Animal euthanasia: Lethal injection

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

I got the call as I was leaving the shelter — a woman had called and told Dr. Glenn Keim’s staff her dog had bitten a neighbor’s child and he needed to be euthanized.

“He bit a little girl,” Keim told me in the waiting room before his patient arrived. “That puts him on the endangered species list real quick.”

I watched as the dog and his owner entered the lobby. A large rottweiler, the dog had a harness around his snout. His backside wagging pleasantly as he heard familiar voices.

He held his rear right leg off the ground, a sign of the painful arthritis in his knee that made him more volatile, and according to Keim, contributed to the bite.

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He sat obediently until his owner led him past the counter and down the hall, her face clearly showing her anguish.

While Keim’s technician Jan Ellis weighed the dog, she chatted with the dog’s owner, who was pregnant, about her anticipated delivery. When done, I followed as they walked to a room behind the exam rooms.

Keim and Ellis worked together to hoist the 120-pound dog onto a metal framed table with a grid-like surface while his owner stood nearby stroking his fur.

As Keim shaved the dog’s left foreleg, Ellis kept the dog secure with a firm, near-headlock hold. Her eyes reddened, Ellis sniffled while Keim worked and the dog’s owner stroked his back.

“You tell me when you’re ready, I’m not in a hurry” Keim said, stepping away after he wiped the shaved area with an alcohol swab.

The dog owner laid her head across her dog’s back and stroked him, while the assistant cried audibly.

A short time later Keim inserted the needle into the dog’s leg.

While Keim slowly pushed the plunger, driving the translucent blue liquid into the dog’s vein, Ellis held the dog’s head and neck tightly with the owner draped across his back looking in the opposite direction, petting and stroking him.

A few seconds in, the dog began to looked dazed, snorting loudly with obvious displeasure, smacking his lips and licking.

He was confined so tightly and completely by the arms of the two women, I could not tell if he struggled or shook.

It was 34 seconds from the start of the injection until the dog visibly relaxed and the women released their holds.

“That’s it,” Keim said, checking for signs of life with a stethoscope.

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Pre-anesthesia was not necessary in this case, Keim told me later, although he uses it often in other scenarios, particularly in cases where the animal is likely to resist.

Collar and leash in hand, his owner said her last goodbyes and tearfully walked to the waiting room followed by Ellis, who was dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.

I was surprised at the toll it seemed to be exacting from her as a person who has assisted in numerous euthanasia procedures before.

As Ellis passed, I asked her in a quiet, near whisper, “Do you always cry with these?”

“Yes,” she answered. “(Especially) if I’ve known them for a long time.”