Unfortunately, in the world of animal welfare, death is not always the worst option.
The latest horrific case of alleged animal abuse occurred in Enfield this week where officials found eight dead Labrador mix dogs at Jonathon Peare’s home and rescued six more in various stages of ill health. State workers called it one of the worst cases of animal abuse and neglect they had ever seen. Animal officials in the town said two of the six dogs would probably need to be euthanized.
No one likes to talk about euthanasia, but if you’ve seen a dog or cat in extreme pain with no chance of healing, euthanasia is sometimes its only chance for relief.
Those who work in animal shelters and must perform that heart-wrenching task are perhaps the bravest and most compassionate of all animal lovers.
Chances are they don’t go home at night and talk about their day. Yet too often those who perform what is often the most humane act of all are vilified and scorned.
Last summer TV food host Rachel Ray announced a contest dubbed “Mutt Madness” to celebrate the “good guys” in the pet rescue world. The winners would receive significant donations to their shelters. She limited the contest to “no-kill shelters.”
There are those who are proud to say they donate only to no-kill shelters. Certainly that is anyone’s prerogative.
Those were the donors that Tim Trow, president of a large animal shelter in Toronto, counted on, according to investigators with OSPCA, who charged him and four other shelter officials with animal cruelty.
According to a story aired by MSNBC, the shelter bragged for years of its low euthanasia rate — only 6 percent. Clearly this was truly a humane shelter.
As one shelter worker told a reporter, “It’s a pretty big donor grab if you say we only euthanize 6 percent of our animals.”
When investigators raided the shelter in November one called it a “house of horrors” with rampant infections, animals lying in their own filth, limited food, and sick and suffering animals dying in their cages without adequate medical care.
The shelter had a capacity of 600 animals and was housing 1,000.
In Mississippi a no-kill shelter equipped for 60 dogs had 400 in residence when investigators raided it.
Julie Morris, a senior vice president with ASPCA, put it quite well when she was interviewed as part of the MSNBC report.
“Some shelters in their quest to be no-kill either end up hoarding animals or keeping them way too long and not thinking of quality of life. … To warehouse animals for years in a small cage so you can say the animal was not euthanized but the animal is suffering is insane.”
American Humane, a national nonprofit organization that works to end the abuse of children and animals, has launched a “Getting to Zero” initiative that identifies best practices for animal shelters across the country. The goal of the initiative is creating a world in which no healthy or treatable animal ever has to be put down.
Some of the best practices involve disease control within the shelters and low-cost spay and neuter clinics.
Suzan Bell, executive director of the Bangor Humane Society, said BHS does not euthanize animals because of space.
“We will never do that while I’m here,” she said this week.
Animals at BHS are euthanized if they are sick and in pain and untreatable or if they are found to be too aggressive to be safely adopted, she said.
“We had a dog that was adopted out and brought back three times before we finally found her the right home on the fourth try. We had a beautiful, old black Lab with a tumor on the side of her neck that was the size of her head. We treated her and cared for her and found her a wonderful foster home,” she said.
Perhaps the goal that animal welfare shelters should aim for is a “low-kill rate” rather than a “no-kill.”
Because until there is a world where people don’t abuse and neglect animals there are always going to be sick, suffering and dying animals whose only comfort will come from the person with the strength of character, compassion and humanity to provide its only and final relief.