The following isn’t really a zoo story, as it takes place in a private veterinary clinic, but it seems to fit anyway. It was related to me by a veterinarian (no, not the one in the story) with whom I worked when she was a keeper.
An elderly woman had brought her old, ailing parakeet to the veterinarian to be put to sleep. The bird had been with her for a long time and she was very attached to it. Because of this, she told the vet that she wanted to stay with the bird until the end.
Although he couldn’t very well refuse, this didn’t make the vet very happy. He knew how difficult euthanasia can be with a small bird. The tiny, rapidly-beating heart is very difficult to hit with a needle, and unless the lethal fluid is injected directly into the heart the bird sometimes thrashes around for a while before expiring.
To spare the woman the anguish of watching her bird struggle in this way, the vet came up with an alternative plan. A method of euthanasia that is commonly used for small birds and mammals is to give their neck a quick snap, severing the spinal column and killing them instantly. Although it sounds horrible, this method of euthanasia, if done properly, is quick and painless. However, the vet didn’t think that he would be able explain that to the woman.
Instead, once he had the bird in his hand, he would step into the next room on pretense of needing something or other. Out of the woman’s sight, it would be a simple matter to give the bird’s neck a quick twist. He would then return to the woman and explain that the bird had expired peacefully in his hand.
The vet, however, neglected to consider one gruesome possibility.
As planned, he stepped into the next room and gave the bird’s neck a quick snap. To his horror the entire head came off in his hand. How to explain that to a grieving old lady?
Thinking frantically, the vet searched for an answer to his dilemma. He grabbed a Q-tip, shoved it down into the bird’s chest cavity, and forced the head onto the protruding cotton tuft. Then, with the bird cradled in his hand and its head supported between his thumb and forefinger he returned to the woman and nervously carried out the rest of his plan.
Fortunately for the vet, there was no blood on the body, and the woman didn’t ask to hold her dear, departed pet one last time. She took one last misty-eyed look and departed, no doubt a little saddened but knowing that she had done the best thing. Much to the vet’s relief, she left the body with him for disposal