I’m in every shelter all over the world.
I have been wanting to write this blog for some time now, but I knew that it would be painful to do so. But it’s time. As we get ready to make a trip to the shelter in the morning to save another life, those memories come back like a flood that I can’t stop.
WARNING! This story is grahic. It is my experience as a shelter worker in one shelter.
Many years ago before becoming a nurse, I worked for a Veterinarian for several years. I have always had a deep love for animals and wanted them not only in my home life, but in my work life as well. But what got me there was a six month experience that I will never forget. The memories still haunt me today, and it is something that I will relive over and over again because I know that it will more than likely never end in my lifetime. I hear the screams, scared whines, and the painful barking like it was yesterday. I can still smell the death.
I accepted the job making minimum wage because I wasn’t there for the money. I wanted to work with the dogs and cats everyday. The old saying “if you do something you love, you will never work a day in your life.” applied to this job. I was hired as a kennel tech at an animal shelter and I was estatic….and very much naive. I thought what could be better than having your day full of what you love, puppies, kittens, cats and dogs, more of them than you could imagine. If you started petting each one, you would be there all day until you reached the last one. There were never shortages of pets.
My days there started out in the area that I was assigned to, which rotated on a regular basis. We would all go in before we opened to the public and clean cages/runs, and get the pets ready to be viewed by the public. Once the cages/runs were clean, the hoses and buckets put up, the director would come through the entire shelter with a black sharpie and look at each cage card. If the pet had been there for three days (strays) or an owner surrender, they were in danger of getting an “X” with the black sharpie across their card. All of us would hold our breaths as we watched her go from cage to cage, praying she wouldn’t use the sharpie on those that we had grown fond of, or ones that we had bonded with. The “X” meant that the animal would be euthanized if we needed to make some space for incoming animals.
Some days, all the cages were full, and we knew that a team of two would spend all day euthanizing to make room. In an effort to save room, we would often put two dogs (or more) that got along well in the same run, in order to save space and possibly lives. We would wait until the AC trucks would begin calling in with numbers of pets they had picked up to know if we would have to make room.
When the trucks came in, one of two things happened. Either the pet was considered to be adoptable (showing no signs of aggression, illness, or injuries) and they were given vaccinations and put into the adoptable areas of the shelter. If they appeared to be aggressive, ill or injured, they were placed into a quarantine area. The same rules applied, we had to keep them for at least 3 days to see if they were reclaimed before they could be euthanized. We would try to work with these animals to fix whatever the problem was to get them into the adoption area, but sometimes it was impossible. Some dogs were so frightened that they were deemed aggressive and were put down as soon as their 3 days were up. Others were sick beyond our limited abilities, funds, and knowledge to treat, so those too were put down as soon as their 3 days were up.
We went to extremes to help any pet that we could stay in the adoption area for as long as possible. One morning while assigned to the kennel where we kept the big dogs, I walked through to see what was there. In one run I noticed the English Bulldog who had 3 puppies was agitated and growling which was new. I looked around the run and immediately saw it. The 6″ drain cover was off, and I could hear faint cries coming from the drain. As I attempted to enter the run, the momma dog continued to growl, snarl and lunge at me. I yelled for help, then yanked the run door open, said a quick prayer, then headed for the drain in the back corner of the run. Thankfully, the momma dog sensed that I was trying to help and didn’t attack. I layed flat on the floor and put my arm into the drain all the way up to my shoulder. I could feel the puppy, but my arm was just too short to pull it out. Another kennel worker came in and was able to reach the puppy, pull it out and handed it to me. All the while, the momma dog stood back and let us save her puppy. It was an amazing moment.
With the help of another tech, I rushed the puppy to the sink, suctioned her nose and mouth, then immediately gave her a bath to wash all the bacteria infested waste off. Bundled in a warm towel in my arms, she was still not safe. The director insisted that we put her down because it was her belief that the approximately 3-4 week old puppy would not survive. I protested. Then I protested louder until I got my way. When she was old enough, she was the first of the liter to get adopted. I cried happy tears.
The shelter is full, we have to make room for incoming animals. We hated those words with a passion. After the morning cleaning, two kennel techs would take on the task of euthanizing for the day. The shelter was somber. nobody talked, everyone just did their jobs in silence as they watched ”the room” door open and close as one of the techs would come out to get the next animal to be euthanized. We would watch as the dog/puppy would be happy to leave their cage/run, jumping up on the tech for a rub and kind words, only to stop at the door. Few got to the door and went in willingly. They would lock their legs and attempt to back away with every ounce of strenght they had. But it never did any good. The tech would pick the dog up and carry them inside, then the door would shut.
Once inside the room, the dog would be placed on a stainless steel table that was attached to the wall. Shaking, trembling, scared to death as they seemed aware of what was about to happen to them. They knew that the breaths they were taking would be their last. There was nothing they could do to stop it. As one tech held the trembling dog, talked to them in a soft loving voice as they were petted, the other tech would be busy drawing the injection up into a large syringe. The amount to be given was based on weight, so we would always over estimated the weight so that the dog would go peacefully and quickly, and there wouldn’t have to be a second injection. Once drawn up, the holding tech would wrap one arm under and around the neck and head, like you see your pet being held at the vets office. The other arm would be over the top of the dog, holding the right leg to be injected. They would grasp the anticubital (bend of the leg) and twist the skin outward so the vein would roll on top. Pressure would be applied until the syringe was in the vein at which time the pressure was released and the solution could be injected slowly. During this time, the pet was being comforted in a soft voice until they slowly collapsed onto the table, taking his last breath. Once death was confirmed, the animal was placed into a black garbage bag. The tech would “hug” the pet to get the air out of the bag, then tie the end into a knot. The bag was then taken to a huge walk-in cooler and gently layed on top of the others that went first. After the table was cleaned of urine and feces that were released during the procedure, the tech would open the door to retrieve the next pet. This process would often continue the entire day. One dog/cat after another. One life taken after another. Needlessly.
The pets that came into our shelter got their generally from two different ways. Picked up stray by AC, or were owner surrenders for reasons varying from the owners were going on vaction and couldn’t find anywhere to board them, the pet was pottying in the house, the puppy was chewing up the house, they were moving and couldn’t take the pet with them, or one of many other reasons. ALL of which could have been prevented through education. I am begging you to do your research BEFORE getting a pet. As a fellow blogger wrote recently, we are fast to blame backyard breeder’s, and puppy mills for the pet over population problem, when in fact it is the uneducated owner who is the biggest problem.
I recently heard someone say “here is one dog they won’t get to kill” referring to shelter workers. Know this….shelter workers DO NOT enjoy killing dogs, they are doing the dirty work that society created and ignores as if it doesn’t exist. Instead of bashing them, why don’t you thank them for doing a job that not many have the heart to do. It is not an easy thing to kill a pet, but unfortunately it has to be done. Until pet owners get educated, the problem will continue to exist, pets will still die needlessly, and shelter workers will still get the blame. WALK THROUGH A SHELTER TODAY. Know that a very small precentage of the pets you see will come out alive.