Monday, July 11, 2011

Euthanasia in Animal Shelters - Whose Fault Is It?

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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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Friday, July 8, 2011

How Could You??

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Share this with anyone you know who might be considering taking their dog to a shelter...

When I was a puppy I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You called me your child and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was "bad," you'd shake your finger at me and ask "How could you?" - but then you'd relent and roll me over for a bellyrub. My housetraining took a little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we worked on that together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed, listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life could not be any more perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because "ice cream is bad for dogs," you said), and I took long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day.

Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more time searching for a human mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with glee at your homecomings, and when you fell in love. She, now your wife, is not a "dog person" - still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show her affection, and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy. Then the human babies came along and I shared your excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them, too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh, how I wanted to love them, but I became a "prisoner of love."

As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch - because your touch was now so infrequent - and I would have defended them with my life if need be. I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams. Together we waited for the sound of your car in the driveway. There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me. These past few years, you just answered "yes" and changed the subject. I had gone from being "your dog" to "just a dog," and you resented every expenditure on my behalf.

Now you have a new career opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment that does not allow pets. You've made the right decision for your "family," but there was a time when I was your only family. I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork and said "I know you will find a good home for her." They shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a middle-aged dog or cat, even one with "papers." You had to pry your son's fingers loose from my collar as he screamed "No, Daddy! Please don't let them take my dog!" And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and responsibility, and about respect for all life. You gave me a goodbye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and leash with you. You had a deadline to meet and now I have one, too.

After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago and made no attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and asked "How could you?"

They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago. At first, whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was you - that you had changed your mind - that this was all a bad dream...or I hoped it would at least be someone who cared, anyone who might save me. When I realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner and waited.

I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day and I padded along the aisle after her to a separate room. A blissfully quiet room. She placed me on the table, rubbed my ears and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love had run out of days. As is my nature, I was more concerned about her. The burden which she bears weighs heavily on her and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood. She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and murmured "How could you?" Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak, she said "I'm so sorry." She hugged me and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I went to a better place, where I wouldn't be ignored or abused or abandoned, or have to fend for myself - a place of love and light so very different from this earthly place.

With my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my "How could you?" was not meant for her. It was you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of. I will think of you and wait for you forever. May everyone in your life continue to show you so much loyalty.

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Sunday, July 3, 2011

To anyone who's ever rescued a dog

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Make a difference, one dog at a time

The following was written by Pam D'Addio, West Palm Beach Animal Rescue Examiner. I am sharing it, with her permission, because I think is beautifully written. Those of us involved in rescue can identify with this very well.

Whether you've picked up a stray, adopted your pets from a shelter or rescue, donated to help animals, or you spend your life dedicated to rescue work each and every day, you're a wonderful light in the dark fight against pet overpopulation and euthanasia.

Shelter and rescue workers are reminded of the sad statistics each day:

  • millions of dogs euthanized in shelters each year
  • 14,000 animals euthanized last year in Palm Beach County alone
  • 60% of dogs who enter shelters euthanized due to lack of loving homes for them
  • up to 50 animals a day taken in at Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control (more statistics)

It's an overwhelming problem and one that can really weigh on the hearts of those who care so much. We hear about the Michael Vick's of the world. We see puppy mills featured on television, and the news covers every disgusting case of animal abuse as it unfolds. Most people 'tsk tsk' and feel sad for a moment, but others roll up their sleeves and get busy to be part of the solution.

Quietly, behind the scenes, without any recognition, are legions of amazing people who are making a difference in ways large and small. They are the unsung heroes whose only 'thanks' is a sloppy, wet kiss from a rescued dog or the tiniest tail wag of a frightened, beaten-down canine soul who's learning to trust again. And that is enough to keep them going when their hearts get heavy.

It's easy to wonder how your small efforts can ever help curb the problems we face in sheltering. It's easy to be discouraged as you hold a trembling, sick, or injured animal in your arms and know how many more there are. It's devastating to know that an animal you could not save has been lost. It's easy to shed tears and be bogged down by the vast numbers who need your help.

And yet, despair can be erased in a moment as you watch a long-time shelter 'guest' go home, or an abused animal slowly learn to trust you. You can make a difference, one dog at a time.

Every animal advocate, every shelter or rescue worker, every person who donates, adopts, spays and neuters, or works diligently every day should read this story when the going gets tough. It's been rewritten in many forms, but originally was written by Loren Eiseley, an anthropologist.

  • One day a man was walking along a beach as the sun was rising on the day. As he walked along the shore, he noticed a small figure up ahead. As he got closer, he realized it was a small boy who was picking up objects from the sand and throwing them into the sea. As he approached, he said to the boy, "What are you doing?". The boy replied, "Throwing starfish into the ocean". "But why?" asked the astounded man. "Because the sun is coming up and they are stranded on the beach. The tide has gone out and if I don't help them, they will die". The man thought for a moment as he looked up and down the vast stretch of beach covered with hundreds of starfish. "Young man, don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish along every mile? You can't possibly make a difference!" At this, the boy bent down to pick up yet another starfish, walked to the water's edge and threw it in. "Made a difference to that one", he said.
Thank you to those who make a difference, from the bottom of every rescued animal's heart!

If you'd like to join the fight to save the lives of homeless, abandoned, abused animals, here are ways you can help:

  • Adopt, don't buy! Purchasing a dog feeds the demand for more to be produced. Adopt a shelter dog or one from a specific breed rescue group. They rock, and will be forever grateful!
  • Spay, neuter, and tag / microchip your pets. This will vastly cut down on the number of animals in shelters.
  • Foster. Check with local shelters who always need foster homes for some special dogs. Read more here.
  • Donate. Local shelters are always strapped for funds. The more money they raise, the more pets they can save. Along with money, shelters appreciate items they need and most post a wish list on their websites.
  • Volunteer. Whether it's the down-and-dirty, wonderful work of walking dogs, joining a fund raising team, stuffing envelopes or planning events, shelters need you and your amazing talents!
  • Advocate. Become involved in animal legislation by writing to representatives and making your voice and the voice of helpless animals heard.
  • Share. Spread the word by sharing articles and info on community shelter work and events on your social networking sites. You will find yourself meeting some great, like-minded new friends who share your vision!
  • Pick up that starfish! Know that every little act of kindness to animals helps. You can't do it all, but we can all do something.

As the saying goes, "Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can. It will be enough".

Pam D'Addio is currently in her sixth year as the Volunteer and Media Coordinator at Tri County Humane Society in Boca Raton. A passionate animal advocate, Pam is knowledgeable on a variety of canine topics such as behavior, care, training, and rescue / sheltering issues. Pam and her dog, Kayla, a Tri County adoptee, visit nursing homes as a therapy team. Pam also speaks at local schools to educate children to become responsible pet companions. She lives in south Florida with her husband, two daughters and seven rescued pets. Contact Pam at

Pam can be found on Facebook @ Dog Rescue Examiner.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Help! I’m barking & I can’t shut up!

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One of the most common reasons dogs end up in animal shelters is excessive (or what is believed to be excessive) barking. Your neighbors complain, and your dog drives you crazy. Some breeds are more inclined to bark than others, so it’s always a good idea to educate yourself about breeds you might be interested in. Some breeds were actually bred to bark because of their “jobs”. Then again, you have the Basenji, which does not bark it all, though it does vocalize in other ways. Adopting a mixed breed from a shelter is a wonderful thing to do, but you still need to be aware of what breeds might be in the mix and make sure it will be a good fit for your family.

Why do dogs bark in the first place?

It may seem like your dog is barking for no reason, or just because it likes the sound of its own voice, but that is not true. Why do they bark then? It’s simple. When babies are hungry, scared, lonely, or just want attention, they cry. Dogs bark. Barking is a vocal type of communication that dogs use, both with each other and with their humans. A bark can signify many things, from territorial issues to expression of a specific need. If they need something but don’t bark, how will they let you know?

Humans are actually a good part of the reason dogs bark. We have, whether we meant to or not, conditioned them to bark. What do I mean? Some examples: If your dog wants out, it barks. You let it out. If your dog is hungry, it barks. You feed it. Your dog wants to play, it barks. You throw the ball. Your dog wants a treat, it barks. You give him a cookie or chew bone. Your dog wants back in, it barks. You let it in. Your dog wants attention, it barks. You scratch his ears or rub his belly. In other words, they have trained US. Good human! Good!

No wonder they bark!

One of the keys to understanding (and possibly managing) this behavior is to understand all the reasons dogs bark, and learning to decipher their individual sounds. A dog’s bark can be anything from a soft “woof” to a loud, growling “I’m going to eat your face” kind of bark. Each one means something different to the dog. Once you spend a good deal of time with your dog, you will be able to understand each type of bark and get a pretty good idea what they are saying to you. It will also give you an idea of how to change their behavior if the barking is excessive.

Let’s look at some of the specific reasons a dog will bark.

  • Protective or territorial barking: Most any dog will bark when a person or another animal enters what they consider to be their territory. The bark can be a warning. “ this is MY territory…beware”. They may be trained to alert you in the event someone enters their space. Either way, they will loudly announce your visitor. Sometimes this is a good thing, but not if they bark like crazy at everyone that comes in the door…including people they know.
  • Greeting or play barking: Some dogs get so excited to see you or one of their canine friends that they have a barking fit. It is a happy sounding bark, sometimes accompanied by jumping up. It’s their way of saying “I’m happy to see you.”
  • Attention seeking: Dogs often bark when they want or need something, such as needing to go out, wanting food, wanting attention, or wanting back in the house. A bark is the primary way they have to express a need or get your attention. Sometimes they want nothing more than a pat on the head. Some dogs are very needy and will bark constantly to get your attention.
  • Fear or Alarm: A dog will often bark in response to fear or alarm. The bark serves to try and ward off the thing they fear, and alert their humans that something is wrong. Any perceived threat will trigger this type of barking.
  • Separation anxiety: Some dogs basically “flip out” when left alone and have the canine equivalent of a panic attack or anxiety attack. They may exhibit other behaviors in addition to the barking, such as destructiveness, pacing, having “accidents” in the house, or depression. This one is tough to treat, but it can be done with behavior modification, and sometimes anti-anxiety medicine.
  • Boredom or Loneliness: Dogs are pack animals and do not do well if left alone for long periods. A dog chained outside with no contact or mental stimulation will bark because it is unhappy and to try and get attention. Even if the owner comes and fusses at the dog for barking, it’s still attention…negative or not. Barking relieves stress and anxiety to some degree, and basically gives the dog something to do. If the dog must be left alone for long periods, provide something to keep it busy (hiding treats in specially made toys, providing safe things to chew on, etc.)
Some less common reasons for barking include:
  • Compulsive barking: This is one where the dog seems to bark at nothing or just into the air, for hours on end if allowed to. They may also display other behaviors, such as running in circles or back and forth along a fence. There are many reasons for this. Your vet should examine your dog to see if it is a medical issue. Things like bee stings, chronic pain, or brain disease are possibilities. There is a form of canine senility that can develop in older dogs that can cause excessive vocalizations, as well as other cognitive issues.
  • “Back Talk” barking: Some dogs will bark at you when you are telling them not to do something or otherwise trying to discipline them. It is their way of being defiant, or “talking back” (relate this to a parent with a teenage child who talks back when corrected). Not all dogs do this, but it does happen. This is a dominance issue, so training would need to teach the dog that YOU are the alpha…not him.

From all this we can see that barking is a complicated behavior which can mean a multitude of things. You should never expect a dog to never bark. That would be like asking a child to never talk. Completely unreasonable. Sometimes, however, barking is excessive and causes problems for you and those around you.

If the barking is constant or problematic, the behavior needs to be corrected before it becomes severe. As I said in the beginning, this is a top reason why a lot of dogs end up in shelters. Rather than give up on them, there are numerous ways to address the various barking issues…depending on the reason for the bark.

Next time, let’s take a look at some of the ways to correct your dog when he is “barking and he can’t shut up”.

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