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How ‘saving’ animals at all costs can be a dangerous proposition

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

All across the country, people are hearing calls to raise the “save rate” at animal shelters. But beware: As warm and fuzzy as that sounds, a shelter’s high “save” rate does not reduce by one puppy or kitten the number of unwanted animals born every minute in private homes, in puppy mills, in breeders‘ kennels and catteries, on the street or under a porch. In fact, it can increase that number, to the detriment of dogs, cats, taxpayers and law-enforcement officials.

Shockingly, pressure to raise shelter “save rates” actually increases the “pet” overpopulation crisis. How? To reduce the number of animals it euthanizes, a shelter must reduce the number of animals it takes in by charging high “surrender” fees, putting people on waiting lists, sending unsterilized animals to “foster” homes and more. Many people cannot afford high fees, and those evicted from their own homes or entering a women’s shelter or nursing home can’t wait for weeks or months for their animal to be admitted.

Cities learn the hard way that to play the “high-save-rate” game, something has to give. Because the number of homeless animals far exceeds the number of available homes, no matter what is done to try to conjure up more adopters, facilities are always full. Sick, injured, old, aggressive and other “unadoptable” animals are turned away—since accepting them would hurt the “save” statistics.

Shelter operating hours are also often reduced to decrease intake, leaving anyone who can’t take time off during the day out of luck. Elderly people on a fixed income and others who cannot afford the fees charged by veterinarians for euthanasia are left with nowhere to take their old and ailing dog or cat for a merciful release.

In San Antonio, Texas, where the shelter has gone “no-kill” and many strays are left to fend for themselves, animal wardens report that thousands of stray animals are breeding, forming packs and dying on the streets, with more than 28,000 dog and cat bodies scraped up in the last year alone.

Shelters trying to achieve a high “save” rate invariably stop requiring verification that previous animal companions have received veterinary care and stop conducting even basic home checks—vital safeguards that prevent animals from falling into the hands of people with evil intentions. And animals are handed over to anyone who can “foster” them, including to animal hoarders who stack cages in their house, basement or garage. This situation creates nightmarish scenarios, such as the recent Florida case in which 100 cats burned to death inside individual plastic crates, unable to flee as the plastic melted onto them, and the Angel’s Gate “animal hospice” in New York, where police found caged animals who had died in agony without veterinary care. Every week brings news of more little houses of horror.

Shelters that cram more animals into runs and cages than can safely be accommodated become so severely crowded that the dogs fight and injure themselves, the cats contract upper respiratory infections and disease outbreaks sicken healthy animals, as has happened in Washington, D.C., and is happening in Hillsborough and Miami-Dade counties in Florida now. In Austin, Texas, the city shelter stopped accepting cats and then, two weeks later, dogs. Where do they all go? In parts of Oregon where shelters have stopped accepting stray cats, they go into the woods or into a bucket of water.

There are literally hundreds more unwanted animals born every minute of every day. Once every available home or basement has been filled with animals from the shelter, where are all the new animals and their litters going to go?

What’s a community to do? To truly save dogs’ and cats’ lives, let’s reject this shelter “save-rate” nonsense and get to the root of the problem: the population explosion. Open-admission shelters, solid animal-control services, community education and reduced-cost spay-and-neuter programs are the keys to a real “save” rate.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

A ‘snip’ in time saves felines

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

Visit any animal shelter in the country this month, and you’re bound to see litter after litter of kittens as well as sweet mother cats and cat dads in need of loving homes. It’s the peak of “kitten season,” and that’s why June is the perfect time to celebrate “Adopt a Shelter Cat” Month.

For anyone looking to add a feline to the family, there is no better place to find the perfect cat than at an animal shelter. Shelters have cats of every age and personality type, from rambunctious kittens to snuggly feline “senior citizens.” Most shelters are happy to help match prospective guardians with the perfect animal for their lifestyle and personality and will give adopters plenty of time to get to know their potential new family member one on one in a private visiting room.

Adopting has many benefits: Pre-loved cats are likely to be litterbox-trained, pros at sharpening their claws on a scratching post instead of on furniture and familiar with the “do’s” and “don’ts” of living in a human household. Most animals in shelters are screened for health and temperament and, for a nominal adoption fee, go home spayed or neutered, microchipped and vaccinated. Many shelters also offer free or low-cost follow-up support and classes to ensure that adopted animals make the transition to a new home successfully.

Every cat adopted is a life saved, but ultimately, even the most heroic adoption efforts are like trying to bail out the Titanic with a teaspoon. We can bail for all we’re worth, but the ship is going down unless we fix the source of the problem. Cats reproduce much faster than we can find homes for all their kittens. Without spaying, one female cat and her offspring can produce 370,000 kittens in just seven years. And that’s just one cat. Across the country, countless cats will have litters this summer, and many of these kittens will end up in shelters—or worse, on the streets or in the hands of neglectful or violent people.

Every year, open-admission shelters are forced to euthanize about half of the 6 to 8 million cats and dogs they take in because there aren’t enough good homes for them all. With some shelters receiving hundreds of kittens each month during kitten season, cage space is at a premium and euthanasia is a necessity to make room for the never-ending stream of more animals. Not even adorable kittens and puppies are guaranteed a home.

That’s why it’s so crucial to have our cats (and dogs, too) spayed and neutered as early as possible—before they can have that first “oops” litter. It’s safe—and even beneficial—to have kittens sterilized as young as 8 weeks old. Females who are spayed before their first heat cycle have one-seventh the risk of developing mammary cancer. Spaying also eliminates female animals’ risk of diseases and cancer of the ovaries and uterus, which are often life-threatening and require expensive treatments, including surgery. Neutering eliminates male animals’ risk of testicular cancer and reduces unwanted forms of behavior such as biting.

Adopting is important, lifesaving and life-enriching—for both adopted cats and their human families—and I encourage everyone who has the time, funds, ability and desire to care for an animal for life to adopt a cat or dog from their local shelter. But if we want to one day celebrate “There Are No More Shelter Cats in Need of Adoption” Month, spaying and neutering are the keys.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a senior writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

June 6, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Crufts: Making dogs suffer for ‘beauty’

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By Mimi Bekhechi

Dogs love us regardless of how we look. They don’t care if we have big feet, frizzy hair or an oddly-shaped nose. Whether we’re dressed to the nines or we’ve just rolled out of bed, dogs are always happy to see us. Shamefully, humans have failed to extend the same kindness to them.

We’ve imposed arbitrary notions of “beauty” on dogs without regard for their health or happiness, and they are suffering for it. For a prime example of this trend, look no further than the canines who will be dragged along to Crufts, Britain’s largest doggie “beauty” pageant. Beneath the perfectly coiffed exterior of many of these dogs lies a slew of painful and deadly health problems caused by generations of breeding and inbreeding to achieve a certain “look.”

The Kennel Club’s “breed standards” encourage breeders to manipulate dogs’ bodies as if they were modeling clay. Dachshunds are specifically bred to have long, “stretched-out” spines, which often cause them to suffer from disc disease or other back problems. Cavalier King Charles spaniels – the breed favored by President Ronald Reagan – are bred to have skulls that are nearly flat on top, and more than a third of these dogs suffer from an agonizing condition called syringomyelia, which occurs when their skulls are too small for their brains. Afflicted dogs often scream in agony, scratch themselves raw and become progressively weaker until they can barely walk. Some become paralyzed. The “pushed-in” faces of English bulldogs and pugs make it so difficult for them to breathe that many can’t even enjoy the activities that dogs love, such as chasing a ball or going for walks, without struggling for air.

Breeders also force closely related dogs to mate in the hope of passing down certain physical features that are favored by show judges. This practice is so common that all 10,000 pugs living in Britain are descended from just 50 dogs. The lack of genetic diversity caused by inbreeding greatly increases the likelihood that recessive genes, which cause debilitating afflictions, will be passed along to puppies. As a result, roughly one in four purebred dogs suffers from serious congenital defects, such as hypothyroidism, epilepsy, cataracts, allergies, heart disease and hip dysplasia – a disease that can lead to crippling, lameness and painful arthritis.

Each of the 50 most common dog breeds is at risk for some genetic defect which can cause suffering, according to a study published in The Veterinary Journal. Labrador retrievers are predisposed to bone disease, hemophilia and retinal degeneration, and nearly 60 percent of golden retrievers suffer from hip dysplasia. These dogs pay with their health – and sometimes their lives – because of the cosmetic standards promoted by The Kennel Club and Crufts.

Offering further proof that it is interested only in dogs’ outward appearances, Crufts has decided this year to allow dogs in its show to be doused with “performance-enhancing” products such as hairspray and white chalk to erase “stains” on white fur. The excessive bathing, brushing, snipping and fluffing that dogs must patiently endure before entering the ring at Crufts is already an arduous and sometimes uncomfortable process. Spraying chemicals on dogs’ fur could put their health at risk or cause an allergic reaction. At the very least, being forced to inhale the odor of hairspray is a terrible offense to their sensitive noses.

Even dogs who will never set foot in a show ring suffer because of Crufts and the breeding industry that it props up. Every new puppy born to a breeder means one home fewer for a dog waiting in an animal shelter. By driving up the demand for pedigree dogs and encouraging breeders to bring more dogs into existence when there aren’t enough homes for those who are already here, Crufts sentences homeless dogs to euthanasia or life behind bars.

Dogs are smart, complex animals – not bonsai trees to be contorted into shapes that please us. Instead of tinkering with their genetics and entering them in silly pageants, we should let dogs be dogs and respect and appreciate them regardless of their outward appearance – just as they do for us.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 7, 2013 at 7:54 pm

‘No-kill’ is no solution to animal homelessness

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By Teresa Chagrin

Last year, a family called PETA seeking help for their dying cat. The cat was elderly, rail thin, cold to the touch, moaning and too weak even to lift his head. Despite his hopeless condition, a local “no-kill” shelter had refused to help him because the family could not afford the mandatory 40-dollar surrender fee.

That’s just one example of how “no-kill” policies—which some people are pressuring animal shelters across the country to adopt—make shelters’ euthanasia statistics look good but leave desperate animals high and dry.

PETA and other open-admission animal shelters are there for thousands of local animals like that dying cat. A Virginia official speaking of PETA’s euthanasia rate acknowledged to USA Today, “PETA will basically take anything that comes through the door, and other shelters won’t do that.” Turning away animals might allow “no-kill” facilities to boast that they “never euthanize,” but it takes a certain lack of conscience to slam the door in the face of an animal in desperate need.

If a community becomes “no-kill” before first becoming “no-birth,” consider where tens of thousands of cast-off animals each year will end up. Animals who are turned away by “no-kill” shelters don’t vanish into thin air. They are dumped on the streets, sentenced to a miserable life on a chain or in a dirty pen in the yard of someone who doesn’t even want them or cruelly killed by people who are desperate to get rid of them.

This scenario plays out wherever communities become more concerned with statistics than helping individual animals. In Easton, Pennsylvania, the homeless cat population exploded after the local shelter became “no-kill” and was perpetually too full to accept strays. The town’s exasperated mayor commented, “The no-kill killed us. That’s what did it.”

Even animals who are accepted into “no-kill” facilities are far from safe. This month, a Humane Society of North Texas investigator found 91 sick and emaciated cats inside a feces-strewn trailer run by a self-professed “rescuer.” The cats had been handed over to the hoarder by the city of Fort Worth as part of a push to reduce its euthanasia rates.

At Florida’s “no-kill” Caboodle Ranch, a PETA investigation found nearly 700 cats in moldy trailers that reeked of ammonia and wooden sheds that were strewn with vomit, trash and waste. Cats suffering from severe upper-respiratory infections gasped for air and struggled to breathe. One cat was left to languish for months with a perforated cornea and eventually died.

Animals need more than a roof over their heads. They need a committed guardian who will love and care for them for life. Every animal born can have such a home if we concentrate on the right end of this tragedy.

As many readers know, PETA has led the charge against animal homelessness in our own community by sterilizing—for free or a token amount—more than 80,000 animals in the last decade. To solve this problem without harming animals in the effort, we must all work together to implement mandatory spay/neuter laws, outlaw animal sales at pet shops, sterilize our own and our neighbors’ animals, and visit less fortunate areas to help those who do not have the resources to sterilize their animals. Turning away unwanted animals or handing them over to unregulated “rescues,” which is inevitable in a “no-kill community,” will only increase animal neglect and deaths in our neighborhoods.

Teresa Chagrin is an animal care and control specialist in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

December 27, 2012 at 5:57 pm

Spring: The saddest season for animal shelters

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

For most of us, the unusually warm spring that much of the country is experiencing is a welcome relief from winter. But for people who work in animal shelters, it signals an early start to the most dreaded time of year: kitten and puppy season.

Dogs and cats reproduce year-round, but early spring through late fall is prime breeding time—especially for cats, whose heat cycles are triggered by increased daylight hours. People who thought they could wait “just a bit longer” to have their cat spayed are often surprised to find out their kitten has become a mother herself. Female cats can go into heat every two to three weeks and can become pregnant while they are still nursing kittens—which means that one cat can give birth to multiple litters over the course of a single season.

Where do all these kittens and puppies go? Some end up on the streets, where many die young and in pain after being hit by cars, succumbing to diseases, starving or crossing paths with cruel people. Others pour into animal shelters across the country, leaving them scrambling to accommodate the surge of kittens and puppies. One shelter near Atlanta reported that it typically takes in 400 to 500 stray kittens each month during kitten season.

Baby animals may be cute, but their overabundance leaves shelters in an ugly situation. With 6 to 8 million animals entering U.S. shelters every year, most are constantly filled to capacity. In order to accommodate the deluge of baby animals during kitten and puppy season, open-admission shelters (those that never turn animals away) must euthanize other animals who have been at the shelter for a while to make room for the newcomers.

Playful kittens and puppies tend to steal the show (and people’s hearts), making it even less likely that the gentle, affectionate adult animals who have been waiting in shelters for homes will ever be adopted. But with so many litters flooding shelters, not even adorable kittens and puppies are guaranteed a home. Every day, caring shelter workers are forced to hold animals in their arms and euthanize them—including those whose lives have just begun—simply because there aren’t enough good homes for them all.

This tragedy could end if we all spayed or neutered our animals. Sterilizing even one cat or dog can prevent thousands more from being born only to end up on the streets, in the hands of abusive people or in shelters. Without spaying, one female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 dogs in six years, and one unaltered female cat and her descendants can lead to a staggering 370,000 cats in only seven years. Male animals contribute to the overpopulation crisis even more than females do: Just one unsterilized male animal can impregnate dozens of females, creating hundreds of unwanted offspring.

Sterilization also has many health benefits for animals. Female cats and dogs who are spayed before their first heat cycle have one-seventh the risk of developing mammary cancer. Spaying eliminates female animals’ risk of diseases and cancers of the ovaries and uterus, which are often life-threatening and can require expensive treatments, including surgery. Neutering eliminates male animals’ risk of testicular cancer and reduces unwanted forms of behavior such as biting.

By having our animal companions sterilized and helping our friends, family and everyone we know understand why it’s so important for them to do the same, we can save lives and make spring a season of hope instead of sadness for animals and the people who care about them.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 26, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Save a bundle and a bunny this Easter

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By Robyn Wesley

Here’s an easy way to save almost $8,000 this Easter: Surprise your child with a plush toy bunny instead of a living, breathing Peter Cottontail.

A real rabbit may not seem like a big investment initially, but Thumper’s tab soon adds up when you throw in food, nail trimmers, brushes, veterinarian visits, spaying or neutering and other necessities. Caring for a rabbit is an 8- to 12-year commitment that typically costs more than $7,600.

A plush rabbit, on the other hand, won’t set you back more than a few bucks and can be donated or tossed into a closet after “bunny fever” has subsided.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve cared for several rescued rabbits over the years, and they make loving companions for someone who is committed to giving them the time and attention that they need. They just don’t belong in an Easter basket.

Pet stores love to display adorable bunnies this time of year—most of whom likely came from filthy, severely crowded mass-breeding facilities. These stores rarely inform buyers that rabbits are high-maintenance animals who require specialized care.

For example, although rabbits can be shy, they are not solitary animals. They love to be stroked and spoken to gently, and they want to be part of the family. One of my rabbits, Henry, loved to be the center of attention and would sit in the middle of the living room while I watched TV. When I petted my rabbit Cozy, he’d respond by giving me tons of kisses. Freya, my other rabbit, would gently nibble on my inner arm.

Cozy and Freya fell in love and became inseparable. No matter where they went, they would always sit with their bodies pressed together. Henry and my cat Winnie used to chase each other around the house and playfully wrestle. When my cat Josie groomed Henry, he would grind his teeth with pleasure.

Locking a rabbit in a cage makes for a lonely and depressed bunny. In order to let them have some freedom, rabbits need to be litterbox-trained, and your house needs to be rabbit-proofed. Bunnies chew on anything and everything in order to keep their teeth trimmed. Electrical cords, books, furniture, molding, carpets and shoes will need to be covered or moved out of the rabbit’s reach if you don’t want them to be gnawed.

Regular brushing is a must since rabbits shed profusely and hairballs can be fatal (they can’t cough them up like cats can). They also need a high-fiber diet including grass, timothy or oat hay, and fresh veggies. Dry pellets alone aren’t sufficient. Spaying or neutering is vital to prevent rabbits from spraying urine—and from making more bunnies.

Another fact that pet shops don’t point out is that bunnies aren’t good companions for children. Rabbits don’t like to be picked up and will kick, scratch and bite to defend themselves. Their bodies are so fragile that an overly enthusiastic “hug” can break their bones.

When reality sets in and people who bought bunnies on impulse discover that they are more work than they expected, scores of these sensitive animals are tossed out like stale jellybeans. Many rabbits are euthanized in shelters because there aren’t enough people lining up to give them a lifetime of love and care. Other rabbits are banished to solitary confinement in a hutch or are simply turned loose outdoors, where they don’t stand a chance against the elements and predators.

If you’re certain that you’re prepared to care for a real rabbit for the next 12 or so Easters to come, please rescue one of the many affectionate and deserving rabbits waiting in animal shelters and rabbit rescue groups across the country. If not, opt for a bunny that’s stuffed with fluff instead. Not only will it save you a bundle of bucks, it could also save a real bunny from a lifetime of suffering.

Robyn Wesley is the senior editor of publications for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

 

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 5, 2012 at 7:50 pm

This Labor Day, remember animal shelters’ unsung heroes

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

Labor Day means a carefree long weekend for many nine-to-fivers, but some laborers can’t just close up shop and forget about their jobs, even for a day. For animal shelter workers, the work never ends because the stream of battered and bruised animals in need of refuge never ends. Few people have a more emotionally wrenching job than those who punch in every day knowing that they will likely have to euthanize the animals they’ve devoted themselves to helping.

We can all help ease shelter workers’ burdens by doing our part to slow the stream of homeless animals. That means always having our cats and dogs spayed or neutered and adopting animals instead of buying them from breeders or pet stores.

As someone who has spent years volunteering at my local animal shelter, I know that animal shelter staffers are some of the hardest-working people around. They scrub down poop-strewn kennels, comb animals who are matted and crawling with fleas, and give belly rubs to dogs who have never had a bath because they’ve been kept chained up like old bicycles their entire lives. They get peed on, slobbered on and covered with muddy paw prints and cat hair every day.

They heft heavy dogs onto examination tables, unload vans full of 50-pound bags of food, get bitten by petrified dogs who have known nothing but cruelty from humans, and get scratched by cats who are frantic after having gone from the home they’ve always known to a cage in a roomful of other crying felines. They cuddle cats, throw balls for dogs, slip treats through cage bars, speak kind words and give many scratches behind the ears. They do their best to make the animals’ stay at the shelter as happy and full of love as possible.

But because shelters don’t have a magic wand that they can wave to create loving homes for all the animals who so desperately need them, those who work in open-admission shelters must also perform the thankless, gut-wrenching task of holding the animals they’ve played with and loved in their arms while the euthanasia needle slides into a vein and the light in their eyes softly flickers out. These people are heroes for doing the right thing for animals even though it takes such a toll on them personally.

Breeders, pet stores and people who haven’t had their animals spayed or neutered put shelter workers in this tragic position. Every new puppy or kitten who is intentionally or accidentally brought into the world will take the chance for a home away from one of the thousands of animals waiting in shelters. Some of them will end up homeless themselves. Every new puppy or kitten means an animal in a shelter will die. And every new puppy or kitten means another broken heart for a brave shelter worker.

Shelter workers’ jobs will never be cushy, but if more people commit to spaying and neutering their animals before that first litter and if more people open their hearts and homes to the many loving, eager-to-please dogs and cats waiting in shelters, we could dramatically reduce the number of animals shelter workers must euthanize for lack of a good home. We could save thousands of lives—and make shelter workers’ lives a little bit easier too. 

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 31, 2011 at 5:42 pm