Karen sent me the following via email, after visiting one of Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA's animal shelters where she witnessed:
...a woman brought in a dog to be put down. The dog was 16. She had said the dog was unable to walk and was on medication initially, but then it came out the dog was her Mother's who had recently passed away. However, there was something that really bothered me about this situation.
I don't believe this dog was in such bad shape as was suggested. I found myself really upset about the situation, and lingered a bit longer than I should have, left and came back, and then left again to ultimately call the main number to inquire about the procedures for the shelter on cases like this.
I understood the decision is hard, so the procedures might be 'let's not make it more painful,' but I also felt for the animal's sake, it should be determined what was really going on. As a follow-up thought, I wondered if there is an assessment of the animal before it is put down. That is, is it assumed the dog in this case is a hopeless case? Moreover, are there animals that are brought in that are perfectly healthy and well-mannered saved from the needle regardless of what was intended by the parties that brought them in? The gentleman who answered the main phone line assured me that there has been many an animal saved even though the owner had wished another result. He seemed sincere, but I still wasn't sure if he was just telling me what I wanted to hear.
The short answer to the question here is yes there is an assessment made prior to euthanizing an animal brought to us by their owner/guardian for euthanasia. As common sense would likely tell you, that level of assessment varies based on what the PHS/SPCA veterinary technician feels is appropriate to the situation, since it is that vet tech who is receiving the dog and speaking to the family.
For example, in the case of an apparently healthy animal brought to us as asymptomatic but with an owner telling us that there is a serious health issue leading them to this difficult decision, in such a case the technician may likely direct one of our on-staff veterinarians to examine the animal (we have five vets on staff and their work is directed solely to the animals in our care with the exception of no-cost/low-cost spay/neuter clinics). On the other hand, an elderly animal brought to us unable to stand and walk on their own may simply and gently be brought to a quiet room where an overdose of sodium pentobarbital is kindly and professionally administered. We do not have a one-size-fits-all approach, and we have purposefully moved away from clerks receiving these animals to instead veterinary technicians for exactly this sort of reason. If there is ever any doubt the animal is given time, and as such the staff is also given time to make the appropriate determination and decision.
California law regards animals as property and legally once an animal is signed over to us that animal is our property. As such, the decisions are ours to make when it comes to what is best for that animal. As unimaginable as this might be, we find ourselves in situations such as the following: a separated couple, one of them angry enough to bring us a perfectly healthy animal for what they pretend is a humane euthanasia due to a made-up illness; the most defenseless members of a family are often the victims when the family dynamic goes horribly wrong. And those of us who work with animals in shelters routinely find ourselves in the middle of just about every human dynamic you can imagine. However, the overwhelming numbers of people who bring us a pet for euthanasia are caring, compassionate people who have reached a difficult decision about a beloved but ailing member of their family; they deserve and receive our respect, and our staff feels privileged to be of help to them and to the animals at such a complicated moment.