Friday, January 27, 2012

Euthanasia not acceptable for healthy or treatable pets

The mayor of Los Angeles once told me that he considered managing animal shelters more difficult than running a metropolis like L.A. I had to agree. Animal shelters represent the worst - or best - in a community. They are a nexus of heartache and compassion. When one of these outweighs the other, the soul of a community is revealed.

Understanding the daily challenges inherent in managing animal shelters, my heart goes out to the Arizona Humane Society (AHS). AHS is caught up in a public relations nightmare involving a homeless man who brought his kitten to them for medical care. Daniel Dockery, 49 years old, had hand-raised a 9-month old kitten since she was born. Dockery attributed his companionship with the kitten, Scruffy, to his ability to stay off heroin.

When Scruffy suffered "non-life threatening injuries," Dockery rushed her to AHS where a medical examination determined it would cost $400 to treat her. Unable to pay the fee, Dockery surrendered the kitten to AHS after being assured she would be treated and placed in foster care. Several hours later, Scruffy was euthanized. The report of her death went viral. It seemed every national mainstream and alternate news source reported on Scruffy's untimely death. The resulting outrage forced AHS to hire a publicist to help alleviate public ire.

The publicist explained that Dockery's lack of funds combined with the number of animals in need of urgent care led to the decision to euthanize Scruffy. The betrayal of trust left Dockery feeling responsible for Scruffy's death and prompted an angry public to threaten withholding funds from AHS.

One positive outcome from this ordeal is that AHS created an account funded by donations to cover the cost of emergency animal care. The account is similar to the Yavapai Humane Society's STAR (Special Treatment And Recovery) fund, which is funded by donations and is responsible for saving the lives of many homeless animals in need of critical care.

Having been involved in animal shelter management for 30 years, I understand that mistakes can be made. I have also learned that policies and procedures can be implemented to help ensure errors are made on the side of saving a life, not taking it.

I share this lamentable story because it sits in juxtaposition to many life and death decisions made by the Yavapai Humane Society. For instance, in recent weeks YHS took in four senior pets, each surrendered by their respective owner claiming the pet was suffering from a life threatening illness.

While YHS provides euthanasia to owned animals who are irremediably suffering, we make it clear to pet owners that we will not euthanize an animal when it is determined that the animal is not suffering, is actually healthy, or can be treated.

In each of these cases, after ownership was legally surrendered to YHS, medical examinations were performed. A consultation with the private veterinarian handling the healthcare of each animal prior to surrender was conducted when possible. In each case no life threatening condition or suffering could be found. These animals have since been placed for adoption in hope they will live their remaining years in a loving home.

Every day employees at animal shelters across the United States are faced with decisions to kill or not to kill. Whether it is killing an animal too quickly or not quickly enough, shelters often find they are damned if they do or damned if they don't.

If the Yavapai Humane Society is to be judged, let it always be for trying to save the lives of animals others have given up on. Since embracing our "no-kill ethic," the Yavapai Humane Society has reduced shelter killing 77 percent - making our community the safest for pets in all Arizona.

If you are able to help YHS sustain this life-saving mission (regardless of age) please make a tax-deductible donation to the Yavapai Humane Society today.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.