A recent investigative report from Atlanta’s Fox 5 news team has made animal rescue a hot topic in the city. Social networks are buzzing and spreading this story, and citizens are demanding change. I agree. Change is necessary, especially with “rescues” who lie and take money without using it for the intended purpose and when you claim to be a “no kill” shelter and then euthanize adoptable dogs for reasons unknown.
The story also raises the question — what does “no kill” mean? It’s a difficult topic for many of us, and I have no intention of trying to define what it should mean. But I’ll tell you a little about what I believe in my heart. The rescue groups I work with have philosophies that I whole-heartedly agree with. When we take in animals, we commit to them for life. Ninety-eight percent of the time this means doing routine vetting and finding an amazing forever home for the animal, as well as being an ongoing resource and support the animal and his/her forever family. But in the other two percent of the cases, euthanasia may be the most humane choice to make. These cases are most often due to serious illness or behavioral issues. In either case, all possible options are exhausted before the difficult decision is made, and when it is made, we are with the animal as if they were our own.
Case in point — My sweet Mac:
Mac was a beautiful purebred beagle surrendered by his owner to my local animal control facility. The owner left little information on Mac. We took him in thinking he would be an easy placement, and he was. He was adopted by an awesome family who were committed to helping Mac overcome what we thought was his only behavioral issue — food aggression. But at that time, we were unaware that Mac’s behavior issues ran so much deeper. I worked with his adoptive family on training and counseled them through the difficult decision to return him. He had bitten his new dad twice, once related to food aggression and once for no detectable reason. They had kids and understandably didn’t feel having Mac in their home was safe. I brought Mac back to my house so I could evaluate his behavior. I worked with him on the food aggression and he seemed to be getting better with it. But then, one night, I saw the unpredictability of Mac’s behavior to the full extent. When he bit me, I was in shock more from the glazed over, head down, kill-type mode of Mac’s demeanor than from the actual bite.
We discussed Mac’s case with vets, rescue friends, and behaviorists, and the consensus was that he either had a brain injury from abuse (he had always been hand shy) or he had Rage Syndrome. We made the difficult decision to put Mac to rest. I kept him at my house for 2 weeks (because he bit me state law required him to be quarantined before he could be put to sleep) while my parents kept my dogs at their house. I gave him the best 2 weeks I could and held him in my lap as he died. It was one of the most difficult days of my life, and I still choke up when I think about it. I loved Mac, and as far as I’m concerned, he was mine.
But as a rescue group, putting Mac to sleep was the most responsible, loving decision we could make. I have a permanent scar on my arm from Mac’s bite, but the permanent hole he left in my heart is much bigger.
Some who read this may not agree, but I, and my rescue peers, feel that we did what was best for Mac. Thankfully, cases like Mac’s are very uncommon, and we can often work through behavior issues with consistent, positive training. We will always try everything possible. That, to me, is responsible rescue.