BrianAnimal Overpopulation – What Does that Mean?

Bottom line: Animal overpopulation isn’t a dog or cat problem. It’s a people problem.

People don’t spay or neuter their pets and they give litters of kittens and puppies away. “But I found them all homes,” they say. And for each pet that didn’t need to be born, a shelter animal dies.

People buy animals from pet stores and backyard breeders rather than adopting loving animals from overcrowded shelters. In turn, they support the horrific cruelty of puppy mills where dogs are caged for a lonely lifetime churning out babies like machines. And what happens to those cute pet shop puppies who haven’t sold before adulthood? I’ll bet you don’t know – and you don’t want to.

So, what happens when the public creates too many animals? We kill these living, breathing, feeling beings who want to live and be loved, and we do so in a way that scares and hurts them. We kill them en mass every single day and not in that peaceful, comfortable way we euthanize a sick animal at the vet. I read yesterday of a shelter that took 90 dogs to a tin shed on a cement slab. They killed all of them in a single day on a single stainless steel table only to have their cages immediately refilled with more homeless animals as the cycle repeats. (I tried to retrace this article. If it was yours, please post the link below.)

This is the very real face of animal overpopulation – and it’s a people problem.

What do we call it when we destroy that which we create?

In Just One Word, a recent post on Edie Jarolim’s blog, Will My Dog Hate Me, she ponders the word euthanasia in the context of putting down shelter animals.

I’ve used the term euthanasia a lot because that’s what we’ve become accustomed to doing. And because I didn’t want to make others — especially shelter volunteers who have to face this horrendous responsibility — uncomfortable. But there’s a reason that the “No Kill” movement has the name it has. It’s not the “No Euthanasia” movement.

Since her analysis, Edie has been stirring interesting conversations by asking for a term that 1.) might better describe the harsh reality animals experience while 2.) remaining sensitive to the compassionate shelter workers. My question then becomes, can there be a middle ground?

Why the Word Matters

I held firm at the start that “euthenasia” is not mercy killing in the circumstance of shelters. These animals would thrive in a home environment. We kill them because public ignorance and/or lackadaisical attitude has created a grand inconvenience. Killing healthy, active, albeit unwanted animals offers no mercy. Or does it?

I recently watched two shelter workers talk about their job and had a change of heart.

These people are most definitely euthanizers, putting animals out of the hopeless misery we, as a public, create. Could you kill animals day-in and day-out while offering them your heart, telling them they are not alone and that you’ll see them on the other side? After watching these people share so openly, I desperately wanted that middle ground that Edie seeks. I thought hard about how to get there. I want to honor these people and what they so heroically do, but I want to honor the animals’ reality too. I simply can’t see how to do both.

How Words Impact Change

Homeless animals need us to speak their truth. They don’t want to die. They come to the needle seeking the human companionship on the other end. Cats purr. Puppies wag their tails. We must honor their truth, their being, as well as the truth of what we have done to them.

An unnatural death at the hand of another is murder. We must call it killing at the very least.  Those shelter workers who compassionately clean up after a poorly implemented system must also be honest – publicly –  for the animals’ sake. What they tell themselves in private to get through the day, I will never, ever fault them for.

“Euthanasia? It’s just semantics,” some have said, and it’s true. Many words and phrases describe the same horrific action. But if you don’t know what that exact action is, “euthanasia,” “putting to sleep” or “putting down” sounds merciful. Euphemisms don’t raise public awareness about what truly goes on in that back room – the killing, the destruction, the piles of bodies as the result of mass extermination. The public can easily ignore hopeless animals locked in cages with no room to run, the smell of death, the terminal loneliness and fear. They don’t have to think about the injections of a lethal cocktail or the breathing of lethal gas that halts their organ functions as they lay twitching or coughing, their bodies seizing. That’s right. Not all just fall “to sleep.”

Only with honest assessment, and after taking personal responsibility, can we recognize that, while we have created this awful truth, we can also create a kinder, gentler truth. I don’t know about you, but I’m not proud that this goes on in my country and in my name.

People, this is our problem.
Let’s do something to change it.