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Comments on the dilemma in the May issue: ‘Immediate dispatch?’
  1. Iain Richards
  1. Heversham, Cumbria


The dilemma in the May issue considered the fate of a fox that had been run down on a country lane and the vet had been called out by the passengers of the car. Despite the vet suspecting from preliminary observations that the most reasonable course of action would be euthanasia and a passing farmer offering to shoot the fox, the three people in the car that hit the fox put forward £300 for a thorough examination and insisted that, if the fox needed to be put to sleep, it should be done only by a vet while the fox was unconscious (IP, May 2015, vol 37, pp 262–263). Richard Brown emphasised that it was important for the vet to trust in the clinical judgement that came from years of training and experience, and not to feel pressured by others or the prospect of payment. If the vet was convinced on clinical grounds that the case was hopeless, the fox would need to be euthanased in the quickest way possible. He added that it was important to take detailed notes after the situation in case of any complaints and that it would probably be best for the vet to take the carcase away for disposal.

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THIS ethical dilemma raised a number of potentially conflicting aspects. Not least of which is the need for immediate euthanasia on welfare grounds and the apparent lack of understanding of the bystanders.

The money issue should have been addressed by the practice upon receipt of the call, by requesting that the owners ring the RSPCA and obtain a log number. Sadly, this is not always possible and has been the subject of BVA negotiations with the RSPCA.

The human observers' feelings are completely immaterial, and if the attending vet feels that there are sufficient grounds for euthanasia this should be performed as swiftly and humanely as possible. It can be argued that the fox's welfare can be assessed in the same way as a dog's: the considerations of immediate pain with no chance of recovery or those of future pain balanced against the likelihood of a good life after recovery. But the fox does require further consideration, as it will need to recover enough to survive in the wild after it is released. To keep it in confinement would deny its ‘freedom to express normal behaviour’.

The practical issue of anaesthesia must also be considered. A dart gun, incorrectly loaded and inaccurately aimed, can be lethal and there can be severe consequences if a dart misses the target. Richard Brown was correct in that the vet's role is to explain in an authoritative manner if the only option is euthanasia. It would indeed be wise to decline the payment (unless they care to donate it to a charity) and to make notes. The idea of a screen is sound.

As Dr Brown correctly states, the proposed target is small, and approaching a distressed wild animal would increase its stress and the risk to the vet. The shotgun is the method of choice. At close range, most shot is still in a compact group. The shot can be taken at a reasonable distance (up to 25 m with 12 bore) and be effective. This might be preferable to the fox dragging itself away if approached too close. If the vet has little experience with shotguns, asking the farmer to take the shot is perfectly reasonable. The vet could use the shotgun, despite not owning the weapon, as long as it is within sight of the owner; however, this only applies on the shotgun owner's land and the road might be local authority land.

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