Silent Howls: The Euthanization Of Shelter Dogs

Euthanasia is an unfortunate reality for shelter dogs that don’t get adopted, but spaying and neutering could go a long way in changing this.
By @KtLentsch |
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    A photo of a lonely dog. High numbers of bandoned dogs are roaming the streets of Detroit, Michigan leaving city officials overwhelmed at the prospect of handing an issue that raises both animal rights and safety concerns. (Photo/Wim Mulder via Flickr)

    High numbers of abandoned dogs are roaming the streets of Detroit, Michigan leaving city officials overwhelmed at the prospect of handling an issue that raises both animal rights and safety concerns. (Photo/Wim Mulder via Flickr)

    For many animal lovers, a pet is a member of the family. The most beloved house pet for one-third of American families is man’s furry, four-legged friend: the dog.

    Though apparently adored by Americans, dogs in shelters often exceed demand. According to the Humane Society of the United States, 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats enter shelters each year, but only about 30 percent of house pets are adopted from shelters or animal rescue centers.

    Misconceptions about shelter dogs may be why the majority of people choose to get their tail-wagging companions from pet stores, individual and specialty breeders, or personal acquaintances. Shelter dogs have a reputation of being misbehaved, sickly and untrainable, as well as a breed “wildcard,” and all of these factors can be a deterrent for potential adopters. While shelters are trying to disprove this stigma and take care of stray animals as best as they can, the fate of the animals that don’t get picked remains a serious problem at hand — and paw.

    Due to low adoption rates, the American Humane Association states that 56 percent of sheltered dogs are euthanized. With limited space and resources available to the animals, euthanization has become the all too common and necessary reality for millions of homeless pets.


    Too many woofs, not enough roofs

    For many shelters, euthanasia is the last option for a homeless dog.

    If attendants are able, the first thing they do when a stray is brought in is try to determine if the animal has an owner. Many of the dogs at shelters once had a home, but they’ve either been returned by the owner or abandoned.

    “The bigger issue is the owners, not the dogs in the shelters,” said Andrea Cole, an animal care attendant at Crossroads Animal Shelter in Buffalo, Minn. “People are uneducated when they get these animals and they’re the ones surrendering them or turning them loose.”

    Only 30 percent of sheltered dogs get reclaimed by their owners. Besides an identification tag or a collar, Cole says there are other signs a dog once had a home.

    “We don’t just get wild, crazy dogs that have no history whatsoever,” Cole told MintPress News. “We get dogs that are already neutered or already spayed, or they’re four years old and they already know how to sit, shake, lie down, and do all that good stuff.”

    Spaying and neutering are often encouraged. These procedures not only provide long-term health benefits for dogs, like cancer prevention, but they also help fight overpopulation. The costs, however, vary by location and by the weight of the dog. Neutering at a Humane Society branch or low-cost clinics can range from $45 to $135, while spaying costs between $50 to $175. Some animal hospitals may even charge up to $200 or $300.

    “People usually call one clinic and give up at that,” said Cole, who believes it’s best to reach out to multiple clinics, since estimates are free. “You’ve got to get educated and figure out where your money can be spent wisely.”

    Stressing the importance of spaying and neutering, Crossroads won’t hire an employee whose own pets are not spayed or neutered and it will not adopt to families who have unaltered pets at home.


    The barking truth

    Back in 1999, the Humane Society established guidelines for animal shelters on selecting animals for euthanasia.

    “Although euthanasia decisions should never be completely without subjective opinions and the ability to make choices based on individual animals, written guidelines provide some parameters for employees to work within,” the guidelines state.

    These parameters include specific factors such as age, behavior and health.

    For selection at Crossroads, Cole said a dog’s biting tendencies are a major behavioral factor. Another factor in selecting an animal for euthanasia, Cole said, is “if they have some sort of medical condition that is just too far gone we cannot handle, that we cannot take care of as far as their quality of life.”

    When caring for strays, many facilities have a stable holding period that gives owners a chance to be located or for pets to be claimed. This period varies among shelters and states.

    “We always hope an owner will come forward,” Cole said.

    According to the Humane Society, euthanasia may be warranted once a shelter is no longer able to humanely house the animal, provide treatment to those who are sick, or achieve access to a credible rescue or foster home.

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