Sunday, October 23, 2005
Good and Broken
In shelter work the saying goes "the good ones are always broken".
That's probably not really the case, but those animals with shining personalities and damaged bodies do linger in our thoughts. The ones whose medical conditions make them less desirable to the public or unadoptable.
Most recently we had a little Australian shepherd whose appearance was striking because she was almost entirely white. She was sweet, affectionate, but had an awkward gait when she walked. In Tri-Valley it was discovered that she was also an avid car chaser, and we thought, reasonably, that perhaps this unhealthy habit had led to her being hit by a car at some point. Our vets performed x-rays and exams, coming to the conclusion that nothing was wrong, so far as they could see.
Months went by and the little aussie was adopted. Her new owners decided to take her to their own vet who did another series of x-rays and exams. Their conclusion was that the aussie suffered from a spinal disease that would eventually take away her ability to walk or control her bodily functions. At this point her new owners had had her for perhaps a day. It was too much. They didn't want a dog who would ultimately (and perhaps very quickly) become unable to use her back legs, so the aussie was returned to Tri-Valley. We checked in with our own vets and, based on the new x-rays, their diagnosis was the same.
My shelter manager and I have occasionally discussed the idea of offering hospice animals to the public for adoption, with the clear understanding that these animals were failing medically. Anyone who adopted a hospice animal would be made aware that their new companion may only have reasonable quality of life for a year or less. At first, it seemed like a good idea. We could give a chance to these wonderful personalities within broken bodies. But, the truth is that few people would be interested in hospicing an animal they hardly knew. Our senior dogs and cats linger because most people don't like the idea of having a new pet who already has less time to live. Hospice animals often have an even shorter timeline, and every day they waited in the shelter would be a day less they had to spend in a new home. Would it be any sort of kindness to have hospice animals spend their last months in a kennel waiting for a home that would likely never come?
Which brings us back to the little white aussie.
I was the one who originally pulled her from a municipal shelter. And I was the one who held her as she was euthanized. It wasn't fair, but it was the kindest thing we had to give.