Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Memphis Animal Control: Mister Enters Shelter Alive, Killed Same Day

The facts:
  • Thursday, February 24th, 2011 - sometime in the morning - a Memphis Animal Control officer picks up an unattended German Shepherd. A notice is left on the door near where the dog was found.
  • That same morning, a shelter veterinarian assessed the dog and determined he had congestive heart failure.
  • The dog was killed.
  • Thursday, February 24th, 2011 - four pm - the guardian of the dog's daughter calls the shelter to pick him up, finds out the dog was killed earlier in the day. Source and source.
While Mister may not have actually had congestive heart failure, he did have heartworms that appeared untreated since July of last year. A previous veterinary statement indicated he had fluid buildup around his heart, either due to a heart murmur or from the worms.

It is entirely possible he was suffering or uncomfortable. And it is possible that euthanasia might have been warranted.

Many of you have had to euthanize a beloved companion animal. Working at a sanctuary, we are faced with that monumentally difficult task more frequently than most. Only in rare circumstances, as I'm sure is true with all of you, is the decision to kill an animal made within minutes or hours. Even when animals are in acute distress, all reasonable measures are taken to alleviate discomfort and ascertain what is causing those symptoms. Oftentimes, when it is acute, it is incurable and devastating and euthanasia is appropriate. Sometimes it is not and waiting those key moments, hours or days can literally mean the difference between life and death. For there is nothing worse than getting back a necropsy only to find a few doses of medicine, or some other treatment, could have reversed the symptoms and saved that animal's life. Trust me on that.

Euthanasia ends a life. It should be accorded the extreme respect and fear that responsibility - right or wrong - deserves.

Which is why I am having a hard time processing how a dog with labored breathing and a tentative diagnosis of congestive heart failure could be summarily killed within hours of entering a shelter. Certainly a shelter is stressful and will exacerbate heart problems. But certainly every shelter has a quiet area or cooperating veterinary office where the dog could be isolated for at least the first 24-hours. If not, a space could be provided within reason.

Mister may have been suffering. Euthanasia may have been appropriate, but that was not for the shelter to decide within hours of his intake. He was not malnourished. He was hanging out comfortably outside of a residential property. He willingly went with the animal control officer. These indicate not a stray, unwanted dog (and my feelings on killing stray, unwanted dogs are the same) but a dog with a home and people who cared for him.

And even had Mister been unwanted, consulting a German Shepherd or all breed rescue and the vets they work with could have ascertained whether Mister's condition was treatable heart-worms or untreatable congestive heart failure...and if the latter, if he could simply be provided hospice in an appropriate foster home until he passed. That's not unreasonable. It is something many rescues do. It is a nice alternative to killing a dog hours after arrival.

Step one should never be to kill an animal. Step one should be to do everything within reason to alleviate the discomfort of the dog, find his guardian, work with rescues, consult other veterinarians, and ascertain whether the suffering the dog is enduring is greater than any joy/comfort he is receiving from being alive.

I am not dismissing the guardian's responsibility in all of this. Not at all. If a dog can easily get out of a yard, the yard should be fixed. If a dog has a habit of getting loose, he should definitely be micro-chipped, collared and tagged. There is nothing unreasonable about properly fencing a yard and properly identifying a dog. In fact, it is unreasonable not to.

There is individual responsibility, and there is institutional responsibility. I hold the latter to a much higher standard than I do the former. Memphis Animal Control is an institution, Mister's guardian is an individual. Her screw-up should not result in the death of Mister, because with a healthy shelter system, Memphis Animal Control would have a support system in place to make sure Mister received reasonable care until he was placed back with his guardian, re-homed, or only as an absolute last resort, euthanized. When we plebs fuck up, the nonhumans in our care deserve a freaking back-up. That is the shelter system. It should be, anyways. If Memphis Animal Control had just waited until 4 pm, it would have been for Mister - a back-up.

An animal shelter should be a refuge for lost dogs, cats and other animals until new placement can be found. No treatable animal should be killed, and animals who are unhealthy should be given reasonable chances at getting better. It should be a place of compassionate care-giving and only very rarely a place of life-taking.

Perhaps Mister could have spent his final days, months, years with his family if Memphis Animal Control had viewed Mister as a companion worthy of minimal effort.

Instead his primary caregiver failed him and so did his back-up. So not fair...and so did not need to happen.

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