Monday, February 9, 2015

Let's Talk About Euthanasia


I cannot tell you how many times I hear a person does not wish to bring an animal to the shelter because they espouse No-Kill, and know, with absolute erroneous certainty, that the animal will be euthanized once admitted.  They feel it is much more humane to abandon these animals, rationalizing that benevolent strangers will take them home, or with even greater specious thought, that this domesticated creature will suddenly be able to fend for itself.  However, the cruel reality is that these animals face starvation, disease, injury, and other untold horrors.

There is no easy way to lead into the crux of this article.  We often talk in abstracts, sidestep, and dance around one word for fear of offending anyone.  However, we cannot solve any issue by avoidance, so let us talk about euthanasia.

First, let’s clarify a misconception.  A good portion of the public believes that after the mandatory hold period at the Tehama County Animal Care Center (TCACC), strays will be euthanized.  This could not be further from the truth.  The Animal Care Center does not have “time limits” for adoptable animals.  Before a decision is made to euthanize an animal, a number of factors are studied such as life threatening illnesses, extreme medical problems, and unprovoked aggression.  Before any decision is considered, the animal’s ultimate well-being and quality of life, as well as public safety is painstakingly thought about by those involved.  This is the most dreaded procedure for any employee of the Shelter, and it is done only when all other options have been exhausted.

Next, I am extremely happy to report that the TCACC, as a public shelter with its limited resources, small size and increased intake of animals this past year, has managed to defy the National averages.  Of all the animals admitted into TCACC in 2014, 82.3% were either adopted, rescued, or returned to their original owner.  On an even larger note, in December of 2014 the live release rate was 93.9%, the highest figure ever obtained in Tehama County.  The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy cites that 56 % of dogs and 71 % of cats that enter animal shelters are euthanized.  At TCACC, its euthanasia percentages were substantially below those figures as evidenced by the “live release rates” cited above.

Some will shout that any euthanasia is totally unacceptable.  To every person who finds it appalling, I will respond.  Not every animal can be saved.  In our quest to do so, many have suffered needlessly, be it animal and/or human.  Even the safe havens of “no-kill” facilities understand that there are extenuating circumstances where euthanasia may be the most humane action to take.   If we falsely believe that every organization, whether private or public, can care for every homeless animal that arrives on their doorstep for the rest of their natural life, we do an injustice to the animal and to the overwhelming problem of animal homelessness.

Our shelter, any shelter, cannot decrease euthanasia rates without total community support and commitment.  Each individual shares in the responsibility and fate of these unwanted animals. One must truly understand that, by ignoring the problem of pet overpopulation or enhancing it by either tacit acceptance of actions that result in homelessness or by contributing directly to the amount of unwanted animals, it is not the shelters' fault that animals are euthanized, but the public’s.  Therefore, it is important that all of us actively work towards not only decreasing the number of animals entering the shelters, but also increasing the amount of animals that are returned to their owners or adopted, thus ensuring that euthanasia is not an outcome.

We must discourage “backyard” breeding by refusing to purchase these animals and opting, instead, to adopt from among the many that both shelters and rescues have.  We must not only spay and neuter our own animals, but also encourage others to do the same.  We should microchip and/or tag our pets.  Again, we must encourage others to do the same in order that pets and guardians are quickly reunited.  We need to get involved and report abuse, safeguarding those that cannot defend themselves.  We must become responsible pet-people, understanding that it is a lifetime commitment, and take measures to insure success.  If unhappy with the laws that regulate pet ownership or the way they are, or are not, enforced, then contact local, county, and state representatives to request more resources be allotted to house, protect, and ensure the well-being of these homeless animals.

Nothing is going to solve the animal overpopulation problem unless we take positive action.  Until all of us do, euthanasia will continue to be an ugly reality.  

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