Thursday, May 17, 2012


I recently read a blog post about a woman who started working for an Animal Control unit to get a better understanding of shelter animals. It broke my heart to read about the feral cats dying in the Wild Child Room, sweet Nash dying in his kennel, and then little Neva… That brings up the controversial topic of euthanasia. Is it right or wrong? I believe it’s a shade of grey, somewhere in between.

While no-kill shelters sound great, there can be a severely ugly side to them. Depending on the size and resources of a no-kill shelter, they may very well be ill-prepared to care for animals that never get adopted. Allow me to explain:

The shelter I volunteer at has the capacity to hold 300 animals. They are an open-admission shelter and are continually receiving animals. Like most shelters, cats are housed in a series of steel cubes with wire doors. Almost like prison, they have a standard issue litter box, blanket, food and water bowl. There are two people assigned to the “cat room,” and they keep the litter boxes clean, the towels changed, and take the cats out to play and socialize. Although I’m sure there have been cats euthanized at the shelter before, I haven’t heard of it. 

The shelter works with a local pet store to adopt out their cats, and that seems to be working really well.
The dogs are housed in kennels that are off the ground to allow for waste to fall through to the grates below. The dogs go outside first thing in the morning so that their kennels can be cleaned. If it’s a pretty day out, kennel staff will let them all in the outside kennels for a while – time to enjoy the sunshine, play with toys, and just enjoy a change of scenery. If they’re lucky, there’s a volunteer around to take them out and spend more one-on-one time with them.

The shelter euthanizes dogs that are terminally ill or very sick, have contagious diseases that would be too costly to treat (like mange), or are dog or people aggressive. Fortunately, they currently seem to have a good staff that understands that dogs don’t always get along and, even though they may pick a fight with the dog they are currently housed next to, they do just fine next to a different one that they get along with better. (I know they used to have a worker that just assumed that, no matter what the circumstance, if a dog growled or snapped at another it was dog aggressive. Of course, she also labels everything pit bull…but that’s a different story.) That still doesn’t solve the problem of space and constant new admissions.

The shelter doesn’t just rely on people to randomly come by the shelter and adopt a dog. Instead, they do outreach programs – fun dog shows at assisted living homes, town gatherings, and adoption days at PetSmart and anywhere else that will permit the shelter to use their space. They also use their own website, dog sites like, and social networking sites like Facebook to share photos and stories of adoptable animals. Even with all of this, some dogs just don’t get adopted. At that point, they reach out to rescues in an attempt to find one that will accept them. They’ve had good luck with that so far.

Just because a shelter uses euthanasia doesn’t mean that they use it as their first option. It doesn’t even mean that they use it at all except as a last resort. If the shelter I volunteer for was at full capacity and still receiving admissions, couldn’t find a rescue, and was just at a loss for space, what else would you expect them to do? Less than 50% of the shelter’s income comes from an Animal Control contract with local government. The remaining amount depends on generous donors. Most shelters have a similar story when it comes to finances. 

While I don't like euthanasia, I can understand it as a (sad) last resort. If people truly want to stop euthanasia, it's time to take responsibility. It all starts with you - spay/neuter your pets and encourage others to do the same.

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