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What We Killed In 2010

How many animals I euthanized last year

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Can you guess how many animals I euthanized last year? Sadly, this morbid mental exercise is kind of like guessing how many jellybeans are in a jar. But it ís undertaken less as a senseless descent into morbidity than by way of reaching into our profession’s heart of darkness and attempting an exorcism of the demons that live there.

That’s what whatikilledtoday.com was all about. Though it has sadly gone the way of other great websites whose dearth of financial backing sounded the death knell for its continued online presence, it was an excellent blog based on one wildlife worker’s euthanized cases.

From crabs and fish to common small mammals, this not-for-profit wildlife rehab employee had it rough on the death front. (I can only hope he has a less stressful job now, wherever he is.)

Mostly, these “beautiful deaths” are recorded matter-of-factly, allowing any of us to read into their grim words what we will. This is why these minimalistic entries are nothing short of brilliant (if you have a thing for Nietzsche and Kafka, that is).

How better to convey the loss of life than by memorializing the death through the lasting, ecumenical and far-reaching platform only the Internet can offer?

Yes, it’s sobering stuff, all this euthanasia talk. But when anyone does what we do—whether we’re the direct suppliers of death or the ones paid to attend to their remains (our technicians and kennel staff, for example)—it takes its toll. Sometimes it really can be every bit as gut-wrenching as we expected it to be before we got used to it.

Which raises the question: How used to it are we really?

Because you’re like most of us, you’re proud of the fact that euthanasia is old hat by now. We rarely let ourselves get emotionally involved. Only a select few cases get to us.

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Indeed, if you’re anything like me you’ve developed a perspective on euth detail that tells you you’re doing a wonderful thing few in the world are capable of doing better than you do. And you’re probably right.

Yet the issue remains: If we’re so inured to the depressant effects of euthanasia that we never feel the immediate effects of its personal toll, then are we really doing our jobs as best we might?

Perhaps it’s because I love my Nietzsche that these issues never fail to both inspire … and weigh heavily on my conscience.

Which is probably why I believe counting all the dead who have passed through my hands is a worthy activity. And I’m not alone. From the moving Vietnam memorial in Washington, D.C., to the public articulation of individual names after tragedies like Tucson’s, there are many precedents to this practice.

Yes, systematically recording the dead is an effective tool when it comes to meditative remembrance of our dead. After all, euthanasia deserves some contemplation, this serious detail we take on as veterinarians.

To that end, I decided to take on my stats for 2010: 109 dogs, 129 cats.

It might sound like a somber way to ponder what we do. And you’d be right. But, somehow, there’s much more going on behind the numbers, just as I intuit in whatikilledtoday’s cold, hard facts.
Whenever we discuss euthanasia among colleagues, there’s always a spectrum of emotions attached: relief, sorrow, fear and the blackest kind of humor reserved for those who require collegial commiseration and personal expiation.

You might find it dark and lurid to count off the pets whose hearts we’ve stopped. But where would we be without the willingness to accept this opportunity for reflection?  

Dr. Khuly is a small-animal practitioner in Miami and a passionate blogger at PetMD.com/blogs/FullyVetted. She earned her veterinary degree in 1995 and her MBA from Wharton in 1997.

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