What’s In a Name?

In a story posted online Tuesday evening, the L.A. Times reports that a mountain lion was shot and killed after wandering “into the heart of Santa Monica.”

“With news choppers circling overhead, Santa Monica police managed to corner the 3-year-old lion in the courtyard of the [office] complex. Police said they made several attempts to calm what they described as an aggressive feline using tranquilizing darts, nonlethal bullets and a fire hose. When that failed to stop the lion from trying to escape, a police officer fatally shot it.”

I wasn’t there, and I certainly don’t know the exact circumstances of the shooting. Nor do I claim to know when such situations do, in fact, call for lethal measures. (That said, I agree with commenter Corby Baumgarten: “I can’t imagine why the police thought firing nonlethal bullets and spraying a wild animal with a fire hose would calm it down. Have such tactics ever calmed any situation down?”)

What stopped me in my tracks as I read the story was, however, not the all-too-predictable outcome, but the way Santa Monica Police Lieutenant Robert Almada described it:

“A variety of means were used to try to keep the animal back in the courtyard… The animal continued to charge and attempted to flee. It was euthanized to protect the public safety.”

I’m sorry—euthanized?

I’m going to give Almada the benefit of the doubt here and assume he simply misspoke. Surely, he knows the difference between euthanasia and the shooting of a cornered, highly agitated—but, so far as we know, perfectly healthy—mountain lion.

That word—euthanasia—has been misused so often (to serve a range of agendas) that it’s become little more than a careless euphemism for killing.

Among those guilty of promoting such (mis)usage are, of course, many TNR opponents, including the American Bird Conservancy, The Wildlife Society, PETA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA’s Wildlife Services. (To be clear, the term is commonly misused in shelters, too—even among those that support TNR.)

So what is euthanasia?

As Shirley Thistlethwaite, one of my favorite bloggers, puts it: “Euthanasia is a kindness we are able to offer medically hopeless pets so that they do not have to suffer at the end of their lives.”

“It is an act of love, an attempt to offer relief and dignity to a noble companion. When so-called shelters end the lives of healthy pets or those with treatable conditions such as coughs, colds or bad teeth, that is not euthanasia—it’s killing.”

As was the shooting of that mountain lion in Santa Monica Tuesday morning. As I say, I don’t know if the killing was truly necessary or not, but I know one thing: the big cat was not euthanized.

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For a thoughtful reflection on the subject of euthanasia, readers are encouraged to read Nathan Winograd’s blog post What is True Euthanasia?


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