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Dr. Keaton Smith is a graduate of the University Of Kentucky College Of Agriculture with a doctorate ...

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Dr. Smith's Journal

I chat about veterinary medicine and the life of a country animal doctor.
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What Would You Do?

australian_sheppard_running

Clients ask me all the time, “If this were your pet, what would you do?”

I appreciate your question, and yes I hear what you are asking of me. However, it is an unfair question and I sweat a little each time someone asks me. I do not want you to be offended in any way by my saying it makes me nervous because I truly am flattered that you have that much confidence in me to ask.

I know that you really want help making a difficult decision and feel insecure deciding on your own, and I hope you realize that your question can't be generalized. It is distinctly relevant only to your pet's situation. So let me put my trepidation in responding to your question(s) in the proper context. I can't answer because these queries basically because each of us is unique in our upbringings, moral stances, beliefs and economic situations. Thus, my response to a situation might not be yours. Each of us is complicated and the decisions facing you are also complicated. 

Here's a list of questions I find impossible to answer as a pet owner or your pet's doctor.

  • “If this were your pet, would you spend this much money?”
  • “If this were your pet, would you allow it to endure the process and pain?”
  •  “If this were your pet, would you try to make it comfortable?”
  •  “If this were your pet, would you there is enough chance it will live to treat it?”
  • “If this were your pet, would you euthanize it?”

I could go on, but you can change the end of the question as much as you would like and it would still be the beginning that is nerve-racking. So what’s the bottom line?

I don’t know. That’s the answer. I simply don’t know, and I will never know.

I am complicated just like you. Some days I’m grouchy, and some days I’m reflective. I have times where I am deeply spiritual and times I’m political. I laugh, and I cry and all of these seas of emotions that we as people swim through tend to shape our decision making and our perspectives as well. Then let’s add the heart-wrenching times of stress when your best friend needs you to make a life-changing decision. Now that is tough, and it never gets any less tough. 

To further add to the complexities of your question is the emotional bond you have with your pet, the financial place you’re in your life, and the physical health you are personally dealing with at the time. 

My personal dog Coal Dust, Coalie for short, was my prized Australian Shepherd. I had waited years for her to be born and when she came along, she was my bud. She was also my only pet until a girlfriend conned me into taking her cat, which is another story because she dumped me as quickly as she dumped the fur beast. Coalie, however, was a great dog. Soon after this, I met Su, and we began a life-long courtship and marriage. Su took to Coalie as well. But we were young, broke, and busy with all sorts of college activities. 

One day, Susan and her mother, Ruth (now Mom Elmer), were going to fly out with the Auburn University Concert Choir to tour and sing all over Europe. I packed to go home to Kentucky for a few days and the plan was for me to drop Su and her mom off at the airport on my through Atlanta. Coalie was riding in the back of the truck bed with the entire jungle of luggage—a normal and frequent place for her to travel because she loved to ride with the wind in her face. However, this fateful day was different. Shortly after we merged onto the Interstate, I saw Coalie in my rear-view mirror as she leaped out of my truck. To this day, I can still see her get hit by three different cars until she was rolled over to the shoulder. 

I don’t know why she left the truck bed. She had never done this in the two years that I had owned her, but that day she did. My wife always thought that the dog needed to go and didn’t want to go on the luggage. Regardless, I ran to my dog, scooped up her lifeless body and did a U-turn on the I80 and drove her like a madman to the Auburn University Small Animal Emergency Room. She was clinging to life, and the assessment wasn’t good: four broken legs, several broken ribs, a crushed pelvis, a collapsed lung, multiple missing teeth, and a massive concussion. 

I should have let her go right then, but I asked the doctor on staff, “If she were your dog, what would you do?” I can’t remember the doctor’s name, but I remember how she looked at me. The look told me everything—she didn’t know what to say. Her science was telling her to advise me to treat the dog, but her heart wanted to tell me to euthanize her. 

I chose treatment. It was a long six-month ordeal and yes, Coalie suffered through a lot of misery. But she was tough and she healed, mostly. Puppies were out of the question, and you never pulled her back leg from that day forward or she would bite you, hard. I mean you didn’t even pretend you were going to pull her back leg. I had to borrow money from the bank because her bill was over $20,000 by the time we were all done. That is another story because the bank wasn’t too interested in giving a college kid that kind of money for a dog. 

Coalie lived another six years after the accident. She was born in 1991 and passed in 1997. She was there for my marriage and my firstborn son. After she was gone, Alyn stood at the back door in his little PJ’s calling for her. I’m tearing up again at the memory cause it stills breaks my heart.

So, what was the right answer? Should I have euthanized her? Did I do the right thing even though it took me nearly ten years to pay off that loan? The answer is both choices were the right choice. I made the best decision I could make and then lived with the cost. I don’t regret my choice but had I let her go on that table, I would not have regretted that either. I don’t have a right answer for you and I cannot be your measuring stick. You make your choice based on where you are in life and you make the best of it. I hope you are blessed never to have to make that kind of choice at all.

A Vet's Life Is A Daily Surprise
That Dog Can Run!

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