Why Do Animal Shelters Euthanize Pets?
Many members of the public feel anger towards animal shelters upon hearing of pet euthanasia. Some of this is genuine concern and sadness, but other times the anger is directed at the staff or shelter in general.
There are very few animal shelters that are qualified to be “no-kill”. These shelters rarely euthanize pets in their care and if they do it is only because it is the best humane option at the time as the animal is otherwise suffering. The no-kill shelters do not have to accept any animal brought to them, they can turn away any animal they do not want, or do not have room for.
Other animal shelters are “open admission” they have to accept all animals brought to them. Unfortunately with more animals born every year than there are homes for, this means that these shelters often find themselves bursting at the seams with more animals than they can accommodate.
Typically these open admission shelters are required to hold stray pets for at least 72 hours, and may be required to hold pets that are tattooed or microchipped for 10 days. This “hold” period is so that the owner can claim their lost pet. After the hold period has passed the pet becomes legal property of the animal shelter, the same as if it were signed over to the shelter by its owner.
Deciding Which Pets Live, Which Pets Die
It is a brutal fact that animal shelters cannot save all the pets brought to them. The US humane society reports they are forced to euthanize over 4 million pets every year simply because so many more are born than there are homes for.
Nobody who works at an animal shelter wants to euthanize any pet. They are all animal lovers themselves who have simply accept responsibility for making difficult decisions. Typically the actual decision on which pets live and which are euthanized is the responsibility of the vet tech that works for the shelter, or the shelter manager, or a combination. They pets that get to live are the ones that are put up for adoption – given a chance to find a home.
There are two “types” of animals, those relinquished by their owner, and those brought in as “strays” but who have not been claimed. Some shelters have a policy that stray pets never get put up for adoption and all are euthanized after the holding period (in many cases the pets are actually given more than 72 hours unless they are dangerous or sick). The reason that some shelters do not put stray pets up for adoption is because they get so many owner relinquished pets (with known history) and find that stray pets are not as adoptable as a pet with a history.
Some shelters have breed policies, not always made by their own choice, in which certain breeds of dogs are never put up for adoption, and all are euthanized. This is often governed by the cities own BSL laws.
After that the shelter staff must determine which pets are most adoptable. As such young pets, cute pets, unique pets, are the ones that have the best chance of going up for adoption. In some areas large dogs are easily adopted out, but in other areas preference is given to smaller dogs. If a shelter already has loads of black cats for adoption (a color that is very difficult to adopt out) they will not keep any more.
Pets that are friendly, well mannered, and so forth, have an advantage. Owner relinquished pets that are spayed or neutered, and are vaccinated, are often given preference as well.
Dogs that are seen as unpredictable, and potentially dangerous, are often euthanized; few shelters have the resources or time to train a risky dog and do not want to put their staff in harms way.
Pets who are deemed harder to adopt due to previous injuries, or health concerns, are usually euthanized.
What it boils down to is that most shelters do not have unlimited space to save an unlimited number of pets. They also do not have unlimited funds to help all the pets brought to them. Euthanasia is rarely a first choice. If more people adopted pets from shelters, more pets could be saved, and euthanasia rates would go down.
Not that long ago the Humane Society was reporting over 9 million euthanasias a year, this has been greatly reduced thanks to more people spaying and neutering their pets so fewer unwanted animals are brought to the shelter.