Regular readers know I am not in the business of defending shelters who kill healthy/treatable pets. But when I read a story from rescuers about a shelter in Lyons, GA killing every dog in the pound – 90 total – I wanted to understand why this happened and how it could potentially be prevented in future.
The postings on Facebook about the mass killing yesterday include allegations of dogs being killed with rescue on the way, dogs being buried alive, etc. These things concerned me enough to make a call to the shelter. I spoke with two ACOs, including the supervisor, Darel. Both men came across as honest and sincerely interested in saving dogs at the pound. I asked specifically about the allegations in the FB posting and we also talked about reducing killing at the shelter. Some of you will already be familiar with the rescuers’ side of the story. If not, here is a link. I want to present the shelter’s side of the story – not in an attempt to justify or excuse the needless killing of shelter pets but rather in an effort to understand how this event occurred and how animal advocates may be able to help this shelter, and others like it, to reduce the killing in future.
This is my summary of the conversations I had with the two ACOs at the Lyons shelter:
There have been no killings at the shelter from July 2010 up until yesterday. The reason was that they were working with a rescue group called SOAPS, getting dogs sent out to other states and doing adoption events. The rescue was usually pulling puppies and small dogs and the big dogs were left behind. As the months passed, the pound – set up to house 30 – 35 dogs in 6 X 8 pens- was getting overfilled with these large dogs. They were grouping them together based on personality and often had 6 (or more) dogs to a pen. Each time rescue came to pull dogs, many of the same ones were left behind. Same with the adoption events. The number of dogs who had no interest shown in them kept growing. The shelter staff felt it was cruel to keep so many dogs together in small quarters in a pound environment long term – they are not set up as a sanctuary. Further, they worried if the state inspector came by and saw how far over capacity they were and how the dogs were cramped together, they might be shut down and then the community’s pets would be without any shelter.
They made a decision to kill every dog in the pound. All strays had been there more than the legally required 3 days and most had been there much longer. The idea was to get all new inventory (my words, not theirs) so that rescue pullers and potential adopters at adoption events could have new dogs to choose from instead of the same dogs they’d passed over many times in past.
A local veterinarian and a euthanasia technician administered the injections to all the dogs and verified they were dead before they were taken for burial. Darel said the dogs’ remains were treated with the same dignity and respect as would be afforded a human. In addition to the two people injecting the dogs, there were 4 others assisting. None were from SOAPS.
After the mass killing, SOAPS was understandably very upset and told them they were planning on pulling some of the dogs. The ACOs did not know that at the time of the killings and since SOAPS did not know the killings were taking place, there was no communication about that fact until it was too late. The shelter would not have killed any dogs slated for rescue had they been aware in advance.
What I heard from the two ACOs I spoke with was a sense of responsibility to, and compassion for, the dogs in their care as well as a sincere desire to get dogs out of the pound alive. They want and appreciate any help animal advocates are willing to give them. These are the types of people I can work with. I did not hear anything like, “We have to kill because the irresponsible public won’t neuter their pets” or “Until the county passes MSN, we’re going to keep killing”. Those types I can not work with because they make me feel hopeless. But to give you an example of why I feel hopeful about the Lyons shelter, Darel told me they picked up 2 Beagles today. I explained that I have a Beagle, I love Beagles, and I have many readers who love the breed too. I explained how, if the shelter posted their pets online, such as on Petfinder (they currently have no pets online), I could share the links with readers in my Shelter Pet of the Day post. And of course rescuers and cross-posters could share them as well. We talked about the importance of photos and online networking and how this could get lots more eyeballs on the dogs at the pound than relying on a rescue group and local adoption events. Darel offered to contact me if no one claims the Beagles and e-mail me a photo. I promised to put the dogs on the blog to try to help spread the word about them. If the dogs don’t get redeemed, I hope Darel follows through. Watch this space.
To reiterate: I do not condone the killing of healthy/treatable shelter pets, under any circumstances, including those at the Lyons shelter yesterday. But I think we as animal advocates have an obligation to understand why shelter killing happens – which we can not do with only one side of the story and all manner of histrionics. Further, when presented an opportunity to help shelter staff who are open to it, such as at the Lyons shelter, we have an obligation to reach out and do what we can to try and save more pets. To my mind, our focus should be on doing whatever we can to get pets out of situations like these before they happen – not adding unsubstantiated drama to an already heartbreaking event. That is a distraction. And while we are distracted, shelter pets are being needlessly killed.