5.06.2006

My Name is Sam

After I was discharged from the Navy, Jim and I moved back to Detroit to use our GI bill benefits to get some schooling. Jim was going for a degree in Electronics and I, after much debating, decided to get mine in Computer Science.

One of the classes that was a requirement was Speech. Like many people, I had no fondness for getting up in front of people for any reason, let alone to be the center of attention as I stuttered my way through some unfamiliar subject. But I couldn't get out of the requirement, and so I found myself in my last semester before graduation with Speech as one of my classes.

On the first day of class our professor explained to us that he was going to leave the subject matter of our talks up to us, but he was going to provide the motivation of the speech. We would be responsible for six speeches, each with a different motivation. For instance, our first speech's purpose was to inform. He advised us to pick subjects that we were interested in and knowledgeable about. I decided to center my six speeches around animals, especially dogs.

For my first speech to inform, I talked about the equestrian art of dressage. For my speech to demonstrate, I brought my German Shepherd, Bodger, to class and demonstrated obedience commands. Finally the semester was almost over and I had but one more speech to give. This speech was to take the place of a written final exam and was to count for fifty percent of our grade. The speeches motivation was to persuade.After agonizing over a subject matter, and keeping with my animal theme, I decided on the topic of spaying and neutering pets. My goal was to try to persuade my classmates to neuter their pets, so I started researching the topic. There was plenty of material, articles that told of the millions of dogs and cats that were euthanized every year; of supposedly beloved pets that were turned in to various animal control facilities for thelamest of reasons, or worse, dropped off far from home, bewildered and scared. Death was usually a blessing. The final speech was looming closer, but I felt well prepared. Mynotes were full of facts and statistics that I felt sure would motivate even the most naive of pet owners to succumb to my plea.

A couple of days before our speeches were due, I had the bright idea of going to the local branch of the Humane Society and borrowing a puppy to use as a sort of a visual aid. I called the Humane Society and explained what I wanted. They were very happy to accommodate me. I made arrangements to pick up a puppy the day before my speech. The day before my speech, I went to pick up the puppy. I was feeling very confident. I could quote all the statistics and numbers without ever looking at my notes. The puppy, I felt, would add the final emotional touch. When I arrived at the Humane Society I was met by a young guy named Ron. He explained that he was the public relations person for the Humane Society. He was very excited about my speech and asked if I would like a tour of the facilities before I picked up the puppy. I enthusiastically agreed. We started out in the reception area, which was the general public's initial encounter with the Humane Society. The lobby was full, mostly with people dropping off various animals that they no longer wanted Ron explained to me that this branch of the Humane Society took in about fifty animals a day and adopted out twenty.

As we stood there I heard snatches of conversation: "I can't keep him, he digs holes in my garden." "They are such cute puppies, I know you will have no trouble finding homes for them." "She is wild, I can't control her." I heard one of Humane Society's volunteer explain to the lady with the litter of puppies that the Society was filled with puppies and that these puppies, being black, would immediately be put to sleep. Black puppies, sheexplained, had little chance of being adopted. The woman who brought the puppies in just shrugged, "I can't help it," she whined. "They are getting too big. I don't have room for them."

We left the reception area. Ron led me into the staging area where all the incoming animals were evaluated for adoptability. Over half never even made it to the adoption center. There were just too many. Not only were people bringing in their own animals, but strays were also dropped off. By law the Humane Society had to hold a stray for three days. If the animal was not claimed by then, it was euthanized, since there was no background information on the animal. There were already too many animals that had a known history eagerly provided by their soon to be ex-owners. As we went through the different areas, I felt more and more depressed. No amount of statistics, could take the place of seeing the reality of what this throw-away attitude did to the living, breathing animal. It was over overwhelming.

Finally Ron stopped in front of a closed door. "That's it," he said, "except for this." I read the sign on the door. "Euthanization Area." "Do you want to see one?" he asked.

Before I could decline, he interjected, "You really should. You can't tell the whole story unless you experience the end." I reluctantly agreed. "Good." He said " I already cleared it and Peggy is expecting you." He knocked firmly on the door. It was opened immediately by a middle aged woman in a white lab coat. "Here's the girl I was telling you about,"Ron explained. Peggy looked me over. "Well I'll leave you here with Peggy and meet you in the reception area in about fifteen minutes. I'll have the puppy ready." With that Ron departed, leaving me standing in front of the stern-looking Peggy.

Peggy motioned me in. As I walked into the room, I gave an audible gasp. The room was small and spartan. There were a couple of cages on the wall and a cabinet with syringes and vials of a clear liquid. In the middle of the room was an examining table with a rubber mat on top. There were two doors other than the one I had entered. Both were closed. One said to incinerator room, and the other had no sign, but I could hear various animals noises coming from behind the closed door. In the back of the room, near thedoor that was marked incinerator were the objects that caused my distress: twowheelbarrows, filled with the bodies of dead kittens and puppies. I stared in horror. Nothing had prepared me for this. I felt my legs grow weak and my breathing become rapid and shallow. I wanted to run from that room, screaming.

Peggy seemed not to notice my state of shock. She started talking about the euthanization process, but I wasn't hearing her. I could not tear my gaze away from the wheelbarrows and those dozens of pathetic little bodies. Finally, Peggy seemed to notice that I was not paying attention to her. "Are you listening?" she asked irritably. "I'm only going to go through this once." I tore my gaze from the back of the room and looked at her. I opened my mouth to say something, but nothing would come out, so I nodded. She told me that behind the unmarked door were the animals that were scheduled for euthanasia that day. She picked up a chart that was hanging from the wall. "One fifty three is next," she said as she looked at the chart. "I'll go get him." She laid down the chart on the examining table and started for the unmarked door. Before she got to the door she stopped and turned around. "You aren't going to get hysterical, are you?" she asked, "Because that will only upset the animals." I shook my head. I had not said a word since I walked into that room. I still felt unsure if I would be able to without breaking down into tears.

As Peggy opened the unmarked door I peered into the room beyond. It was a small room, but the walls were lined and stacked with cages. It looked like they were all occupied. Peggy opened the door of one of the lower cages and removed the occupant. From what I could see it looked like a medium-sized dog. She attached a leash and ushered the dog into the room in which I stood.

As Peggy brought the dog into the room I could see that the dog was no more than a puppy, maybe five or six months old. The pup looked to be across between a Lab and a German shepherd. He was mostly black, with a small amount of tan above his eyes and on his feet. He was very excited and bouncing up and down, trying to sniff everything in this new environment. Peggy lifted the pup onto the table. She had a card in her hand, which she laid on the table next to me. I read the card. It said that number one fifty three was a mixed Shepherd, six months old. He was surrendered two days ago by a family. Reason of surrender was given as "jumps on children." At the bottom was a note that said "Name: Sam."

Peggy was quick and efficient, from lots of practice, I guessed. She laid one fifty three down on his side and tied a rubber tourniquet around his front leg. She turned to fill the syringe from the vial of clear liquid. All this time I was standing at the head of the table. I could see the moment that one fifty three went from a curious puppy to a terrifiedpuppy. He did not like being held down and he started to struggle.

It was then that I finally found my voice. I bent over the struggling puppy and whispered "Sam. Your name is Sam." At the sound of his name Sam quit struggling. He wagged his tail tentatively and his soft pink tongue darted out and licked my hand. And that is how he spent his last moment. I watched his eyes fade from hopefulness to nothingness. It was over very quickly. I had never even seen Peggy give the lethal shot. The tears could not be contained any longer. I kept my head down so as not to embarrass myself in front of the stoic Peggy. My tears fell onto the still body on the table.

"Now you know," Peggy said softly. Then she turned away. "Ron will be waiting for you."I left the room. Although it seemed like it had been hours, only fifteen minutes had gone by since Ron had left me at the door. I made my way back to the reception area. True to his word, Ron had the puppy all ready to go.

After giving me some instructions about what to feed the puppy, he handed the carrying cage over to me and wished me good luck on my speech.

-Author Unknown


6 comments:

BlackCatAlfa said...

As a vet tech, I have witnessed "euthanasia" and I have to say its a lot faster and "easier" now than it was ten years ago.

I had to euthanize my beloved cats just two months ago, here is my post from April 08.

This post reminded me of my own experience, and thos of the veterinary kind as well.

Its been a month

My black cat Hazel, died a month ago tonight at 8 PM. Its still raw, I still question myself, feel guilty, and wonder if I should have waited. I dont think these questions will ever be resolved. It seemed at the time to be the "right" decision. Hindsight however has a way of sneaking up on you.
Hazel was 19 years old, and had squamous cell carcinoma in her oral and sinus cavities. The tumor was making her eye bulge out, and in the end, was coming out of her eye socket. I had several medications for her, and even on her last day, I took her out on her leash. I used that as a barometer .. if she could still go out and appreciate being outside, then it was not "time".
The problem was, Hazel had been having seizures, I think. She changed dramatically the last two days of her life, and sometimes she didnt seem to know where she was. She came into the room, sat down and looked around like she was watching something fly around her. Slowly, not fast. Her breathing was labored due to the tumor taking over her sinus and nose cavities. She began to choke.
The next day after feeding and medicating, Hazel stayed on her towel, and kept her eyes closed. She seemed at first to be looking at her reflection in the window, but Im not sure.
I had been going back and forth for a while regarding euthanizing hazel. I didnt want her to suffer, yet, I didnt want to kill her before her time. I could not stand to see her suffering, I knew she was having trouble breathing, and the only thing keeping her alive was the feeding tube. Hazel could not eat by mouth as the tumor choked her.
So, I made the call in a moment of abject terror, and suffering on my part. They said to come in and I put Hazel in her carrier and drove 8 miles to the vet. My usual vet wasnt there, but the other vet was, my introduction to her was this visit.
There were lots of people in the waiting room, so I waited in the parking lot with Hazel until it was time. I was sobbing, and could hardly breathe. Like I am now writing this.
When I took her in, I walked very fast with my head down as I know no one likes to see this. Everyone who has a pet fears this day. We went into the back exam room, and I took out hazel and put her on a towel on the table. At first she just laid there, but after while she sat up.

I wondered if I was doing the right thing. I was completely distraught and really could not think straight. I knelt down beside hazels face and talked to her. I knew she couldnt hear me as she became deaf sometime in the last month, but it didnt matter. Hazel could always "feel" how I was feeling. She spoke to me a last time.

The doctor and a veterinary assistant came in. They decided one big shot would kill Hazel. Lets not dance around terms here, this is what happened. "Euthanasia", "put to sleep", these terms are to make us feel better.

I knelt at the head of the table by Hazels head, held her head in my hands, and they adminstered the shot. Hazel died instantly. She did not lose control of her bowels, or urinate, she simply died. Hazel was like that. She always made things easier for me.

I have thought for a long time that when Hazel died, so would I. Not suicide, just die as in lay down and die. Im not sharing the reasons for this, accept it or not, I dont care.

The next day I completely lost control. Phoebe, my 20 year old siamese would come in to comfort me, but I was beyond comfort. I took Phoebe out on her leash but Phoebe could hardly walk. Phoebe was 20 years old, so I thought it was due to her health problems. Phoebe had cancer too the year before, but had been doing very well until that day.

The next day I took Phoebe to the vets to have her checked out because she needed attention re; a possible abcessed tooth. Phoebe was seriously stressed out by this as she hated to have anyone fool with her mouth. It was a problem getting blood from Phoebe, but it had to be done.

Of course hindsight tells me I should not have done this.

When Phoebe and I got home, she started having trouble walking. She looked like she was drunk. At first I thought she was stressed from the trip and kept an eye on her for a while. I called the vets and asked to be seen again, as I was afraid something serious was happening to Phoebe, so we drove up there again and got some medication. Phoebes heart was beating too fast to even count. The vet said to give Phoebe some of Hazels "fluids", which was a sub q injection.

About 3 hours later, I took a shower and when I came downstairs Phoebe could not get up, was limp, looked dead, and I rushed her to the emergency vets. By this time, Phoebe was bent in a position and meowed in pain. We had x rays done but could njot get blood. The x ray showed Phoebes heart was severely enlarged and she had fluid in her lungs.

I feel terrible and guilty about this because the first vet said to give her the sub q of ringers, and I feel this probably contributed to her pleural effusion.

Phoebe suffered several heart attacks, and a possible stroke and I had to kill her that night...two nights after Hazel..to the hour. Phoebe, the amazing cat died of a broken heart.

I knew they would go together. But I feel abandoned.

Some days I dont know why I try. This is one of those days.

Anita said...

Dear BlackCatAlfa,

Thank you for posting this. My heart aches as I read it, imagining the pain and grief of loosing both of your beloved cats at the same time. I hope you can find some peace in knowing that they died very loved and cherished. They had a good and happy life with you and each other. As painful as it is to loose a pet, the world is a better place because of people like you who truly value and cherish animals.

I know that you feel you will always question your decision, but it seems to me that you absolutely made the right decision. Instead of being selfish and keeping Hazel alive for another week or month, you ended her suffering and freed her from her badly functioning body. The same with Phoebe.

Fortunate is the next kitty that you adopt when you are ready. And if you don't feel ready, visit your local shelter and I bety there will be one (or two) that will melt your heart.

badcatsNM said...

Dear Black Cat Alfa

19 and 20 years, for some of us that will be a full 1/3 of our lifetimes.... a long time to have constant companions, and then to loose them both so quickly. You wrote " I knew they would go together. But I feel abandoned. Some days I dont know why I try. This is one of those days." You try because you are not done yet. One day... maybe tomorrow...maybe next year there is going to be another kitty who needs you to survive. You'll know him or her on sight, and you will know that Hazel and Pheobe sent you your new companion. The pain of losing Hazel and Phoebe will never go away, but you will learn to cope.

There is a quote I read when I am going through such a loss. " We who choose to surround ourselves with lives that are even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its aweful gaps we still would live no other way." Iriving Towsend "Separate Lives".

It is true. I cannot imagine living my life without sharing it with animals. They bring such joy and comfort, along with the terrible grief when they leave this world before us. The grief is the price I pay for such joy.

Remember you are only human. The bottom line is you did the best you could with the knowledge you had and with only the best of intentions for Hazel and Phoebe. They would not fault you for this, don't fault yourself on their behalf. Having been in the same situation, I can say 100 % you did the right thing. I also know that when it is ourselves that has made the decision this certainty is hard to see.

Be kind to yourself. Your girls would expect that of you for they loved you as much as you love them.

BlackCatAlfa said...

Thank you for your comments. I will always question my choices. Rational thinking says I probably could not do anything else, but emotional thinking takes over sometimes.
I did adopt three adult black cats. They have a web site http://www.blackcatsmeow.com. One, "Mystic" is a 9-11 cat. She was a kitten in one of those empty and destroyed buildings after 9-11. She has only lived in shelters her whole life and was literally hours from being executed when Deanna of "Cool Cats" ( link on site )rescued her, then I got her. "Mona" seems to have been abused on many levels, but she is now becoming my shadow. Mona is five years old and only last February was spayed. And, she was declawed. One of her paws looks like the declawing was a hack job. No one knows her story, she was a stray. The third cat, Mirabella just wandered around the area, and was rescued after a while.
Funny thing is, they all have a little white spot on their chest.
We are just beginning to bond, and Im pretty sure all the new cats are happy.
I am an artist, and I have many paintings, photos, and videos of hazel and Phoebe, but its still too painful to view. They had their own web site too ( of course ) http://www.sealpointsiamese.com that I no longer even look at. I just cant. But, if youre interested, it does show Hazels feeding tube that was a great help to her for not only feeding, but administrating medications. It was disconcerting to see Hazels big tube after her surgery, and it took a while for her to get used to it, but it was a good choice for Hazel. It was expensive, and I had to put on my card, but I could not allow Hazel to merely starve to death. Phoebes ear as missing because she had developed a tumor on her head the year before, and they had to take off her ear to make sure they got most of it. It was a hard row, but Phoebes surgery gave her another year and a half of life.
I had never euthanized a pet before. I did plenty in the vet hospital, and it was so hard for me I finally quit. I dont know if I can recommend being there for your pet, but I can say that I simply had to be there for support and love. However, it is a mental image that haunts me. It will be two months on Monday,and I still wake up crying. I know it may seem sad that I was more attached to my cats than anything else, but after being chemically poisoned, and developing 5 autoimmune diseases ( Lupus, Scleraderma, ect ) seizures, a brain tumor, and more...they were the only two who did not abandon me. Hazel and Phoebe were the only two who did not fault me for a dangerous exposure to a pesticide that I had no control over. Even my family did not support me when I became ill. So, thats why I feel the way I do. Hazel and Phoebe were amazingly intuitive, and helped me in my down times. Ive had five heart attacks, and Hazel knew minutes before each one, and would come to me and put her paw on my chest.
So, when they became ill, I went into debt to help them as much as I could. ( not complaining! )

But, I should mention thatI have rescued a lot of different animals, as I live on a farm, and have room for ex pets like Vietnamese pot bellied pigs who got big. Used to have a lot of reptiles, but Hazel and Phoebe were too nervous around the big snakes. Oh my God..and the birds!

So, this is why I appreciate this blog. Only "animal people" understand the love and the pain between people and their pets. I only wished I was in better shape so I could have contributed more to your efforts.

Anita said...

Hey blackcatalpha, send me your email address so I can write back to you off this public blog. Mine is noanimalleftbehind@gmail.com

thanks, anita

BlackCatAlfa said...

Done! I used my Hotmail only because I can access from any of my computers. Its also the most secure, as I have to have satellite for broadband service ( ick )