How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.
Winnie the Pooh
I love dogs. Actually I love all animals. People think that since I train dogs, I eat cats, but quite frankly, I have one, and I’ve rescued more cats than dogs. Even animals that I have phobias about (worms, namely, as well as leeches), I can never stand to see harmed unnecessarily.
See, the “unnecessarily” part is important. I recently renovated my backyard, and I’m sure that I harmed quite a few worms in the process. I didn’t meant to do it, but since I didn’t find them new homes, technically I’m just as much to blame for their demises as anyone else.
Which brings me to the topic of “no kill shelters”. I have to start by saying to anyone who volunteers at any shelter: thank you. It’s tiring, heartbreaking work. Yes, it’s rewarding, but you are definitely working in the trenches trying to make a difference. Everyone is working towards the same goal, no matter how they go about it. I’ve never met a shelter volunteer who was in it for the money or glory. Guess what, there is none. They are all in it for the animals. Some shelters are extremely picky about who adopts a dog, hoping to find the perfect match for the perfect animal to keep that animal out of shelters forever. Some shelters utilize what I call the “buckshot” approach: maximum amount of potential adopters means that they can get more animals off the streets. Yes, quite a few are returned, but it’s better to be off the mark on a few potential adopters than to have to euthanize a dog. Who’s right? Neither? Both? Doesn’t matter. Just two different approaches to the same problem.
But there is one thing all shelters have in common: all shelters are euthanizing.
I used to volunteer at a “no kill” shelter, and I was amazed at how some of the volunteers spoke about the county kennel, where they euthanized dogs. They would refer to the county kennel as a “concentration camp” and that the volunteers were murderers. That there was no reason for such-and-such dog to have been killed. They hold up their shelters as shiney examples of how a shelter can be no-kill. It never occurred to them that they were part of the solution that they so detested. That they had responsibility for these dogs as well. Information from the Human Society gives us a better perspective:
Just as the U.S. has come a long way over the last few decades in terms of increased pet ownership, it’s also progressed in terms of euthanasia. The number of dogs and cats euthanized each year in shelters has decreased, from 12–20 million to an estimated 3–4 million. However, there’s still work to do: An estimated 2.7 million healthy shelter pets are not adopted each year, and only about 30 percent of pets in homes come from shelters or rescues.
- 3,500—Number of animal shelters
- 6 to 8 million—Number of cats and dogs entering shelters each year
- 25 percent—Percentage of purebred dogs in shelters
- 3 to 4 million—Number cats and dogs adopted from shelters each year
- 2.7 million—Number of adoptable cats and dogs euthanized in shelters each year
If there are roughly 6-8 million animals entering a shelter each year, but only 3-4 million being adopted each year, I ask: where does the overflow go? No kill shelters are a wonderful thing, but not realistic. A shelter can claim they are no kill, but what they mean is that they don’t kill the animals at that location. When a dog comes to their “no kill” shelter, and they don’t have an empty cage, or the dog is deemed too aggressive or sick, what happens? They don’t accept the dog at their shelter. The dog is eventually sent to county, where they are euthanized. It makes me sick that an innocent animal dies, but it is a cold, hard fact: there isn’t enough room for them all. There are no inexhaustible resources from which to draw for support of these animals. Simply not accepting an animal into your shelter when you don’t have room doesn’t make you a no-kill. It means you are passing the buck (albeit necessarily), and then deriding the very people who you passed it to for doing what needs to be done. I understand that most shelters are simply doing the best they can with what they have, but eviscerating kill shelters for simply doing what must be done is unacceptable.
This isn’t an issue that will solve itself quickly. Euthanasia numbers are looking better and better each year. But they won’t disappear overnight. Education helps tremendously. Spaying and neutering campaigns have made a huge dent in the amount of animals shelters are receiving. In the meantime, let’s work together to find a solution. After all, our goals are the same.
I have indeed volunteered at kill shelters. People asked me how I could stand to work there when the animals could be put down at any moment. That’s precisely why I volunteered there. How wonderful is it for a dog’s last thoughts not to be of a terrible, frightening place, but that, hey, here comes my favorite person! I’ll bet she’s taking me for another walk! Maybe she’ll play ball with me for a few minutes, too! Then we can cuddle after dinner. Wow..I’m loved here.
Yes, you were. To the very last.
In memory of Max, Simba, Onyx, Trifecta, Pluto, ‘Lil Girl, ..and all the other dogs who were wonderful enough to make me cry when their time came.