Is euthanizing healthy adoptable or rehabilitable animals humane? This question seems to be the focus of so much attention nationwide in the animal welfare and animal rights movements lately that a web page would be incomplete without the stated position of the organization on this specifical
For those of us at Animal CARE Foundation, “humane” euthanasia of any animal for any other reason than the alleviation of insufferable, irreversible pain is an unacceptable practice. We also believe this practice promotes a disposable attitude with regards to animal life and is therefor, one of the very roots of the “animal population problem”. Until we systematically abandon killing animals as an acceptable population control methodology and problem solver, we will never build the respect for their lives needed to stop the abandonment in the first place.
Yes, that’s a strong statement, but this is why we believe this to be true.
We have become a disposable society: plastic cups, paper plates, frequent remodeling, quick changing fashion trends, deadbeat parent problems, high divorce rates and numerous career changes. We move a lot, we change a lot and we focus heavily on our convenience and simplifying our lives. Unfortunately, this includes our animal companions increasingly.
Many of the reasons people giving up their pets have noted include: “we are moving and”… “it’s too far”/”we need to drive cross country”/”we can’t have pets at our new place”/”there’s no yard”, etc. Then, there is the time schedule/life change: “we’re too busy”, “we just had a baby”, “I just got married and my spouse doesn’t like him/her”, etc. And, then there are the behavioral/physical reasons: “there’s too much hair”, “I don’t have time to walk him/her all the time”, “he/she barks too much”, “he/she pees on things”, “he/she bit my… family member”, etc.
Animals are no more perfect than humans and, very much like human children, companion animals must be taught and encouraged to integrate properly into our families. Animals, although domesticated at this point, are not naturally or instinctively understanding of human rules or ways of life. Many “objectionable behaviors” are actually very normal, natural animal behaviors. Biting, urinating on objects and other “objectionable behaviors” serve some survival need for wild animals. Training (or, more accurately retraining) an animal as to what is appropriate or not in a human environment is the answer to many “problems”, not abandoning the animals to another home with exactly the same set of rules. And, patience and understanding and even compromise are required. You will never have the perfect dog, cat, bird… just as you will never raise the perfect child. Yet we will work with inconveniences or will work to correct problem behavior for other humans, especially family members by and large. These same people, however, will frequently abandon an animal for a comparable “problem” and not even think twice about what abandonment really means for that animal, why the animal is being given up to begin with and whether or not there is an alternative to the abandonment.
“Humane euthanasia” enables and encourages this attitude, especially when coupled with the “don’t ask/don’t tell attitude” of many humane organizations. What do we mean by “Don’t ask, don’t tell”? It is standard operating procedure for many shelters and rescue organizations to just take animals without asking why they are being given up (“Don’t ask”). Additionally, organizations in general do not discourage abandonment or offer alternatives to abandonment either and they don’t tell people that they have high euthanasia rates (“Don’t tell”). They say they don’t ask or try to prevent the abandonment because there is a concern that if they do, someone will just dump the animal somewhere or kill it themselves. Additionally, people are led to believe that they have high adoption rates and that most animals find the perfect home. This is just not a reality. As a society in general, we are opposed to violence; killing companion animals ourselves because they’re inconvenient is, by and large, a phenomenon of the past. The type of person who would kill an animal because they didn’t want to consider alternatives to abandonment is probably not going to call a humane organization to begin with. And, while letting an animal loose somewhere else is still a problem, I have heard many people say that this is promoted by the fact that they feel the animal has a “better chance on the street than in a humane society where it will likely be euthanized”. To a degree, while this is not a behavior we would not promote, there is some truth to this in that many animal shelters have high euthanasia rates. The Humane Society of the United States indicates that over 6 million animals a year approximately are abandoned each year. Most of these will be euthanized. Locally, from figures volunteered by former shelter directors of our Hawaiian Humane Society and from a 1995 performance review, we have noted that approximately 13,000 or 85% of all cats turned in are euthanized yearly and approximately 9,000 or 50% of all dogs turned in are euthanized on Oahu alone. These figures do not even account for the numbers euthanized in private veterinary clinics for these very same reasons and we do not have the figures for outer island humane societies, adding to the death count.
Additionally, to make matters worse, many very intelligent people believe they only have two options with regards to their animal-related “problems’: i.e. Give the animal away or euthanize it. When did we lose the ability to realize that there are ways to work through difficulties and still keep our families, both human and animal intact? When we stopped being actively presented alternative solutions to giving the animals up in the first place and accepted animal death as an acceptable problem solution.
By continuing to promote euthanasia, and therefor death, as a “humane” method for animal population control and for fixing “animal problems”, we continue to cheapen the value of animals’ lives (they are deemed disposable items instead of living sentient creatures) and we will always have a large abandonment problem.
Interestingly enough, there are human parallels to this lack of respect and abandonment problems.
In China male children have for centuries been considered more valuable than female and previously, it was an accepted practice to kill baby girls to control family growth and allow for male children to be promoted. It is no longer legally acceptable to kill children anymore, however, it is still interesting to note that girls are abandoned to orphanages not uncommonly (and many are still killed) since boys are still considered much more important and valuable (carrying on the family name and such). Chinese couples currently are required to pay if they have more than one child, so, the less valuable girls are given away in the hopes that the family may have a boy next time. In this culture, the lack of value of baby girls coupled with the monetary punishment for larger families promotes a situation in which girls in China are treated similar to the animals in America. We won’t even discuss how animals are treated in China.
In India, homelessness and poverty among women reached an all-time high when women began refusing to follow the old tradition of setae’ (being burned alive on their dead husband’s graves). India does not accept this derivation from tradition and gives these women without husbands no rights or abilities to work, remarry or even be recognized as a living individual. Many women ended up begging on the streets, even those with careers and education, due to this lack of recognition as a living being.
And, there are numerous other examples in cultures who value human life (or certain genders, cultures or ethnicities) less than we as a culture are legally bound to do.
We have a similar situation here in the United States with the animals, however, and until we systematically abandon killing animals as an acceptable population control methodology and problem solver, we will never build the respect for their lives needed to stop the abandonment in the first place.
The killing needs to stop