I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Alan Abrams, a man who is dedicated to saving animals whose owners can’t afford veterinary treatment. He sheds light on the issue of economic euthanasia, the impact it has on the veterinary team, and what he’s doing to change it.
Jennifer: What led you to want to work with animals?
Alan: I’ve always worked with animals. One of my sons, when he was about 14 or 15, was looking to get a summer job. He asked me what my first job was, and I said well, my first job, I was maybe four or five years old I think, I was cleaning dog poop out of kennels and cages and walking dogs, taking them outside. And as I got bigger I would hold dogs for my dad who was a practicing veterinarian. I grew up in an animal hospital; I was six weeks old or less when I was first introduced to a veterinary hospital by being put in a bassinet on an x-ray table, so I’ve grown up with veterinary medicine.
Jennifer: It seems like you’ve been very influenced by your dad, Dr. Steve Abrams, who you mentioned was a veterinarian. He made it his mission to make sure that pet owners, who maybe couldn’t afford treatment, never had to euthanize their animals unless it was absolutely medically necessary. Tell me more about your father and his mission.
Alan: I remember my dad saying…saying to people again and again throughout his life, “You don’t have to put this dog down. It’s not Fluffy’s fault it’s not King’s fault…times are tough. I’m not going to take my training and throw it away simply because times are tough. If you can pay me a dollar a week or a dollar a month, or if you don’t ever have the money, I’m not going to take your dog from you. That’s not fair to your dog, that’s not fair to your kids, it’s not fair to you.”
Jennifer: Is that referred to as economic euthanasia?
The term that’s being used now is economic euthanasia. Personally I don’t see anything humane about it. If an animal can be treated he should be treated. You know, my dad never did what they call convenience euthanasia – we’re moving and we can’t take the dog with us. Never once did he do that. As a result, we had dogs and cats and a duck, a monkey – I can’t count the number of birds – animals that we had that people just couldn’t take care of anymore.
I remember in 1993 or 1992, (actor) Kelsey Grammer was a client of my dad’s, and Kelsey had a Rottweiler, and the dog had a broken tooth. And my dad was this elderly Jewish guy, five foot five maybe, and this Rottweiler was double his size up on the table. My dad was trying to examine this dog’s mouth and the dog turned on him and grabbed his arm and wouldn’t let go. And my dad fell backward and he’s bleeding and all this stuff…Kelsey Grammer is just apologizing about his dog and my dad looked at him and said, “What do you mean? He’s in pain, he’s scared! He doesn’t know what’s going on, he’s a dog…I’m the one that was wrong.” That was my dad.
Jennifer: That’s amazing. So we’re talking about “convenience euthanasia” or “economic euthanasia” and I think you just gave a perfect example. There are so many animals that they bite or maybe they have a broken leg and for one reason or another the choice is made to euthanize the animal. How common is economic euthanasia (in the US)?
Alan: There are, according to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association), and this was from 2013, 17,000 companion animals euthanized a day in veterinary practices. That does not include pounds, that does not include humane societies…these are just from veterinary practices. Seventeen thousand pets a day. Of those, 64 percent are euthanized for lack of funds. There’s something very wrong here. And so we decided we’re going to do something to honor my dad, to honor his memory, and go out there and try to save more animals than he was ever able to being in private practice.
Jennifer: You have really kept your father’s legacy going and you co-founded the Dr. Steve Abrams Memorial Foundation, PetSavers, Inc. Tell me about that.
Alan: I moved back to Arizona a little over two years ago and my son and I were talking one night. I had been out of veterinary medicine for a while and doing something completely different, and when I moved back to be closer to my kids, I had to work. But who’s going to hire a mid-50s, divorced guy to manage a veterinary hospital when they can hire a nice young, mid-20s girl who’s a lot better looking and demands a whole lot less money? There was really no market for me. And this was an idea that my son and I came up with so we spoke with some family friends, and my dad had made a lot of friends when he practiced, a lot of whom were in professional sports or entertainment, and we approached these people and just put it out there. They said, “For your dad? Yeah we’ll do anything for your dad.”
Jennifer: What is the impact of veterinary euthanasia on the veterinary team?
Alan: You know we’ve got in veterinary medicine, so sadly, such a problem with depression – such a problem with our colleagues taking their own lives. We have to wonder, how much of that is due to the inability to save every life? Obviously we’re going to lose patients – everybody does, medical doctors do too – all the time. But at the same time, there are endless resources in human medicine. We don’t have those opportunities in veterinary medicine.
Jennifer: We don’t have economic euthanasia in human medicine.
Alan: There’s barely euthanasia at all in human medicine except for Oregon and their assisted suicide laws. I experienced a severe illness myself nine years ago and was in cardiac arrest for 14 minutes while on a ventilator and went into a vegetative state coma for about 63 days, and when I was disconnected from the machines I woke up. So this is all just part of giving back.
Jennifer: Did that experience impact your decision to help animals?
Alan: Well I’ve always wanted to help animals. I’ve always believed that the unconditional love that you get from your dog or your cat, can’t be found or replaced anywhere…we don’t have that with people.
Jennifer: I think that’s what makes this so much more difficult when you’re taking the lives of these innocent animals that provide us with unconditional love.
Alan: How do you snuff it away because people can’t afford the treatment?
Jennifer: So many people might benefit from your foundation. How can people learn more about obtaining assistance through Pet Savers?
Alan: Tell their veterinarians. We can’t accept grant applications through pet parents…but the more veterinarians that know about us, the more veterinarians that come on board with us, the more animals they’re going to treat and save.
Thank you to Alan Abrams for taking the time to share your story and for all you are doing for animals. At the time of this writing, Pet Savers had just partnered with its 30th veterinarian. They currently accept sponsors throughout the United States. If you are a veterinarian and would like to learn more about becoming involved with DVM PetSavers, or if you would simply like to make a tax-deductible donation, please visit doctorsteve.org.