Ok...this rant of sorts has been spurred from this article and has nothing to do with my first love...my family, but with my 2nd love...animals. Since reading this account I have stewed over it because it irritates me so badly. The gist of the story is this: woman takes 1 year old dog to the humane society to relinquish it. Woman discloses that said dog is destructive (severely so...tearing up walls, carpet, etc.) when left alone. Humane society discloses that this dog is likely not an adoption candidate and will most likely be euthanized and said woman signs paperwork to relinquish the dog. Upon returning to her car and rethinking the deed, she has a change of heart and returns, only to find that the dog has already been euthanized. And people are pissed at the humane society!
Let me give you a different scenario...this happens to be a true story. I worked at a very large, privately funded, open admission "kill" shelter (the phrase irks me, but I will use it in this context). This means that this shelter will take ANY animal that walks through the door, whether it be the cute, fuzzy, snuggly puppy that everyone wants or the 12 year old, disease-ridden tom cat with half a tail and one working eye that nobody wants, and everything in between. Naturally, not every animal will be adopted, nor should they be. Face it people...some of these animals are not adoptable. On one of these "ordinary" days I was nearing the end of my shift as a vet tech and working in an area known as Return for Treatment (RFT). It was a service provided by the shelter where people could make appointments following adoption for any medical problems (shelter-related) that may arise in the weeks following adoption. I was just about to lock the door when I saw a man walking up with a large german shepherd. I immediately recognized the dog because I had examined him several days prior. He was memorable because he was such a great dog. Shepherds tend to be on the anxious, less stable side and this dog had had such a calm, delightful demeanor. The 5 year old purebred shepherd was confident, but affectionate and when I tested a few commands on him he enthusiastically obliged. He knew his stuff and he was an easy dog to work with. I couldn't fathom why anyone had given him up and I don't recall now what the reason on his form was, but it was one of the more common one answer reasons..."moving" or "allergies" or something along those lines. He was a perfect adoption candidate and I kenneled him and initialed my approval for his adoption.
I was surprised to see him returning and my first thought was that he must have come down with kennel cough, common in shelters. I held the door open for him and returned to my spot behind the desk and asked how I could help. He choked back tears and my heart started breaking. He and his wife were probably in their 50's. They had put their names on the purebred list looking for a german shepherd specifically and when they received the call that there was a 5 year old male at the shelter they immediately drove down to meet him. It was love at first sight and they adopted him that afternoon. They were retired, so they had plenty of time to work with him, but he recounted that there was no work to be done! He never had an accident, he went to the door and softly whined every time he had to go without fail. He only barked when someone was approaching the door and then stopped. He didn't jump up on people, he was calm and obeyed every command given. He even walked perfectly on leash. The 2nd day they had him they had a dinner planned and their grandkids were coming over. They were nervous waiting for everyone to arrive...this would be a big test. Shepherds don't always have the greatest track record with kids. Much to their surprise, however, when the kids arrived, he happily greeted them with soft licks to their cheeks and that was it. He happily played with them all evening and they continued to fall in love. Then the 3rd day came. They had tickets to a baseball game and would be leaving their beloved beast for the first time, but it would be only for a few hours. They had no qualms about leaving him after 2 perfect days observing such a collected dog.
After a beautiful day at a spring baseball game they began their drive home and received a phone call from their neighbor. He was just calling to tell them that he had seen their new dog running in the neighborhood and had him in their back yard to be retrieved whenever they got home. How could that be? They left him securely in their house. They returned home and walked in to find not a home, but a disaster area. Every window treatment had been torn down, furniture had been demolished. Walls and doors had been clawed and scratched at desperately, leaving blood behind as he looked for a way to escape. They even found water running in the bathroom sink at full blast. Still they couldn't figure out how he had gotten out. They searched the house in tears trying to figure out what had gone on and finally the wife went upstairs and discovered the broken window. In his terror and desperation at being left and in a last attempt at finding and joining his new beloved clan he jumped through a second story window. He survived it...unscathed, but his new owners hadn't. They had fallen in love and discovered that the dog that had gripped their heart from the moment they saw him had a horrible secret. He was terrified of being alone to the point that he would gladly harm himself to cure his loneliness. You can't stick a dog lake this in a crate...they will chew through it eventually, leaving teeth and claws behind as needed to escape their "prison". It's questionable whether a case such as this is even rehabilitatable in the best of situations...who is willing to take something like this on and is it fair for the poor animal? By the time the story had been relayed to me the man was sobbing and gripping the dog around his beautiful neck as he said his goodbyes. I apologized to the man for their terrible experience and he quickly and very graciously thanked our organization for all that we did day in and day out and found no fault in us...if only his previous owner had been as honest about his history as the woman in the link above. I walked away with the regal dog on the end of a slack leash and placed him in a kennel...he had given us no signs when in the shelter. He seemed perfectly well-adjusted. A few calls to some rescues and the same number of "no's" later, his fate was confirmed and he was peacefully euthanized...not killed...euthanized. I was able to hold it together through the whole experience, but sat in my car on the phone with my now husband and sobbed about it. I could feel their hearts breaking and I hurt for the terror that that poor dog experienced as well. Someone tell me it's fair to prolong that kind of fear!
There are people who will argue that a dog should be placed in a foster home to see if rehab is possible. Foster homes are few and far between...the fact is that there are more animals that need foster homes than there are foster homes available. Just as there are more animals that need permanent homes than there are permanent homes available. To add to the complication, foster homes are purely made up of volunteers. What kind of volunteers open their homes up to homeless animals? People who have a very sensitive heart for animals. If there is probability that an animal is not going to end up adoptable or rescue-able how can a shelter place that animal in a foster home only to tell them, "oh well, we gave it our best shot?" Shelters have a responsibility to take care of their volunteers as much as they do the animals in their charge.
I have probably had my soapbox long enough, but the truth that I want to be extremely evident in this post is that these shelters are not horrible places that are just looking for a reason to "kill" an animal. People agonize over these decisions...decisions that are made HUNDREDS of times every day. These are not taken lightly and the people who work in these places are on the same side as every other animal lover out there. The one year old lab in the first story linked here was not euthanized out of spite for the woman who left her behind...they were simply trying to do the kindest thing for the pup. Shelters are not doggie spas. No dog wants to be left there...it's stressful, scary, loud and cold...and VERY far from home. This is becoming very cliche, but the only cure for these situations is to SPAY and NEUTER your pets. I hope one person can read this and suddenly realize what shelters are up against...it's a sad place staffed by wonderful people.