Working at an Animal Shelter: Dealing with Euthanasia of Pets

Mark Gordon BrownStarred Page By Mark Gordon Brown, 21st Aug 2010 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Pets>Other

My wife worked at an Animal Shelter in Canada for five years. As a result of more animals being brought to the shelter than being adopted they were forced to euthanize some pets. Here is an Interview I did with her about her experiences.

Did Your Shelter Kill Pets and Why?

Yes. Once a week, every Wednesday, a vet came and euthanized some animals. In the Summer and Fall we were swamped with pets. More people brought animals in than were coming in to adopt pets. Also because of the warm weather more pets were outdoors and we also took in lost pets and strays. Summer and fall are when more kittens are born, thus flooding the city with "Free Kittens" so shelters were full of kittens too. Trust me it was not something we wanted to do.

Unfortunately as a shelter that never refused animals we did not have the room to accommodate all the animals that were brought in. More pets were brought to the shelter every week than got adopted. Also some pets that were in the adoption area for too long would be put down so that other pets could be given a chance.

How did they Decide Which Pets would be Put Down?

Pets that were more adoptable were put for adoption, while those that were less adoptable would be put down. In our area small dogs were very adoptable, larger dogs were less adoptable, unless young. Uniqueness also counted. If we had four black labs (for example) it was unlikely all would be put for adoption. Well mannered pets were considered more adoptable (trained dog versus untrained dog). Pets with known histories were more adoptable than strays, but strays were given opportunity for adoption (some shelters never allowed strays to be put up for adoption because they had so many owner relinquished pets).

Really... there were lots of factors. Space always dictated how many could be put into adoption. Animals that were in adoption for several months, and who had been passed over time and time again, would be put down. Also animals with health or behavioral issues were put down. The shelter did not have the time or finances to deal with either.

How did they Euthanize the Pets, and did you have to watch?

There are several methods of euthanizing animals, the veterinarians we dealt with used injections, sometimes the pets, like aggressive dogs, were sedated first with pills in their food. One staff member (and a health tech) did have to help the vet, I often did this, nobody else wanted to, and it was an important job, even though very sad.

How did you Emotionally Deal with seeing so Many Pets Killed?

Whether I was there or not, they pets were going to be killed, I suppose I did it for myself as much as them, because I was aware how callous (and rough) some people could be at this time. I often said “Go in Peace” to the animals, and as much as the public was mad at us for “killing” the pets, it was the fault of the public for not spaying or neutering their pets in the first place, so I held no blame to myself or the veterinarian.

What Did they Do with the Dead Animals?

Some shelters have cremation abilities, we did not, the animals were put in special garbage bags and taken to a special area of the landfill. If pets were brought in dead (hit by car), or died at the shelter, we put them in garbage bags and they went into a deep freezer, if unidentified we keep them for a week to allow an owner to claim the body, otherwise they also went to the landfill.

Kittens and Puppies too?

Kittens more so than puppies, just because there were far more of them. It was rare when puppies were euthanized. Mostly it was mature animals, or very young kittens under 5 weeks of age, since we did not have space to keep them when they were too young to be vaccinated and wait for them to get old enough for adoption, when there were already oodles of kittens who were “ready to go”.

Is it True that Shelters Kill Pets After 72 Hours?

Totally untrue, but the 72 hour law is important for people to know about. Basically it says that legally after 72 hours a pet without identification (tattoo, microchip, tags) is property of the shelter to do with as they want. Pets with identification required 10 days hold. Anyhow... our shelter only had the vet come once a week, and even if the pet had been there 72 hours as a stray we gave it until the following week in hopes an owner would claim it. Only if the pet was very ill would it be taken to the vet sooner for euthanasia, but still we always had to wait 72 hours before it could be put down.

If the pet is adoptable it is vet checked, vaccinated and dewormed. Once these expenses are occurred no way does the shelter want to have to euthanize the pet, still if it is passed over for long, (our shelter typically gave pets 2 months) it would be euthanized to make room for other animals.

Some Animal Shelters are “No-Kill” Why Wasn't Yours, or Why Didn't You Work at a No-Kill Shelter?

When I started there were no 'no-kill' shelters in the area. Even then it must be noted that no-kill shelters just turn pets away when they are full. With limited space and a mandate not to turn any pets away, we could not save them all. As I said earlier we accepted every pet. Even when a no-kill shelter did open in the area, they hand picked which animals they would save, and the rest came to us, forcing us to still deal with the surplus of animals – lack of space, and adoption rates.

Anything Else you Would Like to Add?

The rates of euthanasia would be much lower if pet owners spayed or neutered their pets, or did not let them outside if they were not fixed. Of course its important for people to not get pets unless they know they can provide a lifetime home for them. Additionally it is better in the long run for people to bring unwanted pets to a shelter, especially kittens and puppies, because when given away for free they often do not get spayed or neutered and add to the problem in the years to come.

I encourage people to visit their local shelter if they want to get a new pet, adoption rates are generally less than taking a free pet and going to the vet with it. While working at the shelter I adopted four cats, which was the limit for ownership.


Guide to Cat Care

How to Get Rid of an Unwanted Cat

Different Types of Pet Rescue

General Information Every Pet Owner Should Know

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Meet the author

author avatar Mark Gordon Brown
Raised in Michigan, I have a son who recently joined the Military. I am living in Canada with my wife where we have a hobby farm.

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author avatar SuzAlicie
21st Aug 2010 (#)

Such as sad topic, and such a necessary page. People really should be more responsible with spaying and neutering their animals, it would save so many loving pet lives.

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author avatar Javiervega
1st Oct 2010 (#)

even though i don't think "killing" animals is good owners are more to blame.

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author avatar Jen
11th Jul 2011 (#)

I work at a small shelter in the "Christian" South, and the attitude of the people here is heartrendingly callous. People don't want to pay any adoption prices because to them, it's not necessary to vet an animal--they are, after all, very replaceable. We use the line "there's no such thing as a free animal" frequently and to deaf ears. To them, it is a waste of money to get an animal vaccinated and fixed. I mean, if it dies, you can just pick up another one off the street. Meanwhile, my coworkers and I struggle with a 90% kill rate at our shelter. An owner claimed his pit the other day, and we offered to pay for the surgery to get it fixed--to fix his animal for FREE! He said, "I'm going to breed her and sell the puppies." I told him that pits were the #1 animal killed at the shelter, and we would inevitably kill his pups. I asked him if it was worth the price of selling the pits knowing that we had to deal with the emotional trauma of euthanizing them. He said, and I quote: "That's your problem, not mine." Took his pit and walked out the door. People whose pets are euthanized accuse shelters like ours of hating animals. Little do they know, the longer we work in the shelter environment, the greater our love of animals grows, and the more contempt we feel for their owners, our fellow humans.

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author avatar Liz
24th Dec 2011 (#)

And animal shelters need to
stop killing and start educating. Their policies are as much at fault for the euth numbers. They accept pets from owners without helping the owners find alternative solutions in many cases. Night time drop off boxes are one of the ways to encourage pet dumping. It is the owner but it is also the whole system that enables "bad" pet owners.

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author avatar Heather
13th May 2012 (#)

if there were no drop boxes people would them off in a ditch or an empty field,or worst a dumpster. Then hopefully animal control finds that pet before they strave to death. animal shelters can only do so much to educate, unless it was illegal to have an animal not fixed we can't force people to do it.

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author avatar Tanja
6th Dec 2012 (#)

You need to correct the statement that no-kill shelters are not open admission. There are over 82 communities with no-kill shelters that are open admission.

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