JustAnswer PixelPaws and Effect
A two-panel cartoon. One panel is a man saying "I don't want to stay with my cat during euthanasia because I'm a terrible person!" In the second panel, a woman holds a cat and says "Don't worry, kitty, I'll stay with you because at least I care, unlike your terrible owner!" The cartoon is a sarcastic take on a viral meme stating that 90% of owners don't stay with their pets during euthanasia.

Can we please just stop with the rage baiting and high-school drama?

If you’re involved in animal rescue, even tangentially, you’ve almost certainly seen this “turns out, pets do have last wishes” meme. One of the most appalling sentences in this meme says that 90 percent of owners leave their pets to die in a stranger’s arms. These posts are usually accompanied by hundreds of furious and self-righteous comments raging at all those terrible people who abandon their pets during their final moments. Behold, one version, which I found on Redidt:

Pets, it turns out, also have last wishes before they die, but only known by veterinarians who put old and sick animals to sleep. Twitter user Jesse Dietrich asked a vet what was the most difficult part of his job. The specialist answered without hesitation that it was the hardest for him to see how old or sick animals look for their owners with the eyes of their owners before going to sleep. The fact is that 90% of owners don’t want to be in a room with a dying animal. People leave so that they don’t see their pet leave. But they don’t realize that it’s in these last moments of life that their pet needs them most. Veterinarians ask the owners to be close to the animals until the very end. ′′It’s inevitable that they die before you. Don’t forget that you were the center of their life. Maybe they were just a part of you. But they are also your family. No matter how hard it is, don’t leave them. Don’t let them die in a room with a stranger in a place they don’t like. It is very painful for veterinarians to see how pets cannot find their owner during the last minutes of their life. They don’t understand why the owner left them. After all, they needed their owner’s consolation. Veterinarians do everything possible to ensure that animals are not so scared, but they are completely strangers to them. Don’t be a coward because it’s too painful for you. Think about the pet. Endure this pain for the sake of their sake. Be with them until the end.

This does not in any way jibe with my experience or any of the numerous veterinary staff members I’ve talked to, so I decided to see if there is any data to back up that assertion. Even Snopes and other fact-checking sites that examine social media posts and memes haven’t covered this, so I decided to see if I could figure out what the facts are.

I’ve been able to trace the origin of this meme — with the exact same text! — back at least 12 years. In the process, I just happened to notice that this text has been attributed to dozens of veterinarians in many different countries.

Fact: There is zero data showing that 90 percent of pet owners leave

I’m pretty good at web searching after 30 years or so of being on the internet, so I know how to find data. When I went to check for statistics about the percentage of people who stay with their pets during euthanasia, there were very, very few sources. Most euthanasia statistics available on the internet cover euthanasia in shelters, not private euthanasia.

The closest thing to a valid statistic I could find was a 2014 article from Phi Kappa Phi Memorial magazine, which reads “Owners stay in the room during pet euthanasia much more often than not: 67 percent in the U.S., according to a study of 349 veterinarians, 31 and 86 percent in the U.K., in my 2013 study of 174 veterinarians.” (By the way, Phi Kappa Phi is a multidisciplinary academic honor society with about 25,000 college students and professional members throughout the U.S. and its territories.)

A 2018 article on the website Vet Help Direct, written by veterinarian David Harris, BVsc, also debunks this statistic. “To be honest, it is not my experience – or that of the majority of my colleagues – that 90% of people leave,” wrote Dr. Harris. “It’s quite rare, I’ve found, for the owner of a beloved pet to voluntarily choose not to be in the room. In fact, I’d say that about 90% stay (or would if they could …). So I, personally, find the 90% figure very dubious.”

Even reputable media outlets have picked up on this stupid meme

In my quick round of research about whether or not 90 percent of owners leave their pets during euthanasia, I’ve found stories sharing this meme as if it’s an actual, true thing in well-regarded publications in both the UK and the United States. In the UK’s Independent, the article is titled “Vets reveal heartbreaking reality of putting pets down.” In the U.S. publication Newsweek, the story is titled “Hearts Break as Vet Reveals The  One Thing That’s Worse than Euthanasia.”

To the Independent and Newsweek, I say shame on you! Shame on you for not doing even the basic fact checking I did before I wrote and shared this post! If you’re supposed to be a news publication of record in your country, it’s your duty and your moral obligation to fact check before putting out crap like this. Otherwise, it proves to me that your priorities are clickbait and rage-baiting, not journalism. Stop it.

If you fact-check your actual journalism as poorly as you fact-check “lifestyle” pieces like this, you should be even more ashamed of yourselves! And don’t freaking blame it on the intern, either!

A white, female-presenting person with very short blonde hair holds a tabby cat who is wrapped in a purple fleece blanket.

It never occurred to me to not be with my cats when they drew their last breaths. For me, it’s better for my mental health to see the full euthanasia and be there until the end. It’s not that way for everyone, though.

This ’90 percent of owners leave their pets’ meme is a form of rage baiting

Rage biting is posting content that you know will make people angry enough to engage with the post. By using this trumped up 90 percent statistic and then ending the wall of text (because paragraphs are hard) by strongly implying that anyone who doesn’t accompany their pet during euthanasia is a lazy, heartless person who never really loved their pet anyway. And the rage bait, in turn, baits both people who think it’s terrible that pet owners leave their pets during euthanasia and the people who understand there are actual, legitimate reasons for people not to be present. And if the rage baiter is really lucky, there will be huge arguments between the two factions in the comments.

If the rage baiter has done their job well, the post will get tons and tons of engagement — in the form of reactions/likes, comments, and shares — which will then cause the algorithm to show the post to even more people, which will ultimately end up with the account that made the post getting more followers and more engagement, and therefore more money from advertisers.

Rage baiters are in it for the money. Not because they want people to Know The Truth(tm).

Just in case you haven’t made the connection, this happens constantly in posts with any political content!

Don’t fall for it. Not with the euthanasia meme I’m debunking here, and not with political or religious rage bait, either.

A black cat is curled up on a fleece blanket in the owner's lap. The owner's hand is stroking the cat.

My friend Carmen drove me to Siouxsie’s euthanasia. She took this photo of Siouxsie and me. Afterwards, she took me out for coffee, ice cream, and a walk. That was the most love and compassion I’ve ever experienced when I’ve had to have a cat put to sleep. Thanks, Carmen!

Why might people choose not to be with their pet during euthanasia?

Now that we know the data in this ’90 percent of pets leave their owners’ meme cannot be substantiated — and has, in fact, been contradicted — and we know this content has been attributed to veterinarians in the U.S., Great Britain, South Africa, and many other countries, we can be quite certain that neither the data nor the “author” and setting are genuine.

Now that we understand that this content is essentially rage bait, we can understand that when we share memes like this, we’re only giving the original poster what they want: lots of interaction and engagement for the sake of increased followers and sponsor dollars.

But why would people choose not to be with their pet during their final minutes? To some of you that may seem incredibly cruel, but there are very legitimate reasons why people may not be able to be with their cat during euthanasia. Here are some reasons why an owner may not stay.

Bad memories

If a person’s cat has been severely injured, perhaps by being hit by a car or mauled by a large dog or wildlife, some people fear that the most vivid memories will be of their cat as a broken, bleeding, painful wreck rather than their joyful friend. Especially if a person has experienced a similar trauma in the past, they may fear seeing their cat in that state will bring back memories of an even more painful experience, perhaps with a beloved human.

Not making a suffering pet wait

If a person just found out that their cat is critically injured and is at the emergency vet, but they can’t get there for an hour and the vet has reported that their cat is really suffering, they may opt for the vet to euthanize the cat before they get there. They can’t stand the possibility of their cat suffering for another hour just so they can see their cat in something like an alive state, so they make a selfless request that the vet stop their beloved cat’s suffering even if they can’t be there.

Cultural traditions and/or taboos

Every human being on the planet will eventually die, and the religious and cultural beliefs around death vary greatly. We shouldn’t assume that the culture in which we live is the only one, and that every other culture is just like ours — because they’re not! The United States, where I live, is home to people from hundreds, if not thousands, of cultural traditions around death and dying. If you’re curious to read an academic paper on the subject, check out “How Death Imitates Life: Cultural Influences on Conceptions of Death and Dying” by James Gire of Virginia Military Institute.

Mental health

Trying to maintain your mental health is a very valid reason to not be present at your cat’s euthanasia. It’s also a reason that elicits little to no compassion from the self-righteous keyboard warriors who share crap memes like this “90 percent of owners leave their pets” thing. As a person who lives with a mental illness myself, it breaks my heart to think about all the people who have tried to save their lives by not watching their cat die and are told they’re a terrible person for prioritizing their mental health.

When people tell you they can’t do it because of their mental health, believe them. And don’t judge them for it, either.

Another mental health-related reason people might not stay at their pet’s euthanasia comes from a 2012 VetStreet article written by Dr. Patty Khuly: “Some owners believe that their inevitably explosive emotional reaction to the procedure will mar a pet’s final moments by heaping loads of angst onto an already stressful situation.”

That’s fair. A desire to de-escalate the emotional atmosphere around a euthanasia can benefit everyone involved.

This is not an exhaustive list, by any means. If you can think of other reasons why a person might not be present at their beloved pet’s euthanasia, please share it in the comments.

Conclusion

Honestly, it’s none of your business why someone would or would not be present at their cat’s euthanasia. Your job is to sit down, shut up, and not make this time even more difficult than it already is.

There are lots of valid reasons for people not to be present when their pets are euthanized. It doesn’t mean they love their pet any less than you love yours, or that they care any less about their pets than you care about yours. Everyone comes to their own decision about whether or not to be present at their beloved pet’s euthanasia. And they could make different decisions in different circumstances.

Ultimately, though, the data I found proves that most people do stay for their pet’s euthanasia. The next time you see that “90 percent  of owners leave their pets” meme — and there will always be a next time because that’s how memes work — please share this article to debunk it.


Sources