Euthanasia: A Humane Option

Euthanasia is, hands down, the most difficult aspect of my job as a raptor technician. It never gets easier.  As a veterinary medical professional, I find it extremely difficult at times to find a balance between becoming overly emotional and aloof.  If I invest too many emotions into a euthanasia I am not able to properly provide adequate medical care to a sick bird.  If I am cold and detached I risk losing the part of me that makes me compassionate.  The one thing I always keep in the back of my mind is these birds are no longer feeling any pain.  I was able to end their suffering and give them a chance at peace.  To me, every life is precious and sacred.  I will never take that for granted.


Euthanasia is a Greek word meaning “good death.”  This concept means to end an animal life without them feeling any pain or suffering.  I euthanize birds for a variety of reasons:  non-repairable fractures, injuries they will not recover from and that impair their quality of life, and birds that are both non-releasable and non-placeable.


The primary method of euthanasia I preform is intravenous.  I inject a commercially available euthanasia solution intravenously.  Euthasol contains two active ingredients:  phenobarbital sodium and phenytoin sodium.  Phenobarbital sodium rapidly and smoothly produces unconsciousness.  Phenytoin sodium produces respiratory arrest, cardiac arrest, and cessation of central nervous system functions.  The patient is immediately unconsciousness and death follows in typically less than one minute. 


I felt compelled to write this article for a couple reasons.  The first reason being I wanted to shed a light on this topic to help people understand that euthanasia is not a dirty word.  Although sad and heartbreaking, sometimes it is the best option for our birds.  The incident that inspired me to write this article is one particular red-tailed hawk we had in Treatment and Recovery.  This bird was a suspect hit by car. He was not standing or eating.  He was holding his head down and breathing shallowly.  After evening treatments, I had a talk with this bird.  I told him he was not allowed to die.  He had to make it.  That everything was going to be ok.  Unfortunately before I left work that night, he passed away in the cage.  I followed our protocol for deceased birds and all I did was sob.  I just couldn't stop.  I realized that even though this was a horrible experience I never wanted to forget how I felt in that moment.  Remembering that feeling of sadness and loss makes me human.


Katherine Ternet