I saw an image in my Facebook news feed last week that I just didn’t need to see. I’m very visually oriented and once I see some things, it can be hard to get them out of my head. The image was of a veterinary examination room. There was a dead dog laying on a metal table and a man sitting on the floor near the table with his head lowered towards his knees. The image said, “you think it’s easy to kill companion animals day in and day out.” It also said, “1) adopt from shelters and rescues until they are empty; 2) spay/neuter your pet; 3) volunteer to help if you can.” Below the image was the following statement: “shelters do not want to kill animals, but 5 million healthy pets die every year. It is an antiquated system that is not good for the workers or the animals. Neutering your pets does make a difference!” The statement about 5 million animals is wrong. That’s not my issue here. And I will not share the image.
I know that some organizations use what I call “shock and awe” to try to get people’s attention. I’m just not one of those people. When I see ASPCA or HSUS commercials on television showing images of injured or suffering animals while making pleas for money, I change the channel immediately. When I encounter someone on social media who regularly uses shock images to make a point, I unfriend them. I know full well what happens in most animal shelters and I don’t need to see images of dead dogs and cats over and over again to make a point. I am outspoken in my own animal welfare advocacy, but I use words to convey my message and I am careful to avoid images which can be upsetting to some people, particularly children.
But back to the image. It showed a man represented as a shelter worker sitting near a dog he had apparently killed. His posture made it appear as though he was upset.
I am not totally unsympathetic to people who go to work in animal shelters with good intentions and then become part of an antiquated system which destroys healthy and treatable animals for space. I think a lot of people decide to work in the shelter industry because they love animals and they want to make a difference. There are many places in our country where healthy and treatable animals are no longer destroyed in shelters and where the only animals destroyed in shelters are those who are genuinely suffering (in which case use of the word “euthanasia” is appropriate) or dogs who are so dangerous they present a public safety risk and for whom no sanctuary placement is available (as opposed to dogs who are just scared, fearful, traumatized or confused). There are more places which do still destroy healthy and treatable animals for space or convenience.
My expectation regarding people working in those places is two-fold. First, find out if the shelter destroys healthy animals before you apply to work there. If they do and that upsets you, the answer is simple: just don’t work there. I would no sooner work in a kill shelter than I would work in a poultry processing plant or on a hog farm. We all choose where we work and it’s not like “kennel worker” is the only employment opportunity available in your community. If you are already working at a shelter which destroys healthy and treatable animals, please take the time to educate yourself on how to make that process stop and work to reform the shelter from inside the system. Your silence is truly your consent. No Kill philosophies have been common knowledge for about 20 years and the No Kill Equation specifically has been known for more than 10 years. There is really no reason to lament the needless killing of animals because there are ways to stop it. I’m not saying it’s easy and I’m not saying it will happen overnight. It takes work, planning and commitment. It takes a change in culture in the shelter to take it from a place where animals are brought to die to a place of hope and new beginnings. If you fear that you will lose your job if you speak out for change, then give some thought to what is most important to you. Perhaps you will find another job which does not cause you to be part of a system which affects your mental health and causes you to lose sleep because you destroyed animals who were not suffering.
I would have responded much more favorably to an image of a shelter worker walking a dog and talking about how enrichment programs are used to keep dogs entertained and to help socialize them.
I would have responded much more favorably to an image of a shelter worker engaged in community outreach to help educate the public to make better choices.
I would have responded much more favorably to an image of a shelter worker engaged in a peaceful protest regarding the continued destruction of healthy and treatable animals using tax dollars or donations.
If the death upsets you, don’t be complicit in the behavior. Do something to change the system. If you choose to work in a facility which destroys healthy and treatable animals, that is your choice. Just don’t expect a whole lot of sympathy from me. My sympathy goes toward the animals whose lives were ended unnecessarily – an act which is entirely permanent.
I hope the guy in the image I saw got up off the floor, quit his job and became an advocate for shelter reform. I would welcome him to join the No Kill movement so we can change our country for the sake of the animals we say we love and value.
The Readiness is All
I can count some of the worst days of my life on one hand and they all relate to loss. The euthanasia of our dog Snake on April 22, 2006. Earth Day. The death of my father on October 28, 2010, from lung cancer which had moved to his brain. The death of my mother less than six months later on April 20, 2011, from stomach cancer. The death of my father-in-law who had lived with us for more than 15 years exactly five days after mom died. And the euthanasia of our dog, Aspy, on July 4th of 2016.
Aspy was sitting in front of my living room chair when the first seizure happened. I thought he was dreaming at first, but when I looked down at him, it was obvious I was wrong. Rich jumped into action and held him steady while I stroked his body and prayed out loud and repeatedly for God to bless his soul. The seizure lasted two to three minutes and it was terrifying. He howled. I was surprised at how hard his body shook. Rich called our vet as soon as the seizure ended in hopes that she would be able to see us that afternoon. We were only 15 minutes away and could leave right away. She could not help us. She told us to go to the emergency veterinary hospital about 40 minutes away. We waited in an exam room for more than three hours just to be seen. After a CT scan was done, we were told about an hour later, in the waiting area, that Apsy had a mass in his liver, one in his spleen and that the cancer had likely moved to his brain. We were also told the first 24-hours were critical and to monitor him. It was early the next morning when we got home tired, upset and confused.
Aspy was sleeping on the rug in our living room in the early afternoon hours of the 4th of July when the second seizure hit. It was much worse than the first. He shook and howled. He lost control of his bowels and his little heart was beating so fast I was sure he would die from the seizure. I stroked his body again as I tried unsuccessfully not to cry and as I prayed out loud again and over and over for God to bless his soul. I’m pretty sure the seizure lasted about 45 minutes; I kept looking at the clock and know it was at least 30 minutes. I just don’t know. We could not reach our veterinarian so we took him back to the same animal hospital where we had been earlier that same day. The seizure stopped while we were on the way to the emergency hospital and we almost turned around. We did not. We had Aspy euthanized that day.
I could tell you about our disappointment in our veterinarian of 20 years. She has her own life and could not drop her plans to help us. I could tell you about how our experience at the emergency hospital the first night was one of the worst experiences of my life; I’ve had more compassion shown while getting my car’s oil changed. I could explain in detail what happened during the euthanasia process which had me cussing like a sailor, banging on the walls and contemplating criminal behavior while Rich endured his own private hell and wondered what in the world was going on. We later wrote a three page complaint letter to the emergency hospital, not that they cared about our complaints. We told them that when dealing with people like us, they should be mindful that they saw us, and our beloved pet, on the very worst day of our time together and that it was seared in our memories for all time. No one ever bothered to call or apologize in any way for what we experienced and the trauma we endured. I call it trauma because it was. We both had a really hard time in the days, weeks and months to come. We tried to but really could not talk about what happened. The memories were very real and playing almost nonstop on a loop inside out heads; talking just made it worse. Even as the months went by, the memories managed to rise to the surface without invitation or warning. We were told we should get another dog. It would make us feel better. We just could not.
If you are reading this, you probably have a veterinarian you trust to care for your animals. That person is likely only available to help you during normal business hours Monday through Saturday and may be closed one weekday. But do you have a plan for after-hours care? For emergency care or treatment when your vet is on vacation? How about holidays?
I cannot encourage you strongly enough to develop a plan for veterinary care when your own veterinarian is not available. If your veterinarian provides after-hours care for established patients, that’s wonderful. You are fortunate. If that person or veterinary practice does not, take time now to figure out where you would go and what you would do if you needed help outside normal business hours. Determine how long it would take to travel to emergency providers near you. Read the reviews for those providers. Have a plan in place ahead of time for care whether it is injury care for a broken bone, torn ligament or some other non-life threatening situation. Have a plan in place for end of life care. Will you take your dog or cat to the veterinarian? Will your veterinarian come to your house when the time comes? Don’t assume that you can just make good decisions from the hip when accidents happen or tragedy strikes. Your brain may not process information well when you are under duress and you just may not think as clearly as you normally would.
We did adopt another dog last September, over 14 months after Aspy left us. We still miss Aspy and I try really (really) hard to not think about his last 2 days. It’s just too difficult to go there. We found Rusty at an animal shelter with the help of Petfinder, a wonderful tool with which I have a love-hate relationship. I love how it helps place animals; we never would have found Rusty if not for Petfinder. I hate how many animals there are in need of new homes.
We have a new veterinarian we work with who is closer to our house. His office has after-hours care for established clients. We call a number and the on-call vet is paged. Although we probably won’t need it, the veterinary hospital has a storm shelter in the basement in case of severe weather (we have our own storm shelter at home). Our Pet Parent Plan for our new dog, Rusty, provides for him to be boarded temporarily with our veterinarian if something happens to both of us at the same time. Our vet has said he won’t charge for this. Boarding Rusty short-term until my cousin can transport him to Texas will be on the house. We were told, “it’s the least we can do.”
Be ready. Please.
If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all. - Hamlet
(candles image courtesy of Mike Labrum)
I am an animal welfare advocate. My goal is to help people understand some basic issues related to companion animals in America. Awareness leads to education leads to action leads to change.
image courtesy of Terrah Johnson