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Can You Put Your Dog to Sleep Yourself?

By Daniel Taylor, Esq. | Last updated on

A photo essay documenting a dog's final day before being euthanized is going viral online and generating questions about the euthanasia process.

The series of photographs, titled "I Died Today" and attributed to Duke Roberts, Jordan Roberts' black lab, ends with Duke being euthanized by a Houston veterinarian. But the euthanasia in this instance takes place in a local park instead of a veterinarian's office. Although Duke was put to sleep by a trained professional, what if a pet owner wanted to euthanize their animal in a similarly peaceful setting by themselves?

Can you legally put your dog to sleep yourself?

State Laws on Euthanasia

The laws governing euthanasia of companion animals vary by state. Typically, however, these laws mandate that only trained personnel can euthanize an animal using the barbiturate drugs typically employed by veterinarians, such as sodium pentobarbital.

For example, California law allows for the administration of sodium pentobarbital for the purposes of euthanizing sick, injured, homeless, or unwanted animals not just by veterinarians, but also by employees of animal shelters and humane societies who have "received proper training in the administration" of the drug.

This means that obtaining and administering a fatal dose of euthanasia drugs to your animal without specific training or required license may be a violation of the law. In California, a violation of the euthanasia statute is punishable by a minimum $500 fine, 30 days in jail, or both

  • Know someone who has been arrested or charged with a crime? Get in touch with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney in your area today.

Animal Cruelty Laws

But what about putting down an animal using a more rudimentary method, like a lethal gunshot? Remember "Old Yeller?" In modern times, these less sophisticated methods of euthanasia may very well lead to animal cruelty charges if executed improperly or in a cruel manner.

Although animal cruelty laws also vary from state to state, most states prohibit intentionally inflicting pain on an animal or killing an animal in such a way as to cause the animal to suffer. Washington, for example, makes it a crime to intentionally inflict substantial pain on, cause physical injury to, or kill an animal by a means causing undue suffering.

Although you may be able to argue successfully in court that you were justified in putting down an animal and did so humanely, you may have to spend significant time and money to do so.

Your best bet? Call a vet.

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