Euthanasia and Human Emotions in the Zoo
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 1999
Sally O. Walshaw, MA, VMD
University Laboratory Animal Resources, College of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI, USA


People form attachments to animals in a variety of situations. The zoo is no exception. Employees, docents, and members of the public may have a special interest in certain animals within the zoo. The death of a zoo animal may initiate a wide range of emotions in people. Zoo employees must balance feelings of sadness surrounding the death of animals with work responsibilities that may include euthanasia.

The goal of euthanasia is to provide a peaceful death for an animal. Ideally, veterinarians and other zoo employees work as a team to plan a scheduled euthanasia. This provides the opportunity to explain the procedure, to delegate specific responsibilities, and to acknowledge the kindness given the animal by the animal care staff members.

Many people today have little experience with human death and with the process of grief and mourning. Even those who have experienced significant losses may not have had time to mourn. Unfortunately, grief and loss can be cumulative and complicated. Consequently, issues surrounding grief and human interactions are a potential source of workplace stress. This presentation will focus on strategies for handling grief-related situations in the zoo.

All of us who work with animals must maintain a reverence for life, both human and animal, and an acceptance of death as a part of life. Acknowledging loss and grief in the zoo is one aspect of this compassionate relationship.

Literature Cited

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10.  Wolfelt, A.D. 1993. Complicated mourning: an understanding of a growing epidemic. Fifth Annual Fall 1993 Community Grief Conference, East Lansing, MI.


Speaker Information
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Sally O. Walshaw, MA, VMD
University Laboratory Animal Resources
College of Veterinary Medicine
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI, USA

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