Why kill, No Kill, Yes kill

Doesn’t it seem like No Kill would mean no killing?

“We want him euthanized.”

OK I’m not naive, I know that sick/diseased animals that would cost too much to cure or are not curable and mentally unstable and bite risks can’t be adopted out if they can’t be rehabilitated. But aren’t they supposed to have a chance? And do they have to like everybody?

The awful situation where while in my care a very nice easy, but growling dog– when he was afraid,  was euthanized keeps haunting me. The part I was blind-sided by was that he was from a “No Kill” shelter, but the shelter killed him.”We want him euthanized.”

“Now?” Those words were not what I expected. I’m standing outside, beautiful day with a happy dog laying in the grass outside the vet clinic.

“Yes, right now.”

“Why?” I am bewildered and shocked.

“He growled,” she said in a I think you should understand this voice. But I didn’t understand this.

“Growling is not biting!” I was still lost, not understanding.

“It was already decided by the board.”

And this was despite my protest, despite me (a longtime dog trainer/applied behaviorist) supposedly having a week to evaluate and train, or the fact that multiple people there had no problem with him. He had lived at my house for four days (for free…I volunteered my time), meeting new people and doing great. He was much happier, had learned to be much more polite sitting at doorways, had no problem with food or walking on a leash and playing games like retrieve. The deciding factor appeared to be the vet visit on the fourth day, where two women he didn’t know had him muzzled, restrained him, reprimanded him, poked and prodded and he growled at them…well he had been abused by a woman so why would this be unexpected or fatal? Vet visits are not behavior improvement events, most dogs fear them and show it.

The vet called the shelter director, they conversed and when vet tech came back into the exam room she told me the director wanted me to call. I took the dog outside and walked on the lawn, he rolled around on the grass happy to be out of there and I attempted to contact the shelter director, left a voice mail, almost left the clinic area and went home, unfortunately I waited. When she called me back, it was decided, done, no argument. I almost took him home anyway, but I had signed an agreement saying I would comply with the shelter’s policies and requests. Sometimes, like this time, I would have regretted it less if I hadn’t complied with authority.  I took him back into the clinic and told them that the shelter wanted him euthanized, my tears I had held back in denial began slowly falling, they already knew it. Then they presented me with a euthanize document to sign. I didn’t want to sign it, and didn’t while I said this just wasn’t fair, that it wasn’t right. They argued about his adoptability and what the shelter had to consider and that he might have epilepsy (this was the supposed reason I took him to the vet, he’d had a minor seizure on the second morning at my place, but a blood draw hadn’t even been tested, nothing had been proven and that’s what the call had been about…I thought, to decide on further testing or not). There was no history, who knows why he had a seizure or if there would ever be another one.

All the while he sat glued to my left side quietly waiting. Then because I didn’t really see any way out of it, I signed. And he didn’t want to go with the tech, tried to stay with me, he was three years old in seemingly great health. She asked if I wanted to go with him…are you kidding, to watch him be killed when I didn’t agree anyway…no. I told him I was so sorry and left. I am still struggling with what should I have done. What was the right thing? Take him, not sign, not, not, not…

I drove home. My husband was in the yard, looked at me questioningly, where’s the dog? I burst into tears, they killed him. What? Why?

Yes that’s the question and maybe worse, I was part of it. He had trusted me, blast it all and he should have had more of a chance.

There had been several other healthy young male, large, if you don’t act right I’ll threaten you dogs at the no-kill shelter that had been euthanized. I questioned the decisions, even offered/argued to take one of them to foster with me but was denied. Then I had asked and they agreed to get me involved earlier before they had made final decisions. I hadn’t actually had those dogs at my place so I didn’t know for sure what they were like or what other people were dealing with.

This last dog, I knew, four days, but I knew it was just fear and misunderstanding. The woman director said he was too unpredictable to adopt out. Actually, since he growled when he was feeling threatened it was real easy to know him, and he really liked men. Dogs that liked women but not men don’t seem to be killed, maybe only dogs who dislike men are OK to adopt out, and small dogs that ‘nip’ because that’s more common, acceptable? And no, I’m not a man and he never ‘nipped’, but I was careful to read him and not push his space initially. Oddly enough I think the fact that he was a golden retriever was a strike against him, because goldens are supposed to like everybody.

The answer to why is fear. When he was afraid he growled. When people in power are afraid they kill dogs whether it’s a no kill shelter or not.

So what does this leave me with? I’ve been impressed with the dedication of the people trying to save cats and dogs at shelters, but usually they just ‘love’ animals and don’t really know much about dealing with behaviors where fear creates growling or displays at the fence–even when it’s hardly aggression and especially if it’s in a larger dog. I’m impressed with how Cesar Millan became so well-known, not impressed with Millan’s dominance categorizing or how many times he gets bitten – his strategies get a lot of publicity and despite the ‘don’t try this at home’ that’s what’s tried. However, Millan was right about their not being anywhere for all those dogs he rescued – they would have been euthanized. I can’t adopt that many dogs, I already have three and the rules are return dog to the same shelter if you can’t keep it.

The weird part is that even though there was access to an experienced trainer (myself) who volunteered, has rehabbed and desensitized dogs that are considerably more aggressive, it doesn’t matter. Actually I was figuring that 60% of the dogs I work with individually (non-shelter) would have been killed by this no-kill. I’ve volunteered and visited the shelter, usually weekly,  for four years, but the fear of liability, fear of what a large dog could possibly do (despite the fact these dogs bit nobody), fear of any signs of growling, fence displays make any and all of my coaching, showing, repeating how to greet dogs, handle issues seemingly white noise.

I feel like I put in my effort and the fear system repulsed it. It’s easier to pretend its a no kill (note the designation doesn’t really mean no killing it just means less killing, animals that have a disease or who are deemed unsafe are expected to be killed) that all the kills are justified for the public safety. Well, I guess that’s better than a kill system based on a time limit or space limit. Ah, and it seems there are more cats and dogs than anybody wants, just take a look on Petfinder.

I’m thinking I’m out of it and going to change my volunteering to help kids train, learn how to react with animals and that growling is communication that has been bred for and into dogs, maybe if I start with younger people they can learn how to deal better with more understanding and less fear.


One Comment Add yours

  1. Dan says:

    We have a society that is more and more based on fear and is hyper adverse to risk. That fear and aversion lead to illogical and unethical actions. Just look how kids are trapped indoors for fear of being kidnapped or the desire to carry a gun in your pocket so we can defend ourselves or look back to Iraq, a country with little or no capability to harm the US except with words. Fear is used to get what people in power want and as an excuse not to learn and practice and make an effort to understand the other side of issues. We often choose fear rather than understanding because it is often a quicker and easier shortcut. We all know how well most shortcuts work.


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