Being a euthanasia technician was, without a doubt, the hardest part of my career in the animal field. While working for the county shelter, we turned no animal away; regardless of whether or not they were adoptable. Further, and I will let you in on the secret of “no kill” shelters, we had a contract with our local Humane Society which stated that we would euthanize, on our premises, the animals in their care that needed to be put down. This is how they get away with being “no kill”. So our shelter not only got all of the normal plethora of animals that came through our doors on a daily basis, but we also got the cast-offs of the nearby “no kill” shelter (this once included 72 cats in one day; all for euthanasia).
For the most part, euthanasia technicians get through the day by joking with each other, and turning off those voices in our gut that tell us we are the biggest traitors in the world. We are, after all, there to protect the animals, right? So we manage to build-up this armor around ourselves that protects us from seeing the reality of what we do. We kill animals. We kill animals that are sick and elderly. We kill animals that are under-socialized and vicious. And we kill animals that are healthy and adoptable that are just simply not wanted by anyone else. This is the reality of the job.
Killing the animals that are sick, elderly, and otherwise ill-fit for adoption, while still difficult, is easier to swallow than killing the animals that are adoptable. But the fact of the matter is, when you have 300 kennels, and you are filled to capacity, and you are getting anywhere from 20-50 more animals through the door each day; something has got to give. And that is when healthy, adoptable, animals are destroyed.
There are times when our armor breaks. Those inevitable cracks that allow the reality of what we do to seep in. There are things that will always stand out in my memory, that are burned into it, that will never escape me. My whole life has been about helping animals out of crisis and into comfort. I have devoted my life to helping to alleviate their suffering, and being a voice for them. Despite the thousands of animals that I have saved over the years, there are still times when I stop and think about my time as a euthanasia technician, and the magnitude of what I have done comes crashing down on me. I only allow it to do so for a short period of time, because there is always that fear that if I truly let myself think about what I have done, it will destroy me. Unfortunately, I have seen it destroy many of my fellow euthanasia technicians, and as a result, I have lost 1 colleague to suicide, and seen countless others turn to alcohol.
This next paragraph is rough, so if you don’t have the stomach to read a little more about adoptable animals being euthanized, skip to the next.
I think about a sweet little black lab who stayed up for adoption for 2 months before we finally had to put her down because we didn’t have the room, and her time was up. She looked at me with her big, brown, trusting eyes, gave me her paw when I asked for it, and licked my face while I injected her with euthanasia solution. I think about the man who brought us ten, 8-week old puppies, to be put to sleep because he was going on vacation and didn’t want to deal with them. I think about the way that they so unsuspectingly wiggled around and played with each other as I picked them up, one by one, and took their lives. I think about the countless, feral, mother cats, who watched in frozen horror as we took their kittens away from them, killed them, and then killed Mom. I think about that time that the Humane Society brought us 72, healthy and adoptable cats, to be killed all in one afternoon.
I wish I could I say that these were all exceptional cases; that this wasn’t what I dealt with everyday for 3 years. But the truth is; this is what every euthanasia technician faces every day in their job. And we do it because we care. Because we know that it has to be done by someone, and that at least when we do it, that animal will get that last little pat on the head, or scratch behind the ears. And every time a member of the public calls us an “animal killer” because they don’t understand the reality of what a euthanasia technician faces, it stings.
There is a well-known story about a euthanasia technician, who had a dream one night that she died, and went to heaven, and all of the animals that she had ever euthanized were behind the pearly gates, and they wouldn’t let her in. I would like to think that the animals would better understand why we do it than the general public seems to understand. I would like to think that they would appreciate the men and women that have stepped into that role so that they could ensure that this necessary evil was being done in the best way possible. Then again, maybe I am being idealistic, and it is just my way of keeping that armor whole, and free of cracks. I guess I will never know.
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