The Humane Society of Yuma (HSOY) in Arizona holds animal control contracts with multiple municipalities. The pound promises on its website that every dog will get a toy, a bed and at least 45 minutes of outdoor time every day. And:
In the event that an animal is suffering and at the end of its life, HSOY will provide the most humane death possible to that animal.
One family’s beloved lost pet did not get a toy and a bed on September 14 – he got an injection of Fatal Plus. One day earlier, the family visited HSOY to ID their dog and take him home but the Humane Society of Yuma refused to release the dog, who had already been there for several days. Although the shelter has not disclosed the reason for this, I would guess it may have had to do with the owner’s inability to pay the reclaim fees since this is a common reason some so-called shelters refuse to send pets home with their rightful owners. The family made an agreement to return for the dog and when they did, HSOY told them the dog has been oops-killed. There is no evidence the dog was “suffering and at the end of its life”. In a post on Facebook, the pound stated:
Unbeknownst to the kennel staff that this pet had an owner, this animal had been chosen for euthanasia because it was ill.
Ill? Or “suffering and at the end of its life”? In fact, the dog had a cough according to the official statement from HSOY:
HUMANE SOCIETY OF YUMA INVESTIGATED THE INCIDENT AND HAS TAKEN MEASURES TO ENSURE A TRAGEDY, AND MISTAKE, LIKE THIS WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. THE DOG HAD BECOME SICK WITH KENNEL COUGH AND WAS ALSO ASSESSED AS BEING AGGRESSIVE. UNFORTUNATELY, IN THESE SITUATIONS, WITH OUR LIMITED SPACE AND RESOURCES, THE DOG WAS DEEMED UNADOPTABLE AND SELECTED FOR EUTHANASIA. IT’S A TRAGIC REMINDER TO COME LOOK FOR YOUR PET AS SOON AS IT GOES MISSING.
To my mind, the closing sentence of this official statement seems not only unfair but cruel. Unfair because the owners did come to look for their lost pet, even if they didn’t arrive at the pound as quickly as HSOY thinks they should have. Cruel because it shifts the blame for the killing from HSOY, who actually did the killing, to the owners, who tried to redeem the dog but were turned away. This is not a tragic reminder of the perceived failures of pet owners. It’s a tragic reminder that the organization calling itself a “humane society”, promising to give your lost pet a bed and a toy and to only perform euthanasia if your lost pet is medically hopeless and suffering is actually failing to do its job and blaming the public for its failures.
Nowhere in the official statements from HSOY do I see any reference to this dog’s name, gender, age or breed. This beloved pet is referred to only by “it”, as if he was a lost piece of luggage. This comes across to me as an attempt to devalue the dog and thus, lessen the impact of the killing. It does not give me any sense that HSOY is staffed by compassionate people who want to get pets out of the shelter alive. I hope these official statements have given me a wrong impression and that the staff and volunteers there truly do care about pets. I realize the statements may have been crafted by a PR consultant and that the staff/vols may have had no input. If that is indeed the case, I think the staff/vols should be angry to have been represented so callously in these statements.
On a hopeful note, I contacted the director of HSOY, Shawn Smith, in order to authenticate the shelter’s official statement (above). Mr. Smith conveyed what seemed to me to be a sincere desire to “stop the killing”. I like his word choice. That phrase speaks to me as I imagine it does to others pet lovers. And it would have been a powerful sentiment, along with paying tribute to the individual value of the life of the dog who was oops-killed, to include in the official statement about the incident.
While the killing can’t be undone and the cruel statements can’t be taken back, it’s not too late for HSOY to deliver a true public apology to the owners and to its donors, supporters and community. It’s not too late for HSOY to publicly commit that no owners, save for animal cruelty cases, will be turned away when attempting to reclaim pets in future. It’s not too late to say that an incident like this could never happen again because in future, the only animals euthanized at HSOY will be those who are medically hopeless and suffering or dogs deemed aggressive by the courts where no sanctuary options exist.
Blaming the public has created zero no kill communities in this country. Why not try implementing a proven model aimed at saving pets’ lives, partnering with the community and preventing the need to craft statements to an outraged public about oops-killings?