Friday, December 19, 2014

Pets Are Not Property. The Case of Bela. Whose deceased owner requested he be euthanized at her death so they can be buried together.

Bigfoot was brought to us after his dad died
and the rest of the family decided they didn't want him.
Do you believe in second chances?

There are many aspects to being a veterinarian that are difficult. I have talked about a few of them before. The stress of compassion fatigue. The difficulty of dealing with clients who can be shallow and selfish. Those who view their pets as disposable whims of fancy by dumping them when they no longer match the house decor. (Yes, I actually had a client request a euthanasia because her black cat no longer matched her new white furniture). Or, those who abandon the middle aged, older, or ill pet for a cheaper new edition. (See Levi's story). The list goes on and on. It can be depressing and bleed your soul dry as you try to be a doctor for a patient someone else is supposed to be both emotionally and financially responsible for. It can be extremely difficult to maintain a genuine degree of care and compassion when a client seems to lack the same. You get stuck in the middle.

But what do you do when a seemingly loyal pet parent wants their healthy pet destroyed upon their death? Is it possible to love so much that it is detrimental to your pet?

In the news recently is the case of Bela, a healthy 9 year old German Shepherd whose owner died and left a request in her will to euthanize him so their ashes could be buried together. Bela's story here.

There has been an uproar on social media and a band of highly charged outspoken animal advocates have gathered to try to save him. He has been offered refuge, homes, and sanctuary. BUT, he is property and that leaves his fate up to a court. To make matters worse for him the lawyer in charge of his fate states that his owner feared his aggression and lack of socialization were reasons enough to not seek a home for him after her death.

Do you think that this is uncommon? It isn't. Over the last years I have had one client ask me to honor her wish of euthanizing her two dogs should anything happen to her. She believed that no one could love them, or care for them to her standards, and that it wouldn't be fair to the dogs for them to be left to someone else. She lacked faith in her family, her friends, our society, and believed with her whole heart that their lives were better off if they were ended when hers was. It was a conversation I will remember my whole life. I told her that I understood her concerns, and that I knew she loved them, but that I had seen soo many pets find a second home, and go onto to live a second life with another family. Yes, for some pets it took time, and yes, for some they might miss their original life, BUT, every single pet was alive. Pets live in the moment. They love again, they forgive, they don't feel sorry for themselves, and they adapt. For every pet we have declined to euthanize we have seen new lives grow, new chances, and new miracles. They happen, they take faith, devotion, and time, but they happen.

Bigfoot's brother arrives for me to  examine, update vaccines, and find him a new home.
His dad's father sits next  to him, still grieving the loss of his son.

Here is a story of pets that we didn't put to sleep when their owners passed away;

Pheobe. Her family brought her to us to put to sleep because her mom went into hospice and none of the remaining family wanted her. She became the companion to a dog who suffered from severe seperation anxiety. She also went from an obese, lethargic, withdrawn dog, to a bubbly, happy, energetic dog. Her life changed so dynamically that I would not have known her to be the same dog if I hadn't witnessed the transformation firsthand. Pheobe's Story here.

There have also been a handful of clients who died and left no plan for their pets. ALL, yes, ALL have been housed with us, adopted out, and gone on to live the rest of their happy life. What will happen to the pets you leave behind blog.

Bigfoot celebrates Pets With Santa 2014 with us at the clinic.
He was with us three weeks before he found his new home.

So, where do I stand?

On Bela's case, as with every pet, I stand with Bela. But, I also recognize the complexities of his case. Bela's mom made the most common  mistake I see with German Shepherd's. Bela was inadequately socialized and trained at a young age and this has made him into a socially hesitant member of our society. The only dog I have euthanized due to aggression was a young German Shepherd who almost killed his own owner after he surprised him when he was walking into his own house. BUT,  I  do not believe that every aggression behavior case should  be given up on. Bela is in a sanctuary now and they should be the a part of this discussion.

Pets are not property. Until this archaic, incongruous notion is redefined into something more consistent with they way we love, honor, respect and treat our pets situations like these will occur, pets will be disposed of without consideration, consequence, or voice.  Our pets, our four legged-furry children enrich our lives, save them, protect them, and yet we deny them rights and protection worthy of their contributions.

When you deal with death, abandonment, grieving, medical mysteries, angry clients, fearful pets, and the mixed bag of grief and joy that being a veterinarian involves you learn to trust that life has a reason, you are a small part of a big picture that will keep you humble, curious, and believing in something  more

Sunshine found his home in 1 week.
There are amazing people, just as there are amazing animals in this world. You just have to open your eyes, your heart, and have faith that they will meet. I know anything is possible if you try.

We have a great deal to learn from our pets. They forgive, they love, and they can adapt. Life is about second chances, and loving one another. Are our pets the only ones who intuitively remember this?

If you have a pet question please visit We are an open pet centered community dedicated to helping pets by exchanging pet care information and support. You can also find me on Twitter @FreePetAdvice. Or, in person, with some other pet in need of a home, at Jarrettsville Vet, in Jarrettsville Maryland.

Merry Christmas to all!

Bela Is Saved! He will be moving into Best Friends Animal Sanctuary soon! Is it a miracle? Yes, of course, but it is more a testament to how much we love our pets, how much power lies in the hearts of people, and how anything can happen if you believe AND you try. His story here.


  1. Yet another great article Krista! Until companion animals' status is upgraded from just being "property" this will be a continuing problem on all fronts, especially with all the drugs that are killing intentionally uninformed pet owners.

    Merry Christmas!

    1. Hello!
      Hope that you had a Merry Christmas too!
      Many thanks for reading and the nice note..and I agree with you completely. Sad that society (well, the side of society that companion animal veterinary medicine serves) is so detached from this idea. It will, and is changing.
      Wishing you a Happy New Year!

  2. This is a very tough call. I have been in the veterinary healthcare profession my entire working career (spanning over 40 years now) and I truly believe that the 'gentle sleep' is a kindness in the hands of a gentle veterinarian over the fear and stress in a poorly run shelter and the pain of a heart stick. Would that happen to my cats if I died? I can recall a client who's wish was for her sister to take her cat after her death, and she did, but the cat was 14 and with many health issues that came to light after she brought it in for an exam and we convinced her to do some lab work. The husband said he didn't want to spend the money on an old cat and they dumped it at a shelter...not at all what this woman wished for her cat. I anguished over that when doing my will a few years ago, as I too, wished for my cats to be euthanized by a feline only veterinarian and their ashes spread with mine. But I was convinced by both the attorney and friends to decide otherwise, as one never knows whether your wishes will be carried out by family anyway. So now, a good friend, a palliative care nurse, will take what every cats I have and seek homes for them of her choosing. I hope that goes as planned, but life can change in an instant and in fact, her husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer shortly after we made these arrangements...thankfully he is doing well and life goes on...It is a very difficult decision, but one that everyone should put their mind to if they have pets and make arrangements for their care after your passing.

    1. Hello,
      Thanks for reading and sharing your experience. It is always a sad occasion when a pet loses their parent, and a tough task in many cases trying to find a new home for a pet that has no attachments to others, behavioral concerns, and an unknown issues that may arise with advancing age.
      Thankfully for Bela he is headed to Best Friends Sanctuary.
      Yippee! for happy endings..
      or at least second chances,