Euthanize or Kill: What is the Difference?

Target, the "hero dog" with Rufus

A tragic story about Target, a hero dog that was killed in error by a worker in an animal shelter, caught my attention.  The story brought to mind my uneasiness with state sponsored killings of all sorts. Additionally, I was intrigued by the way words shape narratives, in this case “euthanize” and “kill.”

Target was a war hero. She was a stray dog who survived gun shots and explosions in Afghanistan.  She and two other strays, befriended by U. S. soldiers, deterred a suicide bomber wearing explosives. They barked at and bit the attacker, and in the process spared the lives of large numbers of soldiers. One of the dogs was killed. Target and Rufus, the other dog that survived with the assistance of aid workers, were taken to the U. S. to live with soldiers who had helped care for them in Afghanistan.

Target became famous after appearing on the Oprah Winfrey show.  Unfortunately, last week, Target escaped from her backyard. She didn’t have on identification tags nor did she have an identification microchip implanted in her. Someone found the dog and called animal control. While Target’s family continued to search for her, she entered the institutional dog shelter system. Through a series of missteps, the owners didn’t get to the shelter  in time.

“Euthanize” and “kill” have been used to shape alternative Target narratives. “Euthanize” and its related terms, “put down,” and “put to sleep ”(or “PTS”) are more comforting, “kill” or “execute” more disturbing.   In Target’s case, the later terms are more descriptive of the case.  Target wasn’t suffering.  She wasn’t in physical distress. She wasn’t aggressive. She didn’t have any severe behavioral problems, and she wasn’t a threat to other people or animals.

Euthanize: Policy Implications

The deconstructed word euthanasia is “good,” “gentle” or “easy” death derived from the Greek. It typically refers to the painless killing of a suffering person or animal which either has an incurable, painful disease, or is in a permanent coma. While Euthanasia is generally considered to be illegal as it applies to humans, it is considered to be humane as it . . .

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