Volunteers and paid staff at animal shelters may be called upon to assist in holding or otherwise managing dogs that are to be euthanized.
This is a difficult and stressful job, but a necessary one in some circumstances.
Whether you work for a “kill” government shelter that has no choice but to euthanize due to overcrowding; or you work for a “no-kill” shelter where euthanasia is limited to dogs that are very old, very ill, or temperamentally unsound, you may face the responsibility of assisting in the process.
There are two basic requirements to keep in mind when you assist in euthanasia..
You Are Responsible for Ensuring the Safety of Yourself and the Technician Who Is Euthanizing the Dog.
This means that you may need to learn a variety of techniques for holding a squirming, active dog. You should muzzle the dog in a safe and comfortable fashion.
You may even need to recommend pre-euthanasia tranquilizers to ensure your safety and the safety of the technician.
If the organization you’re working for doesn’t provide the tools and training necessary for human safety, do not continue working for that organization.
At best, you may end up causing or being on the receiving end of a painful bite, at worst you must keep in mind that you are working in close proximity to lethal dosages of euthanasia drugs and may actually be putting your life, or the life of the technician, at risk.
You Are Responsible for Making the Dog’s Last Moments as Comfortable and Stress-Free as Possible.
You must absolutely remain calm throughout the euthanasia process.
This can be the biggest hurdle for any assistant because you will naturally feel anything from bad to horrible no matter how necessary the euthanasia may be.
But if you cannot get your feelings under control and provide a calm and relaxed attitude, you have no business assisting in euthanasia and are doing more harm than good to the animals you love.
From the moment that you touch the dog or his leash, you need to be relaxed and in charge of the situation. You should be a competent dog trainer or dog handler before ever thinking about assisting in euthanasia – the dog does not need a hysterical or indecisive person overseeing the final moments of his life.
You will know if you are meeting this requirement by the behavior of the dogs you are handling. Dogs absolutely do not “sense” that they are going to be euthanized. What they sense is the emotions of their handlers.
A competent euthanasia assistant finds the dogs they deal with to behave as normal throughout the euthanasia process, and this is your goal.
Once you are sure you have these two requirements covered, you’re ready to go on the job.
When you assist with euthanasia of dogs at an animal shelter you will want to wear proper clothing that is easily washable. Good shoes are a must. Do not wear perfume or strong deodorant as these scents disturb some dogs.
You may be asked to go and collect each dog that needs to be euthanized. This is where you take a deep breath and find that place in your center where you can feel that this day is no different than any other day. Remember, that’s not for your benefit, it’s for the dog, and it is your absolute duty to provide him that calm.
Part of “acting normal” is that you walk the dog and talk to the dog just as you would on any other day – if he’s boisterous and deserves a reprimand, give him one, and then praise him for being good again. Be sure not to encourage the dog to be overly excitable. In other words, be a competent and fair dog handler.
When you bring the dog to the euthanasia area, select a muzzle and muzzle the dog. Even if the dog is very friendly, it’s a good policy to always muzzle. Some dogs react badly to being held tightly, some don’t like the prick of a needle, some don’t cope well with the euthanasia drugs – whatever the situation, you really don’t want to have to worry about the dog’s teeth. Muzzling will make you calmer and less stressed, and that is always of benefit to the dog.
Hold the dog in a manner that provides maximum control and an easy angle for the euthanasia technician. Different technicians and organizations prefer different holds, and you will probably come up with your own that works very well for you and the technician. The key points to remember in the hold are the safety of you and the technician and the comfort of the dog.
Throughout the process, from hold to euthanasia itself, talk calmly to the dog. If he’s squirmy, be firm and fair in telling him to hold still. If he’s holding still, calmly praise him for it.
As the euthanasia drugs take effect, the dog will ideally fall into your arms and you can ease him gently to the table or ground. It is perfectly okay to keep talking calmly to the dog for a few moments even when you’re pretty sure he’s gone – a few extra gentle words never harmed anyone.
Finally, realize that some people are cut out for assisting in euthanasia and some really aren’t. It does not make someone a bad person if they are able to step calmly through this process and still sleep well at night. It does not make someone a bad person if they just can’t handle it, either.
If it turns out you really can’t do the job well, don’t do it, because doing this job poorly is not fair to you, the dogs, or the organization.