. After spending six days fighting his infected burns, the injuries were still too much for his tiny body to handle. He was found in his kennel curled into a ball, dehydrated, in pain, and his eyes were vacant. He was shutting down, and Dr. Sara knew it was time to let him go.

A difficult decision made with compassion 

No matter how long an animal is in our care, they’re always loved and valued.

With our open admission philosophy, AHS never turns away an animal, regardless of their situation or medical condition. And each year, we celebrate as more than 93% of those animals move on to find loving homes and happy new beginnings.

In the other 7% of cases, when an animal comes to us in pain that no amount of treatment can cure, it’s our job to ensure they don’t experience needless suffering.

“One of the most important parts of my job is to be an animal’s advocate. Our job is to create the best outcome for every animal and it’s something we take seriously. And in some situations, humane euthanasia can be the kindest thing we can offer an animal who is suffering,” Dr. Sara said.

“For this little one, we tried, and he tried. He did his best and we worked hard to help him. But the fight was too hard, and the injuries were too much to ask him to overcome.”

In his short time with us, Frisky made an impact on our team, and staff rallied around him in the last few moments to ensure he was never alone. When it was time to go, Dr. Sara pulled him into her lap once again.

The team who had cared for him sat around him, offering him head scratches and telling him that he mattered and that his life was special.

As his pain floated away, they told him to be the kitten he didn’t get the chance to be here on Earth. They shed tears and when he was gone, they made ink paw prints of his tiny feet to keep as a reminder that he was important.

And then they returned to their responsibilities for the day, helping the rest of the animals who were counting on them.

orange kitten laying with vet

“You have this experience, you shed tears, you bond with your colleagues, and your heart breaks,” Dr. Sara said. “And quite literally as soon as you look up, there is someone waiting on you to be the sound, level-headed, optimistic, and skilled person they need you to be to help them.”

For Dr. Sara and the rest of our veterinary team, it’s part of the job to think about every aspect of care when it comes to making difficult decisions around humane euthanasia.

It’s not just about the injuries, X-rays, or lab results. It’s also about considering the animal’s quality of life, whether they can be safely housed and treated outside of the shelter, whether the treatment will alleviate their pain, and whether the average adopter can realistically manage the treatment and emotional toll required.

When life no longer has moments free of suffering, allowing our pets to rest can be the kindest and most selfless thing we can do.

That’s what being a shelter worker is. It’s offering your heart to each animal, even though it may be broken time and again. It’s being their voice in life when they find themselves in situations where they have no other advocate.

It’s offering them kindness when perhaps no one has ever shown it to them. And it’s ensuring they are never alone, even when their story doesn’t end the way we hoped it would.

“Even though Frisky didn’t get to live a long life, his last days were full of love, safety, warmth, and compassion,” Dr. Sara said. “Because of a compassionate person who saw him and cared enough to pick him up, he got to be safe and loved.”

Contact our Pet Helpline

If you find a lost or injured animal, review our lost and found pet resources and contact our free Pet Helpline for assistance. You can reach a representative Monday through Friday, 9 AM – 7 PM, or Saturday, 10 AM – 6 PM.

Call the Pet Helpline at 952-HELP-PET (952-435-7738) or send us a message now.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

Contact the Pet Helpline