A previous post this year that included a student's YouTube documentary video brought a lot of hate towards the Last Chance Corral. This is damaging not only to us, but also to our cause, and ultimately, the horses that we save. After receiving hate mail and comments, we tried at first to justify and explain our actions. To no avail. The negative energy continued, criticizing and tearing us down. Several people even promised to make sure that they tell everyone they know NOT to support us. Our replies and efforts to defend our actions did nothing but fuel the fire. Over the past few months, we though about how to close this issue, while educating the public. We decided that since all of the negative energy was coming from people who are NOT licensed veterinarians, what could be better than get some veterinarians to give their educated opinion? Here it is. All comments will remain posted on this blog, I will not delete anything. Hopefully people will realize the truth and reform their opinions. If not, everyone is entitled to their opinion, and if they choose to be ignorant and let their emotions prevent them from being absolutely humane, they may. The text in blue was written by Victoria.
To Whom it May Concern: I have an update on “humanity” in regard to euthanasia by bullet. I received a great deal of “hate mail” after the release of Kyle’s documentary/film made during last year’s foal season. You can’t believe the impact that those letters had on my emotional well being. I was devastated. This will be my final statement in regard to this matter. I will try my best to be brief and succinct.
I was first instructed on this technique while attending vet school, where we used a ‘captive bolt’ (pneumatic 22 caliber) to euthanize equine. I have only performed this under the most dire of circumstances when no other option was available.
Last Friday, a starvation horse was brought to the Last Chance Corral. The kind people that transported him meant him no harm, however, the trailer they used was a stock trailer and the mats had no tread. It was raining that day, and so the mats were slick, allowing the horse no traction. When the trailer pulled in, all I could see was the horse’s nose and his distraught, panic-filled eyes. He was stuck in the rear corner, head up, knees tucked under, balancing on his brisket. His back legs were splayed to either side. This was BAD. This is not a position that a horse can assume without damage. We were able to pull the horse out of the trailer. His back was broken, he would never stand again.
We stayed with him, sheltering him from the driving rain, offering him what minimal comforts we could while keeping him from thrashing. His front end was still useful, and so he kept attempting to rise. We held him for eight and a half hours until a vet could get there. At that point, the horse was humanely euthanized by an equine surgeon. The method he employed was a 22 caliber pistol. Because of all of the bad press I received, this horse suffered untold misery for eight and a half additional hours, only to meet the same end that could have been provided. To those of you who held my hands tied, I can only say this. SHAME ON YOU!
Shame on you for condemning me over something that you could never imagine yourself doing, or even imagining that it is humane. I will ask you to put aside your emotions and allow these PROFESSIONALS to EDUCATE you.
-Victoria Goss, President and Founder of the Last Chance Corral
Here are the responses of two veterinarians when we asked them if they thought euthanasia by bullet is humane:
“Humane? This is the ONLY 100% guarantee of a quick, painless death.”
-Abbott P. Smith, DVM and equine surgeon
“There are only two concerns I have with euthanizing a horse with a bullet. First, the person with the gun might trip and fall and shoot a bystander or themselves. Secondly, if the person is uninformed, they might not perform it correctly. It is totally humane when done correctly. I euthanized my own horse that way.”
-Daniel Stradley, DVM
I am not a veterinarian, but I did do some research on this topic. Here is what I found. I made sure that my sources were from nothing less than licensed veterinarians. Please set your emotions aside and read this with an open mind. -Rachel
The horse world is full of controversy. What should be acceptable? What is considered humane? Sometimes, the answer is clear cut. Other times, the issue at hand can be debated until the end of time. These issues, almost always regarding animal safety and welfare, evoke strong emotions from both points of view.
One of these issues, horse euthanasia, has plagued the Last Chance Corral in recent times. In Athens, Ohio, there are no licensed veterinarians that will do emergency house calls- especially on a Sunday night. One such evening, we had to make the difficult decision to end the suffering of one of our orphan foals. This baby was dying, and we realized that making it wait until the next morning to euthanize it would be cruel… and that’s if it could make it to the next morning.
The barbiturates used to euthanize animals are controlled substances, meaning that veterinarians have to log and report every time they use the drug and the amount used. It is not legal for anyone other than a licensed veterinarian to possess these drugs. That factor combined with the reality that a veterinarian could not be obtained to perform the euthanasia after hours on Sunday forced us to make an extremely difficult decision. Though the foal looked fine externally, her organs were ‘calling it quits’. She was premature due to an induced labor, and because foals do not develop outside the womb, the baby’s organs were not able to take the demand of continued life.
It was evident that this could not wait until the next day, when we could trailer the baby to a veterinarian. Victoria was forced to euthanize the foal by gunshot, using the very technique that she was taught in vet school by licensed veterinarians. An Ohio University student was present at the time and documented the euthanasia. Pictures leading up to the euthanasia were compiled into a documentary video and put on the internet. We grieved for the little soul and turned our energy and attention to the many other orphans that relied on us. Then, we waited for the storm that was sure to come.
The internet is a dangerous thing. Anything posted on the internet is guaranteed to be seen by all- educated and ignorant alike. The way people percept anything depends on their present level of education and their own personal moral standards. Unfortunately, with the click of a mouse, everyone is subject to everyone else’s opinion- whether they like it or not. There is not an ‘online professor’ to correct mistakes when people spew misinformation. It is up to those defending themselves to shed light and information on the overly emotional and misinformed.
The storm came less than a day after posting the video. Hate mail arrived instantly, and large Last Chance Corral sponsors were contacted and told to never donate to our organization again because we shoot foals. This is not only hurtful to us, as we are hoping against hope to do what is right for the foals, but it is harmful to the organization that struggles to fulfill a promise made to ‘the nurse mare foals’- to do what we can to save as many as we can. Horse lovers were appalled and horrified that we would shoot innocent baby horses, and argued that even if the baby needed to be euthanized, it should have been done with the intravenous serum… the supposed ‘only humane method’.
Now remember what I said earlier. It is a right for people to have their own opinions and to state them freely, no matter their education or lack thereof. What most people do not understand, though, is that euthanasia by gunshot is not only an acceptable way to end a horse’s suffering, but it is the preferred method among veterinarians. Here are the facts. Quotes from Veterinarians ONLY are included, and both the lethal injection and death by gunshot are discussed.
There are currently no FDA approved euthanasia solutions for horses available in the United States. This means that the serums used are not guaranteed to work on horses. They are obviously still used, despite that fact. When the serum is used on horses, they can seizure, convulse, and often require a second and even a third injection- all while feeling everything going on around them. Though sometimes the appearance of ‘falling asleep’ is apparent, whether a reaction will take place is undeterminable before the injection is given. The injection may only be given by a licensed veterinarian, making emergency intravenous euthanasia even more difficult to obtain. Jerry Black, DVM, says “I have seen [a gun] used hundreds of times on cattle and horses and know in my mind that it is very humane and is much more instantaneous than chemical euthanasia. The animal literally knows nothing.”
Intravenous euthanasia is undoubtedly an approved and acceptable means of euthanasia in a horse. Some things must be taken into consideration, however. What if a horse with a broken leg is struggling violently, creating an impossible task for the veterinarian when he or she attempts to find a vein to inject an overdose of barbiturates? Remember, if the serum is injected anywhere other than the vein, it provokes strong, violent convulsions and an untold amount of agonizing pain. What then? What if the horse required a second or third injection, due to the convulsions from the first one?
The American Veterinary Medical Association recognized these ‘what-ifs’ and explored all possible ways of euthanizing an animal- both humane and inhumane. The results of their research are easily accessible to any member of the public, and are laid out in a clear cut format. Page three of AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia states the following:
In evaluating methods of euthanasia, the panel used the following criteria: (1) ability to induce loss of consciousness and death without causing pain, distress, anxiety, or apprehension; (2) time required to induce loss of consciousness; (3) reliability; (4) safety of personnel; (5) irreversibility; (6) compatibility with subsequent evaluation, examination, or use of tissue; (7) emotional effect on observers and operators; (8) compatibility with subsequent evaluation, examination, or use of tissue; (9) drug availability and human abuse potential; (10) compatibility with species, age, and health status; (11) ability to maintain equipment in proper working order; and (12) safety for predators/scavengers should the carcass be consumed.
As I go on, take into consideration the criteria, and realize that a panel of licensed veterinarians produced these standards and guidelines. This should be read and absorbed with an open mind, tossing emotions aside to let knowledge and reality move in. When the subject of shooting an animal to put it out of its misery is mentioned, people tend to think of Bambi in that the animal dies an agonizing death. Realistically, the AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia states that euthanasia by gunshot is a rapid death that provides instant loss of consciousness (p 33). They take equine euthanasia into special consideration, and mention that intravenous euthanasia is acceptable, but “these drugs may prolong time to loss of consciousness because of their effect on circulation and may result in varying degrees of muscular activity and agonal gasping” (p 18). They also state that “physical methods, including gunshot, are considered conditionally acceptable techniques for equine euthanasia” (p 18).
Doug Byers, DVM, states “I would equate captive bolt with gunshot and consider both humanely superior to lethal injection when performed properly. The public’s perception of lethal injection being the only humane procedure parlays to the standards of veterinary profession in this country- we simply do not teach instantaneous lethal trauma.” Another veterinarian, Dr Tom Lenz, shares his viewpoint and reasoning on the subject.
The captive bolt in the hands of an experienced person is completely humane because the horse is immediately rendered unconscious. It has the same effect as a gunshot when placed properly. I believe that it is more humane than chemical injection for two reasons. If you watch horses that are euthanized with the injection, many of them experience a period of bewilderment or confusion just before they lose consciousness. There is no doubt that they are aware that something strange is occurring. Second, many of the horses following chemical injection do not die quickly and require a second or third dose. With gunshot or captive bolt, the horse is rendered unconscious immediately.
It seems that if gunshot is indeed the preferred method for euthanizing a horse, the intravenous injection would lose popularity in America. All of the medical evidence states that when done properly, it is a humane and effective way to euthanize a horse without risk of convulsions or multiple attempts. If so, why is the injection ever so popular among Americans who face the decision to euthanize their horses? Karen E. N. Hayes, a veterinarian, comes with a good point in her Equisearch.com article “At Your Mercy: Euthanasia”. She states the following, “Veterinarians generally choose lethal injection or gunshot for euthanasia. In Europe, gunshot is the preferred method; in the US, lethal injection is more popular, likened to the emotional ideal of dying in one’s sleep”. The pros she lists for the lethal injection are that “if done properly, it is less violent in appearance; bloodless; quiet; and humane”. The cons are as follows and are found in the same article:
Only one type of barbiturates shuts down the brain first, before shutting down other bodily functions. Other products (such as T61 and succinylcholine) cause a heart attack or paralysis and suffocation, so are meant to be used on a horse under anesthesia. Some vets don't have the license to carry barbiturates, which are classified as controlled substances. The other drugs are cheaper and safer to carry. Regardless of drug, administration requires expertise: it must be given via vein or heart injection, either of which requires skill. If the needle misses the mark, the drug won't work and can cause a violent and painful reaction.
She also discusses the pros and cons of euthanasia by gunshot, and states that shooting the animal properly “is reliable, instantaneous, externally bloodless, and humane. The emotional/social stigma can make this upsetting for witnesses.”
There are veterinarians everywhere that feel similarly on the topic. Dr Woody Asbury has had experience with both, and shares the conclusion that he has come to.
I practiced veterinary medicine from 1956 until recently, and I administered lethal doses of barbiturates for euthanasia countless times. This technique is much slower than euthanasia by bullet, and frequently required additional injections. I had clients who would prefer a quicker method. On several occasions I used a pistol to euthanize horses. Aside from the danger of gunshot to bystanders (or administrators), the results are infinitely better with the pistol than with the barbiturates. Also, I don’t buy the ‘fear and apprehension’ problems that activists claim. There is no wild-eyed anticipation or screaming when the environment is managed correctly.
This makes one wonder, is the lethal injection really for the good of the horse, or is it just for the horse owners, who do not want to see their companion and partner be shot? Isolating your feelings from fairness to the animal must be done in order to make a wise painless decision for the animal. Anything less is selfish, and in fact, potentially inhumane.
No matter how gruesome it may seem, the public must realize that what right is not always easy. They need not condemn the very people that are trying to solve the problem and do what is best for the welfare of the horses. Those who have not been in the situations that we have faced have no right to judge. They don’t know the anguish that we experience making sure that we keep pressing on until it is evident that we are no longer helping. We owe it to the foals and horses we work with to respect them enough to set our personal emotions aside, give them one last kiss and rub on the neck, and give them a dignified, calm, and definite end.
We asked M. Ann Mandic, DVM, to send a few words regarding this topic to us. Her reply is in purple.
To Whom it May Concern:
I have been very concerned about some of the feedback that has been received by the Last Chance Corral regarding the student’s video that appeared last month. I feel the responsibility to express my feelings on the subject, and have pondered all viewpoints to be sure that I keep my mind open and objective. I approach this as someone who has officially worked with companion animals since 1970. My life’s work has allowed me many great joys as well as some heartbreaking times. It is not reality to have the first without the second if you are in the real world of animals.
As a veterinarian as well as a caregiver of my own family of animals, my greatest challenge has been and probably always will be to find a method that helps with the daunting decision of when loving is to let go. My prayer has always been and always will be to not give up a moment prematurely but to not linger a moment too long when death is the only kindness left to give. Once a decision to end suffering has been made, I have found it absolutely essential that I do not indulge my feelings at that time. The act of euthanasia is a task that must be performed as perfectly and precisely as anything I do in my practice. If I do not separate my emotions, letting them cause my hands to quiver or my eyes to blur, I may give my patient a moment of discomfort or anxiety, which would be unforgivable. My tears have flowed both privately and publicly after my patient is finally at peace. These are never happy times, but in some cases, my tears of sadness also combine with tears of relief.
As the years have gone by, I find this aspect of my job to be more difficult than ever. Some have asked if one “gets used to it”. I have not. Also, as the years have gone on, I have come to understand that my method of ending suffering is not the only humane method. Although I am a small animal veterinarian, I have used intravenous euthanasia on two of my own horses. Although this method is very quick, I must say that the seconds seemed to take forever. There was a time that I would have been horrified to think of anyone using a gun on any animal. I now realize that someone properly trained and self disciplined can deliver an exceptionally humane release this way.
As I watch the Foal Season video repeatedly in light of the resulting controversy, I can understand the emotions that may have been evoked seeing Victoria Goss preparing to do what she had to do. What was not seen was the anguish, the efforts, and the tears that went into that most difficult of decisions… not a moment too soon, not a moment too late. Remember, the time for tears and emotion is not while preparing to administer the perfectly placed injection or bullet.
I have seen the Last Chance Corral in action. I have been on the phone while very difficult decisions are being made. I have never seen anything except selfless, devoted, caring about the foals and horses lucky enough to find their way there. It seems that most people understand all of this for themselves, but I fear there may be some that become so upset and angry that the anger is displaced. This is very understandable, but please do not confuse the problem with the solution.
I have supported the Last Chance Corral both financially, spiritually, and professionally. I have also often wished I was not hours away, so that I could be available on a sad Sunday night, when a veterinarian was needed quickly. Please see clearly the source of your angst and frustration. Is it really the arduous, selfless, and compassionate efforts of the amazing people at the Last Chance Corral, or rather that huge part of the horse world that sees horses as things, as businesses, as little more than used vehicles? Please do not undermine the efforts of those who work so selflessly for the horses. They are sensitive people, their work is difficult, and they need every bit of support and encouragement you can give. I have learned to harness the anger and the sadness and let it become energy that can work to help change the sad circumstances one animal at a time.
I hope that I have offended no one by what I have written here, it is truly from my heart.
M. Ann Mandic, DVM
As I said before, whatever your viewpoint is, if you comment, your comment will be left up on this blog. We understand that some people refuse to learn the truth, but we felt the need to give this issue closure. We hope that it is enough, and will continue to strive to make a difference.
The Last Chance Corral