Monday, July 11, 2011

Euthanasia in Animal Shelters - Whose Fault Is It?

This is another article from Pam D'Addio from Dog Rescue Examiner. I am sharing it with her permission.

It's easy to blame the person holding the syringe when a beautiful, healthy, friendly animal dies solely because it's homeless. However, we need to look deeper to follow the levels of this issue all the way back to its heart. Shelter euthanasia is the symptom, not the cause. Who's to blame, really?

Shelters and their staff are often vilified for humanely euthanizing millions of animals that wind up in their care each year. But open-admission shelters are obligated to take in all animals that come their way. Decisions are made to euthanize, not by cold hearts but by administrators and staff whose facilities simply don't have the space or funds to care for the constant flood of unwanted, surrendered, abused, neglected and stray animals who pass through their doors day in and day out.

There are just too many dogs and cats in the world and not enough homes for them all.

People often complain that shelter staff were 'rude' to them when they surrendered an animal. Have they ever been on the other side of the counter, listening to someone say, "My dog is pregnant and I can't handle puppies", "I'm moving and can't bring him", or "I wanted my child to see the miracle of birth but I can't keep these kittens"....or maybe all three of these in the first hour of a busy day?

Animals are 'dumped' at shelters and people walk out the door relieved that the pets are no longer their responsibility. Many of them even optimistically believe the fairy tale ending of, "they'll find my ex-pet a wonderful home".


As they're driving away, the race against the clock begins for the furbaby left behind. If it's lucky, it's given a vet check, food, water, a bed in a secure area and a 'few days' to charm a passer-by into adoption. (So many are too afraid and traumatized to 'show well' in their cage in order to win someone over.) They may need vaccinations, flea and tick treatment, spay or neutering, heartworm preventative or treatment, or a myriad of other medications or procedures.


Before the day is over, the animal could cost the shelter facility hundreds of dollars as well as very precious, limited space. Most shelters are strapped for funds and full to capacity at all times. Some shelters immediately put down dogs who are older or of a particular breed without them ever being given a chance to find a new home. This 'selection' process is based on experience with adoption and the need to pick and choose which animals the limited funds can best serve.

Some statistics that bring the problem into focus in a hurry...

  • 50,000 puppies and kittens are born each day in the U.S
  • A ratio of 1 pet with a home to 4 who are abandoned, abused, neglected, homeless
  • 1 female cat and her offspring can produce 420,000 cats in 7 years
  • 1 female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 pups in 6 years
  • Only abut 19% of owned dogs and 22% of cats were obtained from a shelter or rescue
  • 50% of dogs in shelters were brought in as strays without any identification and only 15% of these will be reunited with their families

So it's easy to see the problem here. The billions of dollars we spend sheltering is a band-aid where a tourniquet is needed. Shelters and rescues cannot keep up. They operate in a perpetually frantic state of trying to prevent their deaths and yet 60% of shelter dogs and 70% of shelter cats never make it out alive. It's an inefficient, costly, heart-wrenching race to quickly find enough loving homes.

Those who actually euthanize animals often suffer ridicule as well as extreme depression and burnout on the job even though most shelters rotate the technicians who euthanize into other areas and other jobs at the facility. But every day, cages fill up and countless innocents make the long walk down the short hall to their death. It's a horrible job but someone has to do it, and those many euthanasia techs who are truly kind-hearted animal-lovers take pride in making the passing as easy as possible even as their hearts break over and over again.

Humane euthanasia in a shelter is, for most, a far better end than what they may suffer on the streets. A painless death in the arms of a caring technician is better than starvation, illness, injury, dehydration, and encounters with other animals or with vehicles. If shelters stopped euthanizing animals, it would not stop animals from would stop them from dying humanely.

Another 'fairy tale' that people want to believe is that only old, injured, ill, or aggressive animals are put to sleep. In reality, millions of those put down are beautiful, healthy, friendly, young and happy even as they are euthanized. Again, it's a numbers game and animals of all types lose.

No-kill shelters do their best to protect as many animals as possible, but their costs are high since they sometimes keep animals for years if they're not adopted. Rarely government funded, they struggle to fundraise and solicit donations. Those animals lucky enough to land in their care are saved but they can only do so much for so many. Those turned away when no-kills are full often land in government animal care and control facilities where their clock starts ticking.

So, again, whose fault is it?

The saddest part is how preventable most of the overpopulation is. It's a worn refrain of Dog Rescue Examiner articles.....


Further, work to educate people on responsible pet ownership (share these articles!) and urge legislators to pass laws that require mandatory spay/neuter of cats and dogs and prevent puppy mills.

Don't vilify those who are left to deal with society's surplus. We live in a 'disposable' culture where pets are often obtained on a whim (click here to read about pop culture's effect on shelters) and then discarded just as easily. Who's there to deal with the collateral damage? Shelters, rescues, their staff, volunteers, and individuals who all work hard every day to try to keep up.

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.....join the fight.

Follow Pam D'Addio on facebook @ Dog Rescue Examiner for more.

Crunching the here for statistics on pet ownership and adoption.

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