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Animal Shelters - Pet Euthanasia

Updated on August 8, 2012
Learn more about animal rescue.
Learn more about animal rescue. | Source

Animal Rescue

I think animal shelters are extremely important. I love animals, and I’ve been involved with animal rescue for as long as I can remember. I had a great role model as a child – my mom. She had an amazing healing ability, even when she was a child. She grew up on a farm, and she always took it upon herself to take care of the sick and injured livestock. When I was a kid, I remember her rescuing baby opossums, flying squirrels, gray squirrels, and frogs, along with lots of dogs and cats. I never knew her to turn away a hungry, homeless, sick, or injured critter. By the way, she was a registered nurse for more than three decades, so she used her talent and compassion on humans, too. Honestly, Mom was the kindest, most compassionate person I’ve ever known. This trait was still evident even after she was ravaged by Alzheimer’s. During the year she spent in the lockdown unit, she did her best to help care for other patients. When Mom died, she had requested that people make donations to homeless shelters and animal shelters in lieu of flowers.

My animal rescues have included lots of feral cats.
My animal rescues have included lots of feral cats. | Source

Animal Rescues – My Experiences

I can’t count the number of animal rescues my family and I have performed. We’ve lived in a few remote, very rural areas, and it was common for people to “drop off” their unwanted pets near our house. We live in the suburbs now, but we still get unwanted pets. Occasionally, we also find wild animals that have been injured or abandoned by their mothers. My animal rescues have included dogs, cats, rabbits, goats, chickens, snakes, turtles, wild birds, and an opossum. Last year, my middle daughter rescued a litter of baby squirrels that had fallen from their nest. She took them to our local shelter, and now the squirrels are grown and living in a wildlife habitat.

Sometimes my animal rescue efforts involve socializing and “taming” feral cats so that they can be adopted. At other times, I’ve nursed sick or malnourished dogs and cats back to good health so that they could be adopted. I always tried to place these pets myself, but that didn’t always work. At those times, I took the dogs and cats to animal shelters to be put up for adoption. Sometimes, of course, we kept the animals ourselves. When we lived on farms, it wasn’t unusual for us to have a veritable zoo, with horses, cows, pigs, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and hamsters, along with several dogs and maybe twenty cats.

Most animal shelters handle animal control, too.
Most animal shelters handle animal control, too. | Source

Animal Shelters

Most animal lovers consider animal shelters to be a real godsend. It’s mind-boggling to me how many uncaring, irresponsible pet owners there are in the United States. We’re supposed to be a nation of intelligent, compassionate people, after all. Judging by the number of abandoned, starved, abused, and neglected dogs and cats we have, I’d say we have a long way to go.

Animal shelters are often the last hope for these unwanted pets. They get food, clean water, and a warm, dry place to sleep. In shelters, they’re safe from predators, traffic, and callous humans. Many shelters also supply the animals with toys and playtime. Hopefully, they’ll also get some TLC, which all animals deserve.

Many animal shelters also provide other services. These might include free or low cost spaying and neutering, educational programs, and animal control. We had to call them once when a rabid opossum wandered into our yard, and they came to pick up the animal immediately. I shudder to think what could have happened if some child came upon the sick critter and tried to pet it.

We have a fox that lives here in town, and its habitat is being destroyed due to land development. The fox has stolen several feral kittens I was taming. I talked with our local shelter, and they’re going to trap and relocate the fox this fall. They’re waiting, just in case the fox is a nursing female. I certainly don’t want any animal babies starving to death.

Sometimes it’s best to leave animal rescue to the professionals. They have the knowledge, the experience, and the equipment to handle wild or aggressive animals. Even otherwise docile pets can become aggressive when they’re scared or in pain, and you never know what kind of diseases they could be harboring. Most healthy wild animals have an innate fear of humans, so if you find one that appears to be docile, it might very well be sick.

Most animals in shelters are hungry for affection.
Most animals in shelters are hungry for affection. | Source
Many animal shelters have purebred dogs.
Many animal shelters have purebred dogs. | Source

Animals in Shelters

Whenever I visit animals in shelters, I always feel sorry for them. Even the very best facilities and workers are a far cry from being in a loving home environment. There simply aren’t enough staff members for much one-on-one time for all the critters. Most animals in shelters also have to live in relatively small areas, too. Still, they’re much better off than they would be, otherwise: being abused, starving, roaming around lost, or being hit by an automobile.

When I visit animals in shelters, I always want to adopt them all! Of course, I know that I can't do that. Visiting local animal shelters is somewhat depressing, I'll admit. So many of the dogs and cats are longing for love, and they show it with their pleading cries and their soulful eyes. But I always remind myself that I'm bringing a little happiness into the animals' lives by just giving them some attention.

I also remind myself that at least animals in shelters are provided with adequate food, water, and shelter – the basics for survival. Most also receive some type of health or veterinary care. Best of all, adoptable animals are given a second chance at having a good life. Even those that are euthanized are usually better off. A quick, painless death is better than a life of torture and misery. This brings me to my next point – pet euthanasia.

Check out your local animal shelters. This is ours.
Check out your local animal shelters. This is ours. | Source
Dogs in our shelter have access to an outdoor area.
Dogs in our shelter have access to an outdoor area. | Source

Pet Euthanasia

Many people often wonder about how pet euthanasia is carried out in animal shelters. When our local shelter first opened, I was shocked to discover that the animals were electrocuted. Ours wasn’t the only shelter around that used electrocution, and some other methods are/were just as bad: drowning, decompression, and suffocation. Shooting is another option. That was decades ago that our shelter used electrocution, and things have changed, thank goodness. Most animal shelters in the United States moved on to lethal gas, in the form of carbon monoxide.

There’s a big debate about the use of CO as a method of euthanasia. The effectiveness and rapidity of the gas depends largely on what type of chamber is used and on how the gas is delivered. Modern commercial chambers bring about the quickest death, but all shelters can’t afford such chambers. In some shelters, death occurs in less than twenty seconds with CO, but in others, it can take as long as twenty-five minutes. When the animals are all tossed in a cage together, they sometimes panic when they hear the hissing of the gas. In such cases, fights often occur, and animals suffer painful injuries and extreme stress and fear before finally dying.

In my state, Georgia, pet euthanasia in animal shelters is done by lethal injection that’s administered by a veterinarian. According to the Humane Shelter of the United States, this is the only acceptable form of pet euthanasia, and many vets agree. An injection of sodium pentobarbital is administered in a vein, and the animal loses consciousness almost immediately. After that, the heart stops. When owners take their sick or aged pets to the vet to be “put to sleep,” this is the method that’s usually used.

Even lethal injection is often debated, however. The argument is often about the humanity of a “heart stick” – an injection directly into the heart. Many people consider this type of lethal injection inhumane when used on a conscious animal. As of 2010, the “heart stick” cannot be used in Georgia animal shelters unless the animal is unconscious or comatose. Other states have similar laws, and in several states that don’t currently have laws requiring EBI (euthanasia by injection) for shelter animals, laws are pending. I think all states should have EBI laws. Many of the animals killed have led terrible lives. The least we can do is to give them a peaceful, quick, painless death.

Pet Euthanasia - Lethal Injection - EBI

Gas Chambers:

We might be adopting Sparkplug!
We might be adopting Sparkplug! | Source

Local Animal Shelters – Support Yours!

Animal shelters are always in need. Caring for homeless pets is expensive. It’s not just about the food – costs also include housing, electricity, bedding, cleaning supplies, toys, and veterinary care. Think about how much you spend caring for one or two pets, and multiply that by fifty, a hundred, or more. It’s important for members of a community to support their local animal shelters with donations.

Shelters can always find good uses for monetary gifts, but items can be donated, too. I called today to speak to a staff member at my local shelter to ask what items were the most needed. She said they can always use towels, blankets, dog food, cat food, cleaning supplies, wand-type cat toys, pet treats, and doggie chews. In addition to the items cited by our local animal shelters staff, other shelters might need dog beds, buckets, and feeding or water dishes.

Another way to support your local animal shelters is to adopt when you want a new furry family member. We might be adopting a dog this week from our shelter! A couple of weeks ago, a sweet, beautiful basset hound was wondering around our neighborhood. We fed it for a few days, but I was sure it belonged to someone because it was in good shape and was wearing a collar. The animal shelter picked up the dog, but we told them not to euthanize it. If no one claimed him or adopted him, we’d take him. We call him “Sparkplug,” or “Sparky,” for short – a tongue-in-cheek moniker because this is the laziest, most laid-back pooch I’ve ever seen. I’m going to visit Sparkplug today.

Update: I just went to see Sparkplug, and hubby went with me. He decided to adopt Sparky on the spot! Our vet gave us a glowing recommendation, and the pooch is going to get vaccinated and neutered next week. We can bring him home after that. I hope our Great Danes accept their new "brother." If it doesn't work out, the shelter said we could return him.

You can help out with the unwanted animal problem by spaying or neutering your pets. Don't support puppy mills, either. Some pet shops get many of their dogs from puppy mills, so you might be supporting a puppy mill unknowingly if you purchase a puppy from a pet shop. If you want a new pet but don't want to adopt from local animal shelters, buy from a reputable breeder.

Become an animal shelter volunteer!
Become an animal shelter volunteer! | Source

Animal Shelter Volunteer

If you’d like to become an animal shelter volunteer, contact your local animal shelters. Our shelter often uses jail inmates to help with the cleaning chores, and volunteers aren’t allowed to work in the same area at the same time with the prisoners. Still, there’s plenty more you can do. An animal shelter volunteer might play with the pets, take them for walks, or just interact with the animals, one on one. Such pet-human socialization is very important. It can help shelter workers to better assess an animal’s temperament, and it could help make a pet more adoptable. If you don’t have a lot of time to spare, help when you can. Due to health conditions, I can’t volunteer regularly, but I go when I can. In fact, I’m going tomorrow. Few things are more rewarding than helping out in animal shelters.


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