Fittingly enough, as I drove to work that Friday, I mulled over my love/hate relationship with my job. When it's great, it's the best job in the world. I can't imagine doing anything else. When it's bad, it's heartbreaking and takes a piece of your soul that you never get back.
It was one of those days. I had two euthanasias scheduled, and a third happened quickly when an emergency appointment revealed the dog was dying of terminal cancer. We literally had no more room to store any remains until our crematory pickup.
One euthanasia had been scheduled by the rescue that I work closely with. Doing outreach in marginalized communities is the most difficult type of work to be doing, and they handle it with compassion and patience. The dog I was scheduled to euthanize was senior, with serious health problems that had been neglected for years, and a flea infestation so bad I could watch them scurry across his back between his remaining hairs. I couldn't in good conscious let him return to his owner, even with treatment, as I would be sending him back into the same situation that caused the problem. His owner signed his euthanasia consent form and left in tears. I walked him to the back.
He walked happily beside me, took treats, and enjoyed the tasty canned food we fed him for his last meal. I drew up the syringe that would end his life and placed it on the counter. I looked into his trusting eyes and he wagged his tail at me.
In all my clinic experience, private practice, the teaching hospital, a shelter, I've always understood the necessity of euthanizing animals, even in cases where I don't agree 100% with the decision, because it is a part of reality. This is my job. But as I looked at this dog, for the first time ever, I couldn't do it. I just couldn't.
Some days I hate my job. I was stuck between a rock and hard place. I couldn't go through with it, yet I couldn't send him back where he came from, and I couldn't move forward with saving him without his owner's permission. I also couldn't risk the owner feeling that we had stolen the dog after she asked for help; if word spread through the community that we were in it to take everyone's pets away, no one would trust us and let us help their animals.
After several phone calls to the rescue co-ordinator, and several anxious hours waiting to hear confirmation that his owner would surrender him, we got the phone call. His owner would relinquish all claim to him. By now he'd had a few good meals and flea treatment, and had several people lined up to foster him.
Yes, some days I hate my job. But not today.