Friday, November 18, 2011

Euthanasia in shelters

I tend to root for the underdog.  In a shelter situation, that's usually a dog with medical or behavior problems.  Having been an employee and (currently) a volunteer in a "no-kill" shelter, I've fallen for many animals who never made it out.  Some succumbed to disease or illness, but at least an equal number were euthanized for behavior problems that could not (or would not) be solved.

This is an incredibly difficult thing to deal with.  I can't tell you the number of hours I've spent trying to rehabilitate and socialize animals with behavior issues only to see them either euthanized in the shelter or shortly after adoption.  The reasons given are liability and adoptability, but in many cases I have to say I believe the real issues is not having the resources to identify and deal with the problem early and on the organizational (rather than the individual) level.

Our shelter used to have a trainer that would come in an volunteer her time testing and giving tips on working with the animals that had issues.  But, communication and training programs are difficult to implement in the shelter environment with so many volunteers coming and going and some of them thinking they know better than the trainer.  So, I think she got tired of wasting her time and she no longer drops by.

But, when an animal has a medical issue, even in a shelter environment, it's usually treated.  If behavior issues can be fatal, why aren't they treated the same as a medical issue?  With professional advice and a structure in place for implementing the recommended training, I think we'd see a lot more animals surviving the shelter environment and getting adopted.

Of course, that touches on two main issues that are probably the reasons this isn't done.  1.  There are too many pets out there anyway and some might say that the loss of a dog with a behavior issue likely saves a dog without one.  That may be true.  And 2, behavior issues aren't as easily solved as many medical issues are.  It's not as easy as one pill twice a day or some salve to put on a wound.  Instead it requires time, training, and liability.  ...and the outcome you hope for is adaptability, but given their history they will never be as adoptable as most other dogs and will likely take up space on the adoption floor for awhile before the right adopter comes along.

That brings me to another issue -the selectivity of potential adopters by shelters.  They often won't adopt to you if you'll be gone more than 8 hours, you don't have a fenced-in yard, you've never owned that breed before, you have kids, you have a roommate, you or your child have a disability, etc.  Anything that sets off alarms to the particular counselor you are talking to is grounds to deny you the adoption even if the next counselor would have said yes.  Why are we being so picky (and in some cases discriminating based on race, age, sexual orientation, and/or disability) if so many pets are dying?  How can they not think that the adopter they turned down is just going to the pet store down the street to buy a puppy mill dog.  Is that really better? 

Maybe if we didn't make people go through an interrogation to adopt a shelter animal adoptions would go up and puppy mills would loose business and profitability?  Maybe if people felt they could answer the adoption counselor's questions truthfully they'd get better advice and more adoptions would be successful.

Then again, maybe I'm just naive.  Or maybe there's a middle ground.  And maybe other shelters are run better (I hope they are!).  But, all of this has sparked something in me.  I look forward to being a Vet Tech with my hands in the poop and my eyes throbbing from looking into a microscope too long for as long as possible, but when I'm too old and can't do it anymore I would really love to start a shelter.  I understand that I'd have to be the one to make the call on euthanizing a dog for aggression, but at least when I made that decision I'd understand and agree with it.  I'd have the time, ability, and resources to look for other options before that needle hit the vein and it was too late.

I hate being the victim of someone else's decision.  I hate nodding my head "yes" when they tell me they've done everything they could while knowing there were options that were not explored.  But I do because at that time it doesn't matter.  The decision is made.  My friend is dead.  But I do hold some hope that one day I can stop at least some of it. 

RIP Vixey.