Sunday, June 12, 2005
PossessedI held for a euthanasia yesterday. The dog's name was Zuchov and he was a shepherd/husky mix (or maybe possibly aussie/Akita). He was eight years old and we euthanized him because he would savagely bite if you approached while he was eating his food or chewing on a rawhide. We call this "possession aggression" or sometimes just "possession". Actually, it can feel like a dog with this issue is possessed. Zuchov was, save for this flaw, a pretty nice dog. Not too keen on other dogs, he enjoyed the company of people and appreciated a good butt scritch. He was genial, handsome, easy going. A dog you could imagine sprawled out on someone's rug or sitting in the kitchen with a slowly wagging tail as his owner mixed his food together.
Then the food gets put down, and Zuchov transforms. Reach a hand towards him as he eats and his entire body becomes stiff. That slowly wagging tail stops moving as his eyes lift and his gaze meets yours. This is not a soft adoring stare. These are hard eyes and they're saying one thing: "Don't." This is all the warning Zuchov will give, because the next time you reach towards the bowl he snarls, lifts his head, and sinks his teeth into your hand. Then he calmly lowers his head and goes back to eating. Reach again, he bites again. Maybe twice. Zuchov likes people, loves their attention, but on this issue he will not negotiate. If he has it, you may not. He is happy to teach this lesson with his teeth. Once he's finished eating, Zuchov will trot up to you and paw for pets.
I walk Zuchov into the EU room yesterday and N., our shelter manager, slides a muzzle around his face. The last minutes should be peaceful, and for most dogs the safest thing for both animal and people is to remove their ability to bite. N. shaves a patch of fur from his front right leg, and this is where the needle will go. Shaving can be the most frightening part for the dog because of the razor's buzzing sound and the vibrations it sends along the leg and paw, but Zuchov takes it like a champ. I settle into a corner and pull him into my lap, wrapping my arms around his shoulders and back to keep him from moving. "You just keep him still," N. says, "and I'll worry about the arm." This is the point where my mouth goes a little dry and my hands, if they were not buried in Zuchov's fur, would start shaking. N. wraps a piece of rubber tubing around Zuchov's arm to find the vein and she slides the needle with sodium pentobarbital beneath his skin.
Sodium pentobarbital is bright blue. Anti-freeze blue. The color is ridiculous; something you shouldn't see outside of bad sci-fi flicks. The brand we use is called "Fatal-plus" and I never understood the name...how do you get more "plus" than fatal?
N. draws the needle's plunger back and a small rush of red mixes with the cartoon blue. She does this to make sure she's inserted the needle correctly. Now she loosens the rubber tubing and I hold Zuchov as she injects the liquid that will make him sleep, and then stop his heart. I feel his weight heavier on my arms. His head lolls to the side. The injection takes maybe three seconds and Zuchov is gone before she's finished. I slide carefully out from under Zuchov and remove the muzzle as well as his collar as N. disposes of the needle. These first moments are awkward for me because I know Zuchov is dead, but he's still warm and soft. He hasn't stopped being Zuchov yet. I apologize as my removing the collar makes his head bump against the floor ("sorry, sweetie"), and I can't help but wince as we awkwardly maneuver his body into a large plastic bag. I'm playing it cool and N. is making brisk comments so it all seems more every day. We each have our own ways of coping. We carry Zuchov over to the freezer and lay him down among the others to wait for final disposal. I can feel my whole body shivering, but when I tuck my hands into my pockets you can't tell.
As we walk out of the EU room, I say almost apologetically, "I guess I haven't done this enough. It still makes me kind of jittery." N. replies, "Every time I do this, I can feel my pulse in my thumbs. It should make you jittery. The day it doesn't...that's the day it's time to quit."