Unusual phone calls are usual for my office. Washington State University veterinary students dubbed my office, “The Vortex of Weird,” long ago.
One such call came some time ago and the caller was a take-charge, matter-of-fact woman.
“My children and I have an old dog that is dying with terminal cancer,” said the woman. “We’d like to drive over and have him euthanized to donate to your willed cadaver program. How’s Saturday?”
The call caught me a bit off guard but was not unreasonable. WSU does indeed have a willed cadaver program. People with a dog requiring a medically justified euthanasia can set up an appointment and have the procedure done free of charge in exchange for donating the body to the veterinary college.
Convenience euthanasia is out of the question. Those are medically induced deaths because the pet peed on the carpet or barks too much or that maybe its colors no longer match your spring wardrobe.
Over the years I have helped coordinate a number of willed cadaver euthanasias. This one seemed a little different. I went ahead and got all the pertinent information to relay on to our veterinarians.
“Ma’am, I’ve got one more question,” I said. “How old are your children and did you and they want to be in the room when the procedure is done?”
“Oh sure, we’ll see him off. Don’t worry, my kids are used to it. They are 8 and 10.”
Well, that’s a little young but something in this woman’s voice told me this would be OK.
At the appointed time, I met the family as they arrived from the coast. The poor pooch was indeed on his last leg even to a lay person. The kids and the woman were all just fine and that was a little weird.
Before I could formally introduce myself, she’d thrust her hand in mine and given it a good shake. She said her name, and I said I needed to explain what would be happening and that the veterinarian would repeat the same information and add more.
“You don’t have to worry with that,” she said. “We’ve been through this lots of times before.”
“Excuse me, but how can that be? Do you operate a breeding facility?”
“No, our family decided long ago that we would only rehome shelter animals,” she explained. “What we do is go to shelters in our area and pick out the oldest, sickest dog without a home and we take them to ours.
“For the time they have left, we give them the best that life can offer. Each day, they eat as much of the best food they want. We take them on multiple walks if they can do so. And when the time comes, we have them humanely euthanized, just like today.”
I asked her what she did for a living, and she said she was a single mom and an attorney. That sure fit. The kids were polite and obviously cared for the pet.
When the dog returned to the room after having IV catheters placed and having a sedative injected, the family gathered around the drowsy dog. The petted him gently and spoke to him softly. He seemed to have some recognition at them being there.
After they gave permission and as the euthanasia solution was administered, he drifted off without a whimper or movement. The family actually wept. They grieved alone with his body for a reasonable time and then left.
“Time to go save another,” she said as she waved over her shoulder and headed back to their car.
Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email email@example.com.