Friday, January 8, 2010

Are We Horrified by the Method of Death or the Death Itself

An animal control officer in Mississippi is accused of shooting 100 cats and dogs and dumping their bodies near a creek. The officer had been employed for three years, so it's possible some of the animals were killed as long as three years ago. The officer has been fired and is facing misdemeanor charges.

I want to make my feelings clear: I believe what this man did was wrong on a moral and legal level.

But after reading a couple of articles, I'm left wondering why the outrage?

Here's what I feel the officer did wrong:
* He killed healthy and/or adoptable animals.
* He may have shot animals multiple times before their death.

People find gunshots viscerally unappealing, it's such a violent blow to the system...literally. American society has deemed it a generally unacceptable method of killing, and this is important, dogs and cats. Oddly, American society feels it acceptable to kill farmed animals and wildlife with gunshots. But our schizophrenic relationship with nonhuman animals is a post for another day (and perhaps never on this particular blog).

Wielding a gun requires experience and the ability to know where to aim for a killing shot. In my opinion, only the most docile of dogs and cats can easily be dispatched with one bullet- hitting a flailing, unrestrained dog or cat properly in the head isn't easy (assuming he aimed for the head). So I'm not going out on a limb here when I imagine that some of these animals suffered several gunshots before their ultimate demise.

But I've witnessed plenty of botched killings using "euthanasia solution". Each animal responds differently to the chemicals in euthanasia solution - some go quickly, some resist. Sometimes it is hard to find a vein. It requires a lot of physical handling, unless the animal is slap-shot with a tranquilizer or sedative prior to the introduction of the killing solution.

All that said, what I think is horrifying is this: Those animals never received a chance to be adopted. They were never taken to a shelter for possible placement. Their fates were decided by one individual who, for whatever reason, didn't want to take the time to bring the animals to the rescue league.

We kill millions of dogs and cats in this country. How they are killed is certainly important, but it is not most important. That they are killed, now that is what is important. They are killed for space. They are killed because they have curable or incurable diseases. They are sometimes killed because shelters are underfunded and lack resources for better marketing. This is what I find most tragic. Discussing how they are killed and how perhaps some forms of killing should be rethought are red herrings. They divert from the fact that we are killing at all. Yes, outlaw egregiously cruel methods of death. No, how they die should not distract from the discussion about why we are killing these animals in the first place.

This comment sums it up, expresses how horribly skewed our perceptions and priorities are in this situation:
"Healthy animals are put down in shelters every day," Boswell said. "While the results may be the same (as killing them outside a shelter), it's how you get there."

It's true. Healthy animals are killed every day. That is wrong. Morally. Ethically. Wrong. It is not where they are killed that is at issue, it is that they are killed that is at issue. So Boswell has it right, we kill a lot of animals. But Boswell has it wrong - it isn't how you get there, it is how you get the animals out alive.

As an aside, I want to make it clear that this is not me casting aspersions on shelter workers. I do not believe most of them are morally wrong or ethically unsound people. I feel they are part of a system that is making great leaps and bounds in thinking but that still kills 2-5 million animals a year. I've known wonderful ACOs, people who have helped me move, helped me train dogs, save lives, who have supported me during important times in my life. I never thought the kill room was a nice place nor the job of killing animals a good task. Never. So while I may feel strongly that killing healthy or potentially healthy animals is unacceptable, I do not feel those who participate in the system are evil, awful people. They have great potential for fomenting change, and I hope they do push the envelope and demand a paradigm shift. We all need to.


Retrieverman said...

You know what they used to do in West Virginia?

They used to take all the dogs that were going to be euthanized, tie them out in a field a varying distances, and then have the sheriff's deputies use the dogs for target practice.

Thankfully, the state legislature banned this practice.

Pibble said...

As usual, you give us a lot to think about, which is why I enjoy following your blog.

The ACO in this story was incompetent. No doubt about it. He killed animals without cause, in a gruesome and often inefficient - if that's the appropriate word – way, and for no apparent reason. In his case (as in many others), he never should have been appointed to his position and there was no oversight to ensure that his responsibilities were being carried out properly. But what really turns my stomach is that the animals who were put into his "care" had no chance for adoption or reconciliation with their families, ever. And no one noticed this for three years.

Putting aside this horrific tragedy, and turning to your real question – I don’t know if there is an answer. Or maybe the answer is that we obviously don’t have an answer. But I do think the tides are moving in the right direction.

Here in CT, I know of several ACs that have made the effort to become no-kill shelters. This is not an easy task for city shelters that are overflowing with unwanted, abandoned, neglected, abused, etc., dogs, including our share of fighting dogs that have been tossed onto the street or into dumpsters or left to die with terrible injuries. But they are making the effort, and some are doing it with the help of shelters like ours who have the (albeit meager) resources to take the more difficult animals and rehabilitate them so they eventually are adoptable.

As you said, we can and must keep pushing for change. I think we have made a difference; I think people are listening. The general public is not happy with the status quo, and they’re demanding change. It’s not going to happen overnight; it will be slow. We’ll always do battle with some other more newsworthy topic that demands budget dollars and political attention (because let's face it, we need backing to fully succeed), but eventually we’ll get there. At least I hope so.

YesBiscuit! said...

I agree with your sentiments and would add a couple:
The main thing to me is that this AC officer was the ONLY hope these pets had for life. His job was to protect & care for them but instead he betrayed them in the cruelest way by killing them & hiding his actions.
The reason the method is important to my mind is that euthanasia solution is the kindest method modern vet med has to offer. It is not perfect as you point out but it is the most gentle method available. As we work toward changing people's minds about the "necessity" of killing homeless pets, it is important to reiterate the need for kindness & gentleness. This puts us in a place where we can discuss the inherent value of these pets' lives. If we allow ourselves to step outside these boundaries and fail to condemn the cruelest methods of killing which inflict great suffering, we are setting the conversation back.

Valerie Hayes said...

By doing what he did the way he did it, this person placed those animals beyond hope, and himself beyond the pale. It seems likely that an element of sadism was involved. I wholeheartedly agree that not killing is the prize. I also think that eliminating egregiously cruel methods is a worthwhile interim goal, and that campaigns to do so further the goal of No Kill, if for no other reason than that they get people thinking about, and ultimately, questioning killing. I'm involved with a campaign on behalf of Grace's Law in Georgia, which would ban the gas chamber here once and for all. It won't necessarily save lives per se, but I'll take a pyrrhic victory over abject failure any day of the week.

Rinalia said...

Good comments, everyone. Making me ruminate. :)