Saying farewell to Nancy: The humane side of euthanasia

Nancy, a dog at AHS, cuddling with staff

Transparency is incredibly important to Animal Humane Society because it allows us to help more animals — together.

More than 93% of the animals who come through our doors go on to find placement in the community, and we love sharing those happy stories! But our work also means making difficult, sometimes heartbreaking choices. To help break the stigma surrounding humane euthanasia we want to honor those stories too.

Humane euthanasia is the outcome for 7% of animals at AHS, and these decisions are never taken lightly. However, with more than 140 years of experience in caring for animals, we know that sometimes saying goodbye can be the kindest choice.

Saying goodbye was undoubtedly the most important act of kindness we could show Nancy. This sweet Pit Bull mix came to AHS on a transport from Alabama and quickly became a staff favorite. She wiggled with excitement to see you and gave the best hugs and kisses. Like many dogs from the south, Nancy had heartworm disease. Dogs diagnosed with heartworm go through an intensive treatment process and often require foster care before they can be ready for adoption.

What are heartworms?

Transmitted by mosquitoes, heartworms are parasites that affect heart and lung function. Heartworm disease can be fatal to dogs, cats, and ferrets. Thankfully, it’s 100% preventable. Keep your pet protected with heartworm preventative.

Nancy endured two rounds of painful injections deep in her back muscle to kill the heartworms in her body. Although she seemed fatigued from the treatment, her heart and lungs looked healthy. We started her on steroid medication and she was soon back to her energetic self. She was cleared to go to the adoption center to find a new family!

It didn’t take long for Nancy to find a home. But within the first day, her new family discovered that children made her extremely anxious. They returned her to the shelter so she could find a better match.

Our Shelter Behavior Services team reviewed the situation and decided that Nancy would need a home without children and a family who understood her anxieties and avoided any triggering situations. Luckily, we knew we’d be able to find the right home in our animal-loving community. But something had changed.

Noticing a change in Nancy

Soon after she returned to the adoption center, we noticed that Nancy wasn’t her bouncy and carefree self. We didn’t recognize the dog in front of us. She laid lethargically in her kennel and stumbled through her walks. She’d lost weight and began having frequent diarrhea.

We rushed Nancy to our veterinarians for diagnostic testing. Her kidneys, liver, and lungs were healthy, but bloodwork showed that she was anemic. Our veterinary team faced the daunting task of determining the sudden and rapid cause of Nancy’s decline. They began medical treatments and tests to rule out gastrointestinal bleeds, ulcers, cancer, or Immune Mediated Hemolytic Anemia (IMHA, a disease in which the body destroys its own red blood cells). With the treatment plan our expert vets created in place, there was only one thing we could do: hope.

Nancy, a dog at AHS, sitting on her cot

Unfortunately, as the days passed, Nancy’s issues got worse. She continued to lose weight, and tests revealed that despite medication, her anemia hadn’t improved. Her breathing was becoming increasingly labored, the rise and fall of her chest was slowing. We discovered that fluid was building up in her abdomen. All signs pointed to a heartbreaking diagnosis. Nancy's heart was failing, and the chances of her recovery were extremely slim.

Staff caring for Nancy stared lovingly into her dark brown eyes searching for a sign of the spark that made her so special. But there wasn’t a hint of the happy, wiggly girl Nancy had once been. Her face, which had once lit up with energy and happiness, now only showed signs of pain.

A bittersweet goodbye

With heavy hearts, we knew we had to make the difficult decision to say goodbye to our beloved friend.

We parted ways with Nancy with tears in our eyes, but comfort in our hearts knowing she was no longer suffering. As with every animal humanely euthanized at AHS, Nancy took her last breaths surrounded by the familiar faces of staff who had cared for her throughout her time in the shelter.

Clay paw prints are created for any employee who would like them in remembrance of animals who pass. Many staff requested Nancy’s. Her name was also selected to christen our new transport vehicle, honoring her memory while helping animals from around the country find second chances.

There’s a reason shelters don’t often share euthanasia stories. It can feel intimidating and scary. What will people think? Will they understand or will they judge?

There’s one thing we know for certain: We can better serve animals and save more lives when we’re united as a community. And that means sharing everything — from the happy, bouncy kitten who finds a home just minutes after arriving in our adoption center to Nancy, whose life was cut short by an untreatable medical condition. Because each animal is a part of the work that you make possible.

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

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