Friday, November 11, 2011

Shelter Workers are Not Broken

All of the animals pictured in this post are from the Daviess County Animal Shelter. If you are interested in one (or the many others that they have available) please contact them via email at: or call 270-685-8275. You may also visit their Petfinder page by following this link.

I have always been under the impression that you should stand up for what you believe in. Unfortunately, that seems to be rare around here and it tends to make people shy away from you. No one wants to rock the boat even for the greater good and then some of the people who do make waves tend to do so inappropriately and for their own glory/entertainment (which makes it harder for those of us who actually have a point to be heard). I'm not afraid to make waves but I do try to present myself in the most civil manner possible in hopes that my message stays clear. I am open minded and understanding. Being a dog trainer (having to work with people just as often as dogs) has taught me that most people do not want to cause harm; they just lack the education on proper methods or ideals. Being a human being has taught me that it is very difficult to find acceptance unless you're willing to compromise at least a few feelings and beliefs here and there. I am unwilling to do this and while it has led to some opposition, I can say that I've been able to help a very significant number of people with their pets over the years. My goal has always been to help animals and I firmly believe that the best way to accomplish this is to educate others. Somewhere within me there is an Educator Muscle that I am forced to flex when faced with certain types of situations where I see a false belief perpetuated. This is especially true when that false belief is also harmful.

Not long ago, as I was browsing the Facebook page of a local no-kill facility, I ran across a comment from a gentleman who stated that he was at first going to support our local shelter but didn't believe in their policies because they are not a no-kill facility. He decided to support the no-kill facility instead. The last part made sense to me completely. If you prefer to support a rescue or shelter with a no-kill policy, I can understand and respect that decision completely. After all, they need support to keep going and it would be nice to have lots of no kill facilities to take some of the pressure off of our county/city run shelters. However, when someone makes that type of decision based on a belief that the "kill shelter" has some control over their "kill policy" my Educator Muscle stars spazzing out. In response to this gentleman I explained that he was doing a great thing in supporting the no-kill facility and that both facilities were doing their very best; no one wants to see an animal euthanized or without a home. I explained that the problem both types of facilities face is exactly the same: irresponsible breeding. I advised that this was the reason both types of places must exist. Apparently, I stepped on someone's toes. My comment was immediately deleted by a member of the no-kill group and I was banned from posting/commenting ever again. As a person who has spent a large amount of my spare time volunteering with, raising money for, and generally supporting this group, I was obviously upset.

What I had hoped to share with my comment, and what I want to share here, is that most kill shelter staff/volunteers (and certainly the ones in my town of Owensboro, KY) want the same thing that other animal lovers want. Their desire is for all animals to make it out of there alive. They want all of them to have a home forever. They want you to get your pets spayed and neutered and vetted when necessary. Our shelter workers and volunteers do not want to euthanize ("put down") your pet. Unfortunately, they do not have the luxury of turning your animal away at the door. Because they are operated by the county, they have to take your pet. Even though the county does not pay for your injured cat to be treated at the vet or for your senior dog's much needed medications, they have to take your pet. And even when you drop off your perfectly healthy (previously happy) dog, you've pushed some other poor animal closer to death's door because the shelter has to take your pet. Being funded by a city or county does not mean that a shelter has an endless amount of space or other resources.

There is a pattern here. People drop their dogs/cats/bunnies/etc. off at a kill shelter knowing that the end could be euthanasia. Our shelter workers labor tirelessly trying to get some other person's animal to safety in order to avoid such a sad end. When the shelter becomes too full, time runs out, and no one adopts this animal, a shelter worker is there to say goodbye in the place of the owner who should have been. Somehow in all of this tragedy, that shelter worker and the facility itself are labeled as the "bad" guys? As far as I'm concerned, these are the people who take the fall for those who aren't caring, responsible or able enough to do it themselves. Shelter staff and volunteers do not have the luxury of turning your pet away and telling you that there is a waiting list. They can't adjust the number of animals they take in based on the resources they have available the way other types of facilities can. They must adjust the number of animals at hand to accommodate a community of people too busy, impatient, or heartless to accept and manage the responsibility of their own pet.

Yes, there are sometimes legitimate reasons for a person to part ways with an animal. I just wish that more people took on the responsibility of finding that animal a home themselves if need be. And if for some reason you find yourself having to make use of the kill shelter because the no-kills are full and you don't have time to find safety for your own pet yourself, try not to pass judgment in the future. In fact, be grateful that someone was there to do all the leg work for you. Someone was there to say goodbye to your pet in the event that no one wanted to adopt him. Do not say "I couldn't do that job, I could never kill an animal" without understanding the full magnitude of the situation. To me, this statement has always implied that it takes an especially heartless person to work or volunteer at a kill shelter when that is absolutely not the case. Real love and dedication for animals is exemplified by these people who sacrifice their own feelings of sadness and anger to fight for the lives of our pets in our community.They do have a very difficult job and deserve to be acknowledged, defended, and supported rather than looked down upon. All rescues and shelters have a niche in this country and quite frankly, they all need each other. They all need us. I hope that some day things change in my own community so that false beliefs are dispelled and people like myself are respected for trying to support anyone who attempts to do right by our animals. We should all be in this together.


  1. It never occurred to me that I may be perceived as heartless because in my field (veterinary, for those who don't know me), I have to deal with euthanasia. The circumstances are always different, sometimes an animal has come to the end of it's life, medicine can do no more for it, and euthanasia is a gift to end the pet's suffering. other time it's neglect, owners who cannot, or do not want to pay for the treatment of their pets deteriorated well-being, regardless of whether it was their cause or not. I'm desensitized to euthanasia, I can assist in several in a day, and I can move on and laugh. Generally, it's because I've accepted that when pets get old and sick, euthanasia is a gift to the pet. It's always sad when the owners are sad. I cry with families. I hold and cry for the neglected pet who's owners only drop of decency remained in dropping it off with us so we could do the dirty deed because they did not or could not afford to care for it any longer. I've seen a lot of pets die, but it does not make my interactions with my healthy, living patients any less compassionate. This is an excellent article Terri, a message that I think needs to reach more people. A reminder to myself that even though I may not like it, pursuing a kill-shelter for volunteering might be one of the more brave things I should do. Those pets have a chance and need our help, just as much, if not more than any other rescue or shelter.

  2. Thanks, Sarah. :) It really puts it further in perspective when you think about it from your standpoint; as someone who works in the veterinary field. I do believe this message needs to be spread as far as it can go. The stereotype of shelters, shelter workers, and generally people who are in the position to humanely euthanize an animal is harmful to the well being of animals who are hanging loosely in balance in shelters. I was hesitant about volunteering for the kill shelter for fear of attachment to an animal that doesn't make it out alive, but I realize now that to some extent, getting involved there is the only way to fully immerse myself into the reality of the situation. And that's only going to give me more experience, more to write about, and more compassion for those (the animals and people who fight for them) who deserve it most.

  3. I agree with some of your points, but I think it's important to remember that there are quite a few cities and counties who have shown that an open admission policy is not inconsistent with a policy of not killing healthy pets (Austin, Reno, etc). And while I'm sure most shelter workers mean well, there are many who do not. Workers at Memphis Animal Services drag dogs by chokepoles to the kill room, Ace the emaciated pit bull was killed by a shelter in Detroit as soon as the mandatory hold period ended even though there was an injunction prohibiting them from doing that and rescue groups willing to take him, Sassy was featured as pet of the week on a local radio station in North Carolina but was killed by the shelter just hours later because she began to cough (a treatable condition), and there are still many shelters that kill over 90% of the pets they take in while refusing to let volunteers take and post photos of them online to try to find them homes. Even if you don't believe no-kill is achievable, that's no excuse for refusing to even try to save more pets than you kill. Shelters who make no effort to improve, and who kill animals that have potential adopters or rescue groups wanting to save them just because they can, do not deserve support.

  4. Anonymous,

    I think it's pretty obvious that my post and good words were reserved for shelters that do their best to save their animals. There are also no-kill shelters that do not operate under the best interests of the animals. That is par for the course in life; there is good and there is bad.

    However, in my community in particular, and in shelters around the world, there are under-appreciated staff who work themselves to death trying to make sure all the animals get out of there alive. This post is not at all about rescues or shelters who have, for whatever reason, gone sour and lost sight of the cause.

    And allow me to reiterate, that this happens at no-kill facilities as well. To assume that "no kill" means humane or that it assures there is no way things could go wrong is to be incredibly and painfully naive.

  5. Hello there. I work at the animal shelter ("the kill" shelter....) I want to say that words can not describe how thankful we are to the person who wrote this. We are often opposed because we are a "kill facility". Believe me, there is not one person who works at this shelter who wants any of the animals in our shelter to die and we wish there was a loving home for them all. We see some horrific things that people don't want to see and that no animal should ever have to endure. ...We works our hearts out to help them and often the stress of what happens to those who we try so hard to help gets the better of us. But we keep forging ahead because if we stop, so many more will die and that thought stays in our minds. We get our strength from the people like all of our supporters here on facebook, crossposters, volunteers and drivers who step up at a moments notice to save lives. Kind hearted people are the ones who keep us going, no matter how much we want to run away screaming at times. We just shrug off the comments from those who oppose us. We have to or it eats us alive and sucks every ounce of energy from us. Energy that we need to save more lives. Our goal is 0% euthanasia but it is just impossible right now. We took in 4500 animals last year, half were dogs and the euth rate was under 10%. That took some major hard work!! Cats do not fare as well sadly..they are harder to place but we are working so hard on spay/neuter in our area with MANY low cost options available...thanks again so much for recognizing that we are not all bad at the means so much to us.

  6. Hi Terri...I am coming over from Pet Blogs United. What a post to come over on! I think you made your point clearly and compassionately. It saddens me whenever I hear someone talk bad about our local Humane Society. As you say, they have a thankless job. Your post encourages me to look at how I can be more supportive of their efforts.

  7. I'm so happy to help spread this message. I used to shy away from the local shelter myself, only because I didn't know if I could handle the sadness. But I think it is a very important thing to experience and that if more people did put in the effort it takes to help, they would have a better grasp on why it is so important to be supportive. Thanks so much for your comment and for stopping by!! :)

  8. I just stumbled upon this post, and as a shelter worker in a "kill shelter" I want to thank you. We tell everyone our euthanasia policy up front, and in certain cases we are able to let them know right away that we will not be able to put the animal up for adoption and that the outcome will be euthanasia. We get yelled at, cussed at, condemned to hell, you name it, we sit through it. In the end, at least 95% of those people leave their pet with us anyway.
    I can't describe how hard it is to hold and comfort an animal while it's being put to sleep--a cat you've been medicating for weeks without improvement, a dog you spend your lunch hours hand feeding because it's terrified of it's new surroundings. It's a very physically and mentally draining job, but we do it knowing that we're doing everything we can and are making a difference by showing that animal love and compassion it may not have known before. We do it because there are happy endings, because sometimes you can tell a happy new owner that Spike loves belly rubs, and Fluffy loves to play with feathers on strings, and you know they'll be happy and safe and WANTED.
    I applaud the idea of the "no-kill" movement, but it's not always practical, and they villify other shelters for being "kill" shelters. Animal lovers need to work together to help reduce pet overpopulation through spay/neuter/shot programs, food assistance to help keep animals in the homes that have fallen on hard times, and increased adoptions from all shelters. By educating the public about caring for animals, we can all eventually eliminate the need for "kill" shelters, instead of passing the blame. And that's what we're all working towards in the end.

  9. Sam, thank you so much for sharing that comment and for all of the hard work that you're doing. It is people like you who prove that genuine, good people exist. I completely agree that education is the key.