There are certain basic requirements that owners of all companion animals must provide under Virginia law. 3.2-6503 states:
A. Each owner shall provide for each of his companion animals:
1. Adequate feed;
2. Adequate water;
3. Adequate shelter that is properly cleaned;
4. Adequate space in the primary enclosure for the particular type of animal depending upon its age, size, species, and weight;
5. Adequate exercise;
6. Adequate care, treatment, and transportation; and
7. Veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering or disease transmission.
Each of the listed requirements is also defined in 3.2-6500. The definitions are quite good and if everyone lived up to the requirements, there would be far fewer neglected animals in Virginia.
The last requirement is the one that is probably the least understood. Not giving veterinary care when needed is not an option. The State Vet’s office has said that “veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering or disease transmission” includes euthanasia as an option. Owners are not required to spend hundreds of dollars on treatment for animals, but they are required to do something to prevent the suffering of their companion animals.
Hundreds of times through the years, I have witnessed a grieving owner bringing their beloved companion animal to us because the animal is critically ill or severely injured. A plethora of sad circumstances can happen to result in the euthanasia of a pet. No one wants to make such a difficult decision, but owners generally recognize that the decision to end suffering is the last act of kindness they can provide for their pet.
People many times will call us to talk about the illness or injury or circumstance. We always counsel them to seek the advice of a veterinarian. I also caution them that the decision will not get any easier through delaying it. Euthanasia is a service that many shelters no longer provide, but we have chosen to continue to offer it for free. Of course, the proper paperwork is completed and the animal is counted on our annual intake reports.
As I write this column, I am remembering many of the times our staff members have helped owners send their beloved animals to heaven (perhaps that is not a politically correct thing to say in this day and time, but it is something I do not doubt for one second). The grief over the loss of a loved one is as deep as the love.
We receive hundreds of complaints each year about animals that are sick and injured just being allowed to languish. Owners, shelters, and other people involved in animal welfare want to save every animal; however, when the treatment is cost prohibitive, euthanasia is a legal, humane option. Doing nothing is not.