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The following articles are written on the subject of euthanasia. This is a hard subject for rehabbers and non-rehabbers alike to deal with. Hopefully, the following will help you as you think through the subject and consider the decisions that are made.
as written in the IWRC 1AB manual
"Our goal is to rehabilitate these animals, but our challenge is to treat them responsibly, regardless of how it may hurt us personally. We must recognize our limits and learn from them. We must forgive ourselves and share our experiences and knowledge. We must show compassion to other rehabilitators. We must realize we are not responsible for life as we find it, we are only responsible for how we live it. Every time we accept another animal for rehabilitation, we accept the risk that we may have to accept death. It is very hard to admit that the best you may be able to give this animal is a painless death. Euthanasia is part of our ethic, and it is part of our responsibility of caring as wildlife rehabilitators."
by Charlie Kaiser, California
I feel that there is a very blurred line between when to keep an animal as a non-releasable and when to euthanize it. It will move back and forth with many different factors. I don't feel there's any one set of criteria we can use, at least not in our situation. Unfortunately, we will never be able to look at the situation from the animal's point of view. We'll never know if that Red-tail Hawk with one wing would rather be dead or on display being well cared for (in our minds).
Much of the decision is based on "curb appeal" (to borrow a real estate term). A Robin with a broken leg will probably not get quite the chance that a Great Horned Owl will. An animal that people don't get a chance to see very often, and one that is spectacular-looking to boot, will usually get more of a nod towards life in captivity than one we see in our yards all the time.
Many educational programs may look at which animal is more likely to cause the recipient of the program to remember the message. In such a case, an owl will be much more likely to be remembered than a finch. Does that make this criteria for keeping an animal alive valid? To some humans, yes. To others, no. As long as there are different people in the world, there will be differences of opinion on such a call. I feel that this criteria is valid, but only with other factors considered.
Then there is the factor of commonality vs. rarity. If an animal is rare, such as a Peregrine Falcon, I think we all give it more of the benefit of life. If the animal is common, we may be more inclined to euthanize. Is there anyone among us who hasn't thought, in the middle of baby season, "it's just another finch"? I'm not saying that we don't try our best to save them all, but how many finches with broken wings can we keep as non-releasables?
Some animals are more disposed to a life in captivity than others, both on a species level and on a personal level. A box turtle is probably more likely to adapt to life in captivity than an adult-caught Goshawk, for example. Within a species, certain individuals are more likely to accept a life in captivity than others.
We have both a wildlife hospital and an educational facility in the same location. When we get a non-releasable animal such as a raptor, we do not automatically turn it into a display animal. The animal spends some time being acclimated to being around people, and is watched closely by very experienced individuals who are extremely perceptive about what the animals are feeling, at least by what they show externally. If the animal shows a willingness to coexist with humans, it then moves on to a training phase. If it chooses not to become comfortable around people, then we do not force it to participate. We will give it the gift of euthanasia. The same goes for the training phase, and even beyond. We recently put down a Harris Hawk that we had in the program for a couple of years, because it gradually decided that it could not accept what we wanted it to do. It was not willing to be handled and glove fed, and was very nervous most of the time, even after focused work by our best handlers. Rather than make the bird miserable, we gave it the gift. That bird is now free and happy. It's not worth it to make an animal obviously suffer just to be a display animal.
There is always a certain amount of stress for a captive wild animal. I feel that there is a balance that needs to be struck between the need to educate people about our environment and wildlife.. using these animals as ambassadors.. and the deep inner feelings that the animal has. If the animal can be kept active and interested in life, then the trade off may be worth it. After all, how many amimals can one captive animal save?
Just recently, we lost one of our Great Horned Owls. He came to us as an imprinted baby. He lived with us for 24 years and 9 months, smashing records for the oldest GHO in captivity. During his lifespan, he probably was seen by hundreds of thousands of people, either on display at the museum, in one-on-one encounters in the park where we exercise the birds, or at school programs or other educational programs and events. How many owls lived a full life in the wild because of him? We'll never know, but if it's one or more, I think it was worth it. I personally can't count the number of kids I spoke to with him on my glove who I KNOW made a higher connection with that animal because they were able to see him up close and personal. If one percent of them don't grow up to shoot an owl someday, then that's a great reason for the owl to have lived a life in captivity, because he was dead otherwise.
Many people don't agree with me on this subject, and I respect their opinion. What we do at our facility might be the wrong thing somewhere else. In some people's eyes, what we do at our facility is wrong. Some feel that there should be no captives. I feel that as long as these captive animals are accepting their lot in life, and as long as they can be ambassadors for their species, providing people with a glimpse of the natural world they might otherwise never see, then we should give them the chance. I don't feel, however, that a miserable animal makes a good ambassador. It is better to give them their ultimate freedom.