You finally decided to get a job at your local shelter. It is an open access shelter and is NOT no kill. You felt like it was the right thing to do.
The week went pretty fast. You couldn’t believe it was already Friday. Things weren’t so bad. Only a few dogs and cats were euthanized on Tuesday and Wednesday. You didn’t like it, but they were old and pretty sick, so you could make peace with it.
You really enjoyed so much of the job, surrounded by dogs who found all kinds of ways into your heart. There were 3, in just the first week, who already touched your soul. There was Bullet, a 5 year old pit mix who was surrendered by his owners because they didn’t have time for him. He knew all kinds of tricks and commands. A beautiful blue color, he could sit, stay, down, roll-over, give paw. One day, he showed you how he could play dead. He was good in his kennel and only used the outside part to potty. He had manners when he ate and the few times you got to take him on a walk, he was polite. You knew there would be a perfect home for him.
You also fell in love with Snoopy, a Shih Tzu -poodle mix. He was over 10 years old. His owner was moved to a retirement home and he no longer had anyone to care for him. He was scared in the large kennel with all of the barking dogs. He would show his teeth when officers approached, but when you fed him his tail wagged and he licked your hand. During your break, you would sit in the kennel with him and he would come snuggle in your lap. You knew you could find him a nice person who wanted a lap dog.
Lastly, there was Taffy, a young Golden Retriever who was found a stray, but after being scanned, her owners were contacted. She was rambunctious, but so happy. She made you smile every time you passed her kennel. You couldn’t believe her family hadn’t scooped her up yet, but you knew they were coming.
It was getting late on Friday afternoon when the veterinarian and senior tech asked you to go get Bullet. “It was time,” they said.
You thought he must be getting his vaccines for adoption. You happily went to Bullet’s kennel and put the noose leash on. Smiling and talking to him, as he pranced down the concrete aisle with his tail wagging. When you reached the back room, it all came into focus. This was Bullet’s last day on earth.
You tried to wipe the tears before they fell, before anyone saw them. It didn’t make any sense. Bullet was the perfect dog. He would make the best pet.
Soon, it was Snoopy’s time. You approached his kennel, expecting a bit of a snarl, but he just sat and waited for you to come into his kennel to snuggle. So, you did, because you knew it was the last snuggle he would get. You held him closer this time. You told him what a good dog he had been and that you wish someone would have been able to take him. You told him that you loved him.
Lastly, they called for Taffy. You went slowly to her kennel, trying to postpone the inevitable…secretly hoping that her owners would arrive just in time. She was jumping on the kennel door, wagging her tail, eager for a walk. You could barely keep it together.
It was 5pm and the shelter was closing up. You were in the bathroom crying. All you saw when you closed your eyes was Taffy, Bullet and Snoopy. Their eyes staring at you, questioning why it had to be today. You didn’t understand either.
You splashed water on your face and felt determined to find answers for them and for you. You walked out to the shelter director. Your voice was rattled and your body trembled, but you found the words to say,”Please help me understand why Bullet, Taffy and Snoopy had to be killed today.”
The Director saw your question coming long before you did. All the new techs asked it every first Friday afternoon.
“I can tell you why, but I don’t think you will understand. We are an open access shelter and every Friday we have to make room for all the animals who will come in over the weekend. Sadly, that means we have to euthanize to do it. Let me share with you what we did to help Taffy, Bullet and Snoopy. We called rescues to take Bullet, but with so many breed discrimination ordinances in question, it has become hard to place dogs like Bullet. I know he was a fantastic dog, but with nowhere to go, we had to… Snoopy was terrified, but I saw him snuggled with you on Wednesday. We called a few of the small breed rescues, but they didn’t have any foster homes for him. He was older and he will be harder to place, it seemed the right thing to do. Lastly, Taffy… we found her owners and contacted them, but when they found out how much the fines and boarding costs would be, they said they couldn’t afford it and relinquished her to us. Golden Retriever rescue had no room and… neither did we.”
“So, that’s it. That’s all you do? You accept those situations and find it settling to euthanize dogs like those every Friday.”
“I don’t know what else I can say.”
You got in your car and the Director’s last words swirled in your head. It wasn’t acceptable. All you could think about was how good the 3 dogs were. Perfect companions. You decided to take the long way home because you needed time to process everything.
Tears would stream down every once in a while. They were unstoppable.
As you found your breath again, you started to really think about all of the reasons the dogs were killed today. Breed discrimination killed Bullet. Random cities deciding fates for dogs they never even met based solely on what? Any normal person would have wanted Bullet. He was the ideal dog. He was sweet and smart.
Lack of space in rescue killed Snoopy. All you could think about was some of the crazy rules some rescues had… worrying about where the dogs get groomed or how many hours a day the owner is home. Snoopy wouldn’t have cared where he got groomed. He certainly would have sacrificed 8 hours away from his family each day for a few more years of life.
Thinking about Taffy really pissed you off. It was your own shelter who missed the mark. Wasn’t Taffy’s life worth foregoing the fines for? It was their first violation. Who thought $200 was worth killing a dog for? If they would have just given her back right away, her space could have gone to a truly homeless dog. Taffy died because of greed.
You began to re-think working at a kill shelter. How in the hell were you going to survive another Friday? But, as you wiped away the last tears, you also realized that there was so much hope. No kill wasn’t THE answer, there were many answers. Putting an end to breed discrimination, developing better rescue protocols that get more animals into homes faster, and re-thinking fines for lost dogs, these were all issues you had heard of, but, until today, you never truly saw how each of them directly affected how many animals die in shelters.
As you pulled in your driveway, you decided you would continue to work at the shelter, but you would also get involved in the issues surrounding no kill. You would educate people on the direct effect they have on innocent dogs like Taffy, Bullet and Snoopy.
You declared to yourself, “One day Fridays WILL be so much different in shelters.”