Euthanasia is harsh, but is also an end to suffering
THE KITTEN had been found at the local recycling centre, trying to hide in the cardboard and wrapping paper. She must have been left out in the rain, and she was soaked to the skin. She was frightened of people, and tried to dart away when approached, but she was no more than six weeks of age, so it wasn't difficult to catch her.
The kind man who found her didn't know what to do: he had never been so close to a kitten before, but he realised that she needed help. He brought her down to our vet clinic because he knew that at least we would know what ought to be done to help her.
A quick examination of the kitten confirmed that she was underfed and underweight, cold, wet and shivering. But she wasn't a sick kitten, and there was a good chance that she would make a full recovery from her plight.
A few days later, another crisis arrived on our doorstep. A woman arrived at our reception in distress: she had just driven into a badger, and she thought that it was badly injured. She had managed to lift it into the boot of her car, but she didn't know what to do next.
I went out to the car park with a large towel to investigate the situation. Badgers are large animals, like small Labradors, and when they are in full health, they can be intimidating adversaries. When I lifted the boot lid of the car, this badger lay there passively. He seemed to be concussed, and didn't object as we lifted him onto the towel and carried him indoors.
I then carried out a detailed examination, and it wasn't good news. He had no use of his back legs at all, and I could feel a “step defect” in his spine, which told me that he had suffered a serious spinal fracture in the accident.
He would never recover, and the only kind answer was prompt euthanasia, so that at least his suffering was soon over.
Stray and wild animals like these examples are a challenge for vets. By definition, they have no owners, which means that they have nobody to pay their vet bills. It would be easy as a vet to take in every ownerless creature that turned up in your local town, but if you did this, you'd soon end up going out of business, which would not help the local animal situation at all.
Vets have a responsibility to ensure that their businesses provides an ongoing, successful service to the animals in the area, as well as employment for their staff. This means that sometimes tough decisions need to be made: it just isn't possible to give expensive treatment to every animal that has no means of paying its way.
To the person finding the animal, it's a one-off unique situation, but it's common for vets to be faced with this: an ownerless animal may turn up once a week or more, so the sheer volume is a challenge.
It's easier in some other countries. In the UK, the RSPCA is a wealthy and generous charity. As well as providing a nationwide network of uniformed officers to investigate issues of animal welfare on the ground, the charity contributes to the costs of strays and wild animals that are brought in to vets by members of the public.
Here in Ireland, this level of funding is not available, so it's always a case of each situation needing to be dealt with on an ad hoc basis. Vets will offer an opinion on what needs to be done, then it's up to everyone involved to work out a way of achieving it. Sadly, giving full treatment and intensive nursing care is expensive, and it can't always be done.
Euthanasia can seem harsh, but it is an effective way of ending suffering, and sometimes it's the only realistic financial option.
Who should pay for these animals, anyway? Stray pets, like the kitten, originate from domestic pets who do have owners, and these are the people who ought to be responsible, but there's no hope of that.
As for wild animals: they are independent creatures, so perhaps it is up to “society” to deal with them in a humane way. But who is “society”. Does this mean government, or does it mean you and me, the general public and vets?
The government won't pay, especially in this current financial climate. The only exception to this situation is when Gardai, local authorities or other state bodies are involved (e.g. if an injured animal is causing a hazard on a road or a railway line). If vets are asked to help by one of these organisations, they would expect to be paid, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
In most cases, it does come down to “you and me”, the public and the vet. And perhaps surprisingly, we can often do a reasonable job together. Vets are often prepared to do the necessary work at some sort of discount, and the people involved with finding an ownerless animal will often make a contribution towards reaching a satisfactory outcome.
The bedraggled “recycled kitten” in the photo is a good example of how small efforts can produce a heart warming outcome: after a few days of simple care, with costs kept down, she made a full recovery and ended up going to a good home.
This bedraggled kitten is a good example of how small efforts can produce a heart warming outcome.