The case for kill shelters

A petition is making the rounds of my FB feed, urging a Rochester shelter to stop euthanizing dogs after last year they put down more than 1,000 healthy dogs and disposed of them in garbage bags which were taken to a landfill.

As a co-custodian of a shelter dog (I’m a lifelong rescue pet lover; two childhood dogs and a cat came to us through friends, we adopted Gracie from the ASPCA in 2010) on the one hand it is extremely sad to think of 1,000 Gracies being euthanized because nobody stepped up to provide a home for them. It’s hard to imagine them just being discarded until you realize the money saved on burial or cremation fees can be spent on the dogs still being cared for.

Everybody who wants a dog pretty much knows where to get one. They can go to a pet store, a breed-specific rescue program or into the local ASPCA to adopt the first mongrel who steals their heart. I meet dozens of rescues at the dog park that at some point nobody wanted, and at another point somebody was ecstatic to bring home. That was just luck of the doggy draw, good timing for both pet and owner.

As a dedicated animal rights activist on a small scale, you might have some success getting people to switch from breeder purchases to shelter adoptions; you might be able to raise awareness that pit bulls are not inherently violent, merely loyal, strong dogs that are frequently mishandled or abused by their owners; you might even be able to raise funds for the shelter on such a scale that they could build additional facilities, hire additional caretakers or fund a fostering program. If you want to play a role in rehabilitating a dog, go get one! Or make a donation!

But if there is no happy home for those dogs to live in, why should they spend the rest of their lives cooped up in kennels and cages just because we feel guilty about euthanasia? 

To me there is no sense in preserving the life of a creature if that life is going to be miserable. Older dogs, sick dogs, dogs with behavior problems–they can languish for years and if you’ve ever seen a dog run happily through an open field, you know that a life spent in even the nicest cage is not a good one. If dogs are spending extended periods of time in shelters because of breed misinformation or bad publicity, that’s a separate issue. I’m trusting that shelters are doing what they can to make their animals available to the public, and I think professional photographers who donate their time can really make a difference. But even if a dog is the sweetest, kindest, gentlest dog in the world, sometimes they wind up on a euthanasia list. And I think that’s ok. Sad, but ok.

I believe most dogs currently living in a shelter could be a sweet and comforting friend to someone; some are better suited to certain people than others, but generally if you are looking for a dog to love, there is a dog waiting for you at your local shelter or rescue organization (your mileage may vary by org). When K-Cup and I went to look for Gracie (who, let me remind you, I love beyond reason), there was also 2-year-old Schnauzer with a broken leg who I would have brought home if it were just up to me. But we got Gracie, and she is amazing. That Schnauzer went to a different home and I hope is loved half as well.

I wish the friend who’s circulating that petition lots of luck — I would love it if every homeless dog out there found someone to love it and a warm place to sleep, and if eliminating the kill shelter contributes toward that goal, great.

But I know that petitioning shelters to stop euthanizing isn’t magically going to increase those dogs’ chances of living happy, beloved lives. 1,500 signatures are not going to conjure up 1,000 prospective dog owners, or make it feasible for the Rochester Animal Control to house or care for 1,000 dogs they don’t kill because of public outcry; it’s not going to make it easier for them to match pets with potential adopters; and as for the dogs themselves, their kennels just got more crowded and their chances of being adopted that much slimmer.

Gracie is a powerful reminder of all the great reasons to look to a shelter. But outside of my conviction that she’s the best dog ever to snuffle an ear, I’ve met enough sweet dogs to know that she’s not too far out of the ordinary. If she had been euthanized before we got to her, we’d have brought home a different dog instead.

It will always be difficult to advocate for animal rights while acknowledging that getting every homeless dog into a shelter is not always the more humane treatment. I respect kill shelters for making the decisions the rest of us can’t, for facing the reality that not every animal we idealistically believe deserves a home is actually going to find one.

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4 Responses to The case for kill shelters

  1. meopta says:

    Many No-Kill advocates will leap to “It’s just like an orphanage” even though it is not. I agree with you, but if animal lovers were really about humane choices, then we would have far less animals in shelters. Pets would be neutered, pets would not be abandoned, pets would not be sold in stores wit pedigrees. It’s about the modern disconnect between what pets are (livestock) and what we want them to be (idealized). Just like anti-abortion advocates, where their work is done the second a pregnancy continues, the practicalities of No Kill are not solved by many who support it. Even our local No Kill secretly kills while raising buckets of cash as a No Kill.

    • mkpheartsnyc says:

      Agreed agreed agreed. Livestock is how shelters have to treat them, furry people is now animal rights people try to think. Gracie was fixed before we got her, thanks to the ASPCA.

  2. TMae says:

    We have a no-kill shelter here. It apparently won some shelter awards and became a model SPCA because of it. It’s beautiful, and clean, and the dogs are happily walked by generous university students who volunteer their time. But the cats? OMFG. The cats are OUT OF CONTROL. And I’m pretty sure I mean this literally. There are rooms that were once used for storage, and kennel space (15×15 feet rooms) that now house DOZENS of cats. They are caged 2 and 3 to a cage, and the cages overtake every inch of available floor space. It’s shocking, and disheartening. Because while the shelter will not euthanize the cats, they have a hard time keeping that many animals, kept in such close quarters, healthy. So nature, to some degree, controls the population.

    The shelter also has an extensive network of foster families who take cats and dogs that the SPCA doesn’t have room for. A former co-worker of mine has fostered up to 17 cats at a time. SEVENTEEN. They stay in his garage.

    It’s sad to think of animals being euthanized but, like you point out, the alternative? Isn’t helping ANY animal.

    • mkpheartsnyc says:

      Aw that sounds awful. I didn’t mention the cats, but the ones at the ASPCA near us live in a couple of different venues – they have a windowed habitat in the waiting area for maybe 10-15, and when people request kittens they bring them out in boxes that look like they are leftover from chocolate bar sales! Cats are especially hard to maintain socialization I think because they don’t really want to be socialized! Sigh.

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