One of the questions most frequently asked of us is: Why can't we just keep animals that aren't adopted? Isn't that kinder than killing healthy animals?
A visit to our stray and adoption kennels and cat rooms during the busy spring or summer season, following a few minutes in the receiving lobby, should help to answer the above question. Some days, we take in up to 70 individual animals that are no longer wanted or have strayed from their homes. During our busy season, we often have five to ten people, confused animals in tow, waiting in line for us to open the doors in the morning.
It's very difficult to walk through the shelter and see row upon row of hopeful faces waiting for the return of the owners who, for whatever reason, have abandoned them. Some of the animals look eagerly toward every passerby for a pat on the head or a walk outside; other give up hope and lie quietly, awaiting whatever fate that befalls them. Sadder still are the ones who are happy just to be here, who relish a place to call home -- any place, even this one, with protection from the elements, a daily meal, and the little bit of attention that is more than they had on the streets. How can we deny those potentially wonderful pets their very lives? Why do we euthanize?
One of our most-used shelter handouts, published by The Humane Society of the United States puts it quite simply: "Dogs and cats need the care and companionship of people. Most shelters cannot afford to feed and care for millions of unwanted animals . . . even if shelters could keep them forever, these animals would still be alone -- and lonely. It is stressful and cruel to keep animals in cages day after day, waiting and hoping for attention." Life in an animal shelter, with little or no hope for a permanent, loving home, is not much of a life. No matter how easy-going the animal, the stress of being in the shelter eventually takes its toll. The outgoing become desperate for attention. The hesitant become "spooks," fearful of the constant stream of strange humans and kennelmates. Once-gentle, friendly housecats have their fill of being handled by strangers, turn into hissing, unsolicable, unappealing loners. Healthy animals often become sick after long periods of stress, and, unless removed, the sickness spreads from one lonely creature to the next. These animals don't need a life of seclusion and sadness, they need their own homes, their own people.
Those of us who work and volunteer here try to find time to give special favors to our "guests" by handing out blankets or biscuits, giving a much-needed bath, a walk, a few hours of "special time" in the office or a few days or weeks in our own homes to gain needed weight or recuperate from surgery. Contrary to what some folks believe, we don't "want to kill" them we want to try to keep them around long enough to be noticed by just the right person. We move our favorites, or those who have been here along time, to better spots in the shelter -- better lighting, more visibility, a change of scenery. We all work hard to find willing and capable foster homes to give a chance to the ones who ware too young. We try or darndest to give each and every adoptable animal a chance.
No matter how hard we try, there are too many sad faces, too many sad stories; we can't possibly find time for them all. We rejoice when a favorite animal finally finds that special home of their own, and we celebrate when they walk out the door to a new life. Sadly, sometimes we simply have no choice but to say the other kind of good-bye, even to our favorites. Even then, and as hard as it is, we are the one to be there to hold them as they breathe their last breaths, to give them the last bit of love that fate has denied them. As sad as death is, it is often the kindest solution for those wh have no other hope.
Yes, there are "no-kill" shelters out there, but even the best of those facilities are not usually in the position to keep every animal that comes to them. No-kill shelter are quite frequently exclusive establishments that only accept perfectly healthy, perfectly sociable, perfectly adoptable animals, and then only until space is filled when the "No Vacancy" sign is put up. The unfortunate, imperfect, and unwanted are turned away to an uncertain fate.
The Humane Society of Tucson is not that kind of shelter. We turn no animal away. Even those that we are physically unable to house are referred to the appropriate agencies for care. We take in each stray or unwanted former pet that comes to us, no matter how old, how young, how unattractive, how untrained, sick or wild they may be. We accept them all, and we do our best to make the right decisions about their fates. It isn't an easy job, but somebody has to do it, because their people won't.
Yes, we have our detractors: those who think that we are surely evil people who want nothing more than to snatch the life from innocent puppies or kittens. It's easy for those who don't understand what we go through on a daily basis, all year long, to waltz through here during our slow winter season, see nothing but adult dogs and bare kennels, and assume that there is no overpopulation problem. It might be easy to come to the conclusion that we must enjoy killing animals during those months. After all, we have lots of space, right? Wrong. The spring and summer months, with puppies and kittens springing up like fields of daisies, with uncommitted owners leaving their confused family pets so they can go off on vacation, move to another state, or (incomprehensible to us) replace that older dog or cat with a newer, cuter model, are the worst. We see so many animals coming in on some days that they become a large, furry blur; every cage is full, and people wait in line to sign still more in -- as many as 150 in a single day.
So many people tell us, "How can you do what you do? I couldn't do that, I couldn't make the decision to kill an animal, much less do it myself." Truth be known, many of us used to say the very same thing before working here and experiencing all the sadness, despair, anger -- and, yes, the moments of pure joy at witnessing the all-too-frequent happy endings first-hand.
We do our very best to give each of these animals a chance at life, either by returning them to their owners or adopting them to new homes. We scan lost-and-found reports inthe computer and the newspapers, looking for the owners we feel have just got to be out there somewhere, missing their stray pets as much as the animals are missing them. Our incredible, hard-working staff argues passionately to save certain borderline cases. We all have our favorites, those that touch our hearts and inspire us to search for whatever alternatives we can find for them. Each of us has our lists of contacts for help in finding homes for specific types of breeds or hardship cases, and we refer to them frequently to try, often in vain, to find solutions for nearly unsolvable situations.
We ask our veterinarian for special consideration, pleading the case of one animal or another, even when we know (as is too often the case) that the funds simply aren't there. Couldn't we go ahead and do the extensive dental work on this dog, since he's so wonderful? Can't the badly damaged leg be amputated on this cat, who is so lovable and adoptable in spite of her injuries? We know that even our pragmatic vet, sworn to comfort and heal the sick and prevent the perpetuation future generations of unwanted animals while trying to keep costs within a mangeable range, ususally melts at the sight of an especially needy animal who could be saved by his intervention. Many times, we, as a team, manage to find a way to save just one more of the hopeless cases.
Sadly, for all to many others, there are no options, there are not happy endings. Sometimes, no matter what we do, we have no solution to offer. We do the very best we can while we have them here, and if we can do no more, we give them the kindest gift we have left, a painless end to their lonely existence.
We hope that, someday, somehow, there will be no need to euthanize. Until then, we hope the public will understand why we have no choice.