AR-News: (US) Sad ending for stray animals
GAPNews at aol.com
GAPNews at aol.com
Mon Nov 17 15:27:08 EST 2003
This article was printed in yesterday's Waterbury Republican - American in
Waterbury, CT. I am told this paper has been getting negative feedback regarding
this story because apparently people thought it was "in bad taste" because
there were photos of dogs being euthanized (which is really the only way to show
the truth). This paper needs more positive feedback / encouragement to
increase the chances of them running more important articles like this.
You can send feedback to smacoy at rep-am.com or jkellogg at rep-am.com
Sad Ending for Stray Animals
Euthanizing former family pets is said to be ‘unavoidable'
Sunday, November 16, 2003
Written by William Hageman
Tail wagging, the medium-sized black pit bull tugged at the leash. He had
spotted a large dog biscuit on the floor and lunged for it. Once he'd pounced on
it, he flopped on the floor and snarfed it up, careful to get every crumb.
It was his last meal.
Less than two minutes later, the dog lay dead on the floor at the City of
Chicago's Animal Care and Control facility at 27th Street and Western Avenue, one
of about two dozen dogs and cats being euthanized on this Friday evening.
It's something that goes on nightly here — more than 10,000 times a year — a
process that's both horrible and unavoidable.
"I'm just glad it's not my choice to say who goes down," says Gloria Weaver.
Weaver is one of the facility's four euthanasia technicians whose job it is
to administer the fatal injections. How many has she done in her 3 ½ years on
"Too many. That's one thing I don't want to think about. The count.
"I look at the list, and some nights it's 20 dogs, 15 cats. My God, that's
too many. That's the sad part. But where would they go?"
Animal Care and Control gets 80,000 calls a year. Some 30,000 animals, about
26,000 of them dogs and cats, are impounded. Of the 30,000, about 3,000 are
adopted out and 3,500 are taken in by other shelters and rescue facilities, if
they have room. Perhaps 5,000 more are reclaimed by their owners. The rest? You
do the math.
"People have to understand we don't have a choice," says Melanie Sobel,
director of program services at Animal Care and Control. "This is an open-door
shelter, we're open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. People just don't realize the
#HEAD#STRAYS: There aren't enough shelters for all the animals#EHEAD#
Gloria Weaver realizes it. So does Adrian Densmore, the other euth tech on
duty this night.
"I remember the first one I did, with the guy who trained me," Densmore says.
"It was a real old dog. And the first time I did it, I had tears in my eyes."
That was 3 ½ years ago. Since then, he says, the job hasn't been quite so
"I understand why we do it," he says. "It gets a little easier."
But it's never easy.
"Sometimes I wonder if I'm doing a bad thing," he says. "I ask myself. I
wonder what God thinks about this. It's my job; I'm supposed to do this. But you
Talk to the euth techs, or anyone involved in the process, and you can't help
but be touched when they talk about the animals whose lives they end.
"You gotta care; if you don't, you're just cold-hearted," Weaver says. "If
you felt, ‘Oh, hell, put ‘em down,' there's something wrong with you. We gotta
love ‘em till the end. We gotta show ‘em some love. I find myself saying, ‘
I'm sorry, I'm sorry,' in their ears."
Such concern was evident with the black pit bull mix. No one had to offer him
that biscuit, and the animal care aide holding the leash didn't have to take
the time to let the young dog — he was just a few months old — finish those
last morsels. But as with so much that goes on in Care and Control's holding
area each night after 7 — after the building is closed to the public — there
was a measure of dignity and respect offered to the pup.
"It's amazing, you know," Weaver says. "You're taking a life. You find
yourself petting them even after they're dead."
The nightly process begins with "the list," which is drawn up by shelter
director Norma Torres.
"The smallest could be 10, but they average 25," she says. "It could go as
high as 35. I don't think I've ever gone more than 40.
"And I don't think I've ever seen a day of zero. Not with the number of
impoundments we do. That'd mean every dog we impounded was perfect for adoption.
And that just doesn't happen."
How do animals end up breathing their last on the floor of the holding area
at Animal Care and Control? The short answer is because their cage numbers are
on Torres' list.
The longer answer, the better answer, is that they're here because of
people's carelessness, stupidity or cruelty. People let their dogs and cats run
loose. People don't get their animals spayed or neutered, leading to
overpopulation. People buy pets from puppy mills or pet shops when there are thousands of
animals filling shelters. People stage dogfights. People do terrible things to
Most of the animals put down are the impoundments, strays that had been
running loose or dogs that were involved in fighting.
Badly injured or vicious animals that are brought in by police or Animal Care
and Control officers — animals not involved in possible court cases — are
euthanized right away without even making Torres' list.
Sick dogs brought in by owners for euthanasia also aren't counted on the
Dogs that are brought in as strays are held for five days, waiting for their
owner to claim them. After five days, they become the property of the city.
The animal is put on an evaluation list by the veterinarians and is tested for
health and temperament. Every animal is looked at on an individual basis.
"It's not like we have a cutoff — oh, he's 5 years old, he gets euthanized,"
Sobel says. "It depends on the animal."
Evaluating the animals is part of Torres' job. She says she tries to
determine if a dog or cat is a rescue-transfer candidate.
When she sees an overly aggressive animal, she knows it probably will end up
on her list; others that may cower in their cages in fear or seem distant may
"If there's a dog that has not shown well but I have bonded to, I'll put a
hold on that dog. ‘Don't touch my dog,'" she says.
So she'll start working the phones, looking for another shelter or rescue
organization to take the dog in.
"I feel like a used-car salesman. ‘He's an older gray poodle, but people like
these little models,'" she says, laughing.
Still, there are never spots for all the animals, and some just can't be
saved. Those are the ones that are led into the holding area every night.
The process is methodical. There's no joking among the staff members, no
small talk about the Chicago Bears or the weather.
Paul Mui, the animal care aide shift supervisor, checks Torres' list and
calls out a cage number. An animal care aide fetches the animal from one of the
pavilions down the hall, a three- or four-minute walk.
The dogs are led into the holding area one at a time. No animal sees another
one put down; even the cages of other animals in the holding area are turned
away so the occupants don't see what's going on. A syringe has been prepared.
The dogs are muzzled, just in case.
A tourniquet is put on the animal's leg. One tech holds the animal, another
gives the injection of sodium pentabarbital; in effect, an overdose of
barbiturates (until about 3 ½ years ago, Chicago still used a gas chamber).
It's over quickly and quietly. Within seconds the animals go limp and are
gently placed on the floor. Another 10 or so seconds later, one of the techs will
touch the animal's eye to see if there is a reaction. Then they feel for a
And more often than not, the dog will get a gentle pat on the shoulder or
It's not an easy job.
The animals — they're "bodies," not "carcasses" or anything less to the staff
— are then carefully, at times almost tenderly, slipped into heavy black
plastic bags and lifted onto a cart, from where they'll be placed in a freezer,
waiting to be picked up by an incineration service.
As soon as one animal is removed, another is brought through the doors.
Sniffing, wagging its tail, trying to lick people.
The process goes on for more than an hour. Finally it's over. The last cart
of bodies is taken to the freezer, and the crew is done well before 10 o'clock.
That's when the trucks roll in and have to be unloaded.
The trucks are Animal Care and Control's vehicles that have spent the day on
the streets, rounding up strays that will refill the cages and start the cycle
Just as there always are dogs and cats facing euthanasia, there are always
animals ready for adoption.
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