This blog post is going to delve into a very sensitive and upsetting topic: behavioral euthanasia. I’m coming up on the two year anniversary of one of the most awful experiences of my life, but I don’t want to rehash those events yet again. I’ve written other blog posts on that. I did want to do something to commemorate the day and hopefully bring some understanding and education to this topic. What I decided to do was to ask others who have been through similar experiences to share their thoughts.
At the beginning of 2019 a Facebook group called Losing Lulu was created by Sue Alexander and Trish McMillan, both experienced trainers. Trish had to euthanize a foster dog, Lulu, and was looking for a way to help others who have gone through this type of agonizing decision. The group now has about 2500 members and is constantly growing. It is primarily a grief support group.
A behavioral euthanasia is unique in terms of the emotional toll that it takes on those making such a heartbreaking decision. Many, myself included, have been subjected to cruel judgment and relentless criticism for our choice. Having a place without judgment and with supportive understanding is crucial to those of us who have been traumatized by this experience.
The thoughts and ideas below are those shared by members of the Losing Lulu group. Most are anonymous. Please note that we often refer to our dogs as “Lulus” as a general term for a dog who was euthanized due to behavioral issues. I appreciate their willingness to share their pain so that others might understand more about the enormity and devastation of this experience. There were so many heart wrenching and thought provoking comments. Here are just a few…
1.As a professional I would like people to know that you don’t have to do “everything”. Sometimes everything is much too much. Some of the time, doing everything means prolonging a dreadful situation and continuing the animal’s suffering. Sometimes doing everything puts people or other animals at great risk. Some of the time, euthanasia is the kindest thing, sooner rather than later Sue Alexander
2. Coming at it from the sheltering side of things, I really wish more shelters and rescues had written protocols around what behaviors they consider to be unsafe to send out. And that they stuck to these protocols instead of crossing their fingers and sometimes outsourcing their behavioral euthanasia to the public. People are generally ill-equipped to deal with dangerous animals, this is not why they went to a shelter to adopt. And every unsafe pet that you send out probably talks 20 people out of getting a shelter dog. Trish McMillan
3. As a founder of a rescue & longtime foster, it sounds cliche, but people are looking for a pet; not a project. It’s neither fair nor ethical to put dangerous dogs out into the community. Every single time I can remember that we “took a chance” on an iffy dog, the dog ended up ultimately euthanized anyway, but after causing a lot of physical and/or emotional damage to the family, both human and canine. This is not helping promote rescue or adoption or your breed. No one volunteers at a shelter or rescue because they want to kill dogs; however, if you are one of the people who “just couldn’t” make that decision, please do not ever foster dogs or put yourself in a decision making capacity. Part of being a responsible rescue or shelter is taking on this heartbreak and making these awful decisions.
4. I wish I could tell people how much their judgmental and critical comments cut like a knife, at a time when we are already so broken. And how just a bit of compassion could help our hearts heal, instead of shutting us down even more. I wish people could understand just how much something like this breaks us and changes us, and that we need their support and love now more than ever.
5. The biology of physical illness in the brain isn’t even well understood in humans, let alone other species. You likely will never have a diagnosis or the closure that comes with it. It’s okay to acknowledge that most training only helps biologically normal animals, and very often the Lulus we see in this group are not ‘normal’ animals. You didn’t fail your pet. Mother Nature is a ruthless bitch. Sometimes pets get very very sick, and there are no sustainable good options.
6. I wish everyone could understand that the lives, safety, physical and mental welfare of the dogs and people around them are just as valuable as the life of a Lulu. When you have a Lulu whose fundamental temperament is incompatible with living in society, with people and/or other animals, someone has to lose, there is no getting around it, and no amount of love or effort or time will change that.
7. I have walked this path with a few clients. I have never worked with clients that did not do all they could, that did not search desperately for answers, that did not allow the quality of their own life, their relationships, life for their other pets, spouses, children and friends to suffer. I have never met a Lulu that was not suffering when they were in the midst of their issue. Every person I have worked with has been tired. The final decision often comes down to risk, many times after a serious injury to another pet or human. I know that in those instances those who are injured are not the only ones to suffer. If I could change one thing. I would love to stop the suffering before it escalates. Before the Lulu is pushed or triggers on their own to the point of emotional distress that an injurious bite occurs. At that point our Lulus are suffering. Then we all suffer, as so much pain must be physically and emotionally resolved.
8. Respect that I loved my dog and made a responsible and loving choice. Don’t assume you know better than I do what I should have/could have done or did. It’s really really NOT all in how you raise them, some dogs just aren’t wired right and cannot live well or safely with people. Euthanasia is not the worst thing that can happen to a dog, and sometimes it’s the only choice.
9. I would want them to understand that BE is done out of love for the animal. It is no different than ending the suffering of a physically ill dog. These dogs are suffering. It’s like any other debilitating terminal illness that there is no cure for..it just keeps getting worse. These are not happy healthy dogs. I was fortunate that my boy was happy once and could enjoy life. Once his illness took over his world just kept getting smaller…crates or muzzled 24/7 is no life.
10. I’ve never lost a personal Lulu but have had to be part of the decision with shelter dogs. I wish people would realize that there are cases that Love isn’t enough. That the safety of the people and animals in a community, must not be taken lightly or be disregarded. That BEs are serious and are gut wrenchingly hard for those involved but ultimately the right call for (some) troubled dogs.
11. I used to believe that bad owners made bad dogs. I now know it’s much, much more complicated than that. Selfishly, I wish people knew it wasn’t my fault and that I loved my Lulu more than any other being. I did everything to keep her here and love her as long as humanly possible, but love, training, behavior modification and medication just aren’t enough sometimes.
12. What would I tell people? I would say talk to someone. Someone who understands. Even with all my years of experience I still considered myself a failure. I was ready to end my life. Don’t bottle it up. And don’t hold it against the next dog that comes along.
13. I wish people would realize that real training is not the quick fix you see on TV. That I cannot make this dog safe enough to adopt out. There are no sanctuaries where dangerous dogs run through meadows chasing butterflies.
14. Placing a dog with true aggression issues into the hands of an adopter without enough experience to carefully manage the dog was not a matter of if someone gets badly hurt, it’s a matter of when. Anyone with enough experience to understand what they’re getting into won’t because they understand the liability.
15. I did it for her. It hurt. A lot. It still does. But she would have a very bleak future in this world. I loved her so much I let her go, and released her from the demons in her mind.
16. I want people to know that NOT everything can be fixed, not everything is in my control no matter what I do. I want people to know that our souls are breaking and we need kindness as much as our Lulus.
If you have been through this experience yourself, if you are a shelter or rescue worker, a trainer, veterinary professional, or family member, this group is for you. Our primary purpose is safe grief support for the decision maker. Our secondary purpose is education and understanding of the issues surrounding behavioral euthanasia. Also, we have a hard and fast rule that we do not discuss or advise on potential behavioral euthanasia cases. We are here for after the fact support.
If you feel that this group would be a good fit for you then you can send a request to join. Please, please, please, answer the screening questions. Lack of answers means you will not be approved. Then be patient while your request is being processed. We are very careful about who is admitted to the group. We have very clear and necessary rules about the behavior of group members. Please read them very carefully. The group is heavily moderated to keep it a safe and secure place to share our pain.
Nothing we ever do can bring our dogs back to us healthy and whole and happy. We all have regrets and guilt and we all struggle with our choice. But we are also open and honest and brave. We have been through hell and we are standing here willing to help others make it through as well.
On a personal note I miss my boy every single day. I miss what could have and should have been a long happy life together. It’s not fair, but it’s also not my fault. As others have said, I chose euthanasia out of love for him after weighing all the options. I also made the decision feeling the total weight of my responsibility to keep others safe and happy. Sometimes there are no good choices. We make this decision knowing full well we are breaking our own hearts.
Rest easy until we meet on the other side baby boy