Dr. Lewellen recounts her experience with the question of whether to treat or euthanize a pet with a behavior problem.
I heard that question more times than I can count in my nine years of practice. Clients seeking my advice on whether to treat or euthanize a pet with a behavior problem. My response varied both with the situation and with the stage of my career. I admit as a new graduate to being too judgmental. I sometimes said, "I can't tell you what I would do—he's not mine." I sometimes had little empathy for clients who were at the end of their rope with cats that had elimination problems. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I often wondered why anyone would attempt to treat a dog with aggression. Although I did not voice my feelings, I am certain my judgment shone through. I now wince at the guilt I must have caused some of these clients. I did not serve them well as their adviser.
Rory, Heather, and Robbie.
In this month's issue, you'll find advice to help you better deal with these difficult decisions. In our cover article "Treat or euthanize? Helping owners make critical decisions regarding pets with behavior problems," Dr. Lore Haug says that clinicians should never make snap judgments and that dramatic changes in an animal's behavior are often possible when owners are willing to commit to a behavior modification program. In the accompanying article "Advising clinets on treating or euthanizing pets with behavior problems" featuring further guidance on this topic from our Practitioner Advisory Board members, Dr. Gary Norsworthy even suggests the possibility of making a cat that is refractory to treatment for inappropriate elimination an outdoor-only pet as a last alternative to euthanasia.
However, if the decision to euthanize because of a behavior problem is reached, Dr. Haug and the members of our Practitioner Advisory Board are clear in their advice: Clinicians should not judge the client harshly. The client—bringing all of his or her experience to the table—is just as much a part of the equation as the pet.
As I matured in my profession and had children of my own (and a cat that ruined the carpet in my home), I began to empathize with clients more and more. I tried even harder to treat serious behavior problems. And my compassion for clients going through such a difficult decision grew.
I hope the information and insights in this issue will help you better address these all too common critical case decisions with your clients. And we'd love to hear your insights on this topic. Please e-mail your thoughts to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll publish as many of your e-mails as possible.