I’ve managed and volunteered at several open-admission animal shelters over the years, and I can tell you that the care of dogs and cats in these shelters has always been far superior to the “care” that animals receive in university and private vivisection laboratories that I’ve visited. I often think of an old blind dog who lived for years as a blood donor at a veterinary school. He got out for walks now and then, but he was otherwise confined to a concrete run for his entire life. Although his living conditions were less hideous than those at an Iams laboratory that was exposed in a PETA undercover investigation, his treatment was still unethical, and he had no real quality of life.
Even with good care and intentions, the question remains: Is there a length of time that is too long for an animal shelter to keep a dog or a cat?
I know from experience that even in reputable animal shelters with caring staff and volunteers–where dogs are exercised daily and receive play time and cats receive daily cuddling and kind words–some cats who are highly “adoptable” when they enter the shelter become so stressed that they start to bite or swat at everyone. So they just sit in their cage or colony play area with no hope of adoption. Many healthy and friendly dogs become depressed or start to exhibit frantic behaviors, such as throwing themselves against cage walls, spinning madly in place, or becoming aggressive. And what if–despite excellent cleaning and vaccination protocols and a full-time medical staff–you have an outbreak of parvovirus or bordatella in a kennel of “adoptable” dogs? They either have to be quarantined for 10 days or-when every foster home is full and there is nowhere for the animals to be placed-euthanized.
I’ve seen several recent episodes at different “open-admission” animal shelters where they asked the public to wait to turn animals in to the shelter so that they could quarantine an entire room or just wait until there was an open cage available. Inevitably, this leads to an increase in the number of cats who are dumped in the parking lot (or worse), and it’s not unusual to find a dog tied to the shelter door in the early morning.
Even when an animal shelter is doing everything that it can to adopt out animals and provide excellent physical and psychological care, it still has to face the difficult reality: Some animals must be euthanized in order to keep others from being harmed or abandoned on the street. But volunteers may quit or even start a public campaign to denounce the shelter if it euthanizes a long-time resident, or they may insist that they’ll pay to keep the one dog or cat at a boarding facility since all adoption efforts have failed. Have you found yourself in that role? Did insisting on “life” for that one dog or cat actually result in prolonged suffering for that animal or for other animals who died alone on the streets because the shelter was too full to accept them?
The overpopulation problem in animal shelters occurs because some people still buy animals from pet shops and breeders and because many people refuse to spay or neuter and insist on breeding animals. Until we end breeder and pet-store sales of animals and until spaying and neutering brings the number of homeless and unwanted animals down, the decisions that animal shelters face will continue to be difficult. Ethics demand that animal shelters keep their doors open to all animals in need–even if it means saying goodbye to some friends we’ve grown to love during their months in the shelter. I believe that the growing demands on open-admission animal shelters to play word games about their euthanasia policies is a challenge to shelters to act in the real interests of animals.
What do you think? Do you agree?