Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Grim Facts

I used to enjoy watching the Animal Cops shows on the Animal Planet channel. The ones where they rescue a half dead dog or cat from the hands of an evil owner, attend to its medical needs and care at the city's expense, then find it a home. Warm fuzzies at the end of the episode.
When I went back to work in the animal care industry, the reality is much different. During my hiatus from Boss Man's office, I worked for a time at an animal hospital that was attached to and contracted with a city Animal Shelter. For those not in the know, shelter medicine is much different than a standard veterinary practice.
No matter what your impression, the people that work in this environment have a deep compassion for the animals. Not so much for the people, who show a level of assclownery that I rarely have had to deal with. They develop an almost psychic bullshit detector, yet they do their best to be polite and civil. Something that I fail at miserably. Most of these employees have an assortment of pets that have been turned in that have touched them in some way that they can't leave them to the uncertain fate that the shelter affords them. So they take them home and either foster them or keep them. Most of those who work in the veterinary industry take home the blind and dysfunctional, the unadoptables that were thrown away like trash.They stay at their jobs because it is a calling, helping those who have no voice. They weep over those who have no chance, and rejoice for those who find love and acceptance. They get up everyday and do their job because making a difference to just one is why they are there.

The over breeding of pets along with irresponsible pet ownership and lack of funding means that to make room for more animals coming in, those who have not been adopted must be euthanized. The law varies, but usually there is a 3-5 day hold on strays because they must try to locate the owner. Owner turn ins may be euthanized immediately. If an owner turns in an animal that is unadoptable for either medical or temperament reasons, it's rare that the pet will end up available for adoption. So if you can't keep Fluffy or Fido for whatever reason, don't turn them over to a city or county shelter unless you want them to spend some time in a cage before they are euthanized. Stay away from the illusion that the pet you didn't keep will find a new, loving home. The odds are better in Vegas.
Because of lack of funding, most city or county shelters are only required to administer pain medication to injured animals. These little guys are usually euthanized immediately, unless someone steps up and is willing to foot the vet bills to put them back together. Sick animals, the same thing. That cute puppy with Parvo won't be treated, he will be put down.
Same thing with space and funding: most shelters have  the 2 +2 rule: under 2 months, under 2 pounds equals euthanasia. I worked during the spring (kitten season) and saw so many bright eyed beautiful kittens who didn't stand a chance.
There is no breed of cat or dog that is shelter proof, we've seen all breeds. The shelter doesn't just have mutts, there's a ton of purebred pets there too. Luckily, there are breed specific rescue groups who regularly troll the kill shelters. Not much made me happier when a rescue person came in to pull all pets who were either purebred, or a mix of the breed they were dedicated to. It's nice to load pets in a van for once who stand a chance at finding a good home.
Like the tooth fairy and unicorns, No Kill Shelters are a myth. A city or county run No Kill Shelter means simply that the animals are not euthanized  on the premises. Instead, those who are elderly or have physical or temperament issues are sent to a kill shelter to be euthanized. Turning in a pet to a No Kill shelter (providing your pet passes the standards they set) only buys them more time at being adopted.  A No Kill shelter is not a sanctuary, nor is it a permanent home.

So what can the average person do to change things? Besides the obvious, which is donate and/or volunteer, there is something that every pet owner can do. Quit passing the buck and making your pet someone else's problem.  It is not necessary for your pet to breed once, or have one litter of babies (90% who will end up in  a kill shelter). Sterilize your pets as soon as possible.  Pets are a lifetime commitment, so make sure you can take care of that cute puppy or kitten in the grocery store parking lot before you take it home. A new addition to your family should always be a decision well thought out and not an impulse. Make sure you can budget in food, spay/neuter surgery and vet bills. Budget in 10-20 years for the lifetime of the pet. And when the quality of life is not there, make the decision for a peaceful end. That's what being a responsible pet owner is about.