The Shame We Bury
We can pretend it isn't happening, but it is.
I came across this post on NextDoor. I don’t know the author, but it moved me and I felt it was important to share.
As people who have read my writing for a little while know, animal protection is the issue that animates me more than any other. But you don’t have to be an animal rights activist to relate to this. Please devote a few minutes to give this a read.
I have been writing this post in my head for nearly three years and until today I've never been brave enough to post it. But recently some people doing similar work and facing much the same reality have used social media to speak up about a topic that for so long has not been discussed. Their bravery has given me the courage to finally share my thoughts and experiences about something that I’ve needed to for so long.
Today I euthanized five dogs. This is not an uncommon task for a vet to perform and getting into the profession you are well aware of the fact that this is something you will have to do in your chosen career. However, the dogs I put down today were not sick, they were not injured, they were not old and they were not unhealthy in any way. They were not untamed and they were not aggressive. They were perfect, healthy and normal dogs. There was no reason for them to lose their lives today other than that they were failed by humans because of the current overpopulation crisis of domestic animals particularly dogs that so few people are prepared to accept and try to understand.
The euthanasia of healthy animals by animal welfare organizations and shelters across the world is something that we need to start talking about but it is not an easy topic for someone who is in this line of work to discuss. One, because how can you possibly put into words something that is so deeply personal and difficult to come to terms with in your own mind, and two, how can you risk the possibility of losing such important funding that keeps welfare organizations and shelters alive by drawing attention to something that the public at large simply know very little about and so few people understand.
The dogs that I put down today were so excited to see me. How lucky they were to have someone in their kennel giving them attention and maybe just maybe they'd even be so lucky as to be taken out for a walk — their tails were wagging and everyone was jumping for joy. One of them was nervous and scared of me. This was a dog that had likely never had much in the way of attention or love from a human being. I have tried everything possible to make the task easier for myself and for those who assist me. I have tried doing it in their kennels, I’ve tried doing it on the grass outside so that the dogs can walk for a bit to experience one last bit of freedom and fresh air. I’ve fed them last meals, I’ve done it in the clinic and nothing makes it easier. The only thing that makes it bearable for me is to sedate them first so that they are sleeping when their lives end and not wagging their tails looking at me — I know this is a luxury that many other people doing this work do not have access to.
Today I chose to put them down in their kennels after I’d sedated them. Letting them leave on a bed and blanket that they have used for comfort for the past few weeks or sometimes even months. I take care to make sure that no other dog or animal is a witness but still the others around them must know. Usually the dogs bark endlessly at any small movement or sound but there is nothing more deafening than the silence of nearly one hundred dogs while ending the life of one of their neighbors or friends. They must know and I so often wonder if they are thinking if they are next or when their time will come.
In their final moments I tell each of them that I am sorry and for those who leave behind friends, puppies or siblings I promise them that I will take care of them and do my very best to find them homes or see that they are cared for properly. These are trivial words compared to what I should be saying to them but it’s hard to give them the apology they so deserve in the short time it takes for the life to leave their little bodies. What I should be saying to them is that I’m sorry you never got the opportunity to experience what it’s like to sleep on a couch and I’m sorry that those who did get to sleep on a couch once have ended up being unwanted and failed by the humans who took them into their homes in the first place. I’m so sorry that they were born into a world that didn’t have space for them and so many others. I’m sorry that they weren’t pretty enough or the right breed to be one of the chosen ones and I’m sorry that for months or for some of them nearly a year countless people walked past their cage and decided not to choose them or to leave and rather choose to buy a puppy somewhere else instead.
I have tried my best to cope with it as I know many others do too: by doing what I believe is everything humanly possible to find unwanted dogs and cats homes. I spend hours of my time holding them while they pose for photos, writing posts for Facebook, advertising them and putting their stories and personalities into words as best I can all in the hopes of someone deciding to choose them. I talk to people and encourage them to adopt but this does not always work. I have spayed until 10pm at night before because if I can just do one more spay it might help. Like so many others in this line of work, I have done hours of work behind the scenes and out of the public eye for no benefit other than hopefully having to euthanize one less healthy animal.
I have done my fair share of adopting too, having adopted eight dogs and regularly contemplate whether I could take on another one or two despite my home already being near overrun. But it is still not enough and the burden of this crisis and war that we are fighting against overpopulation is not to be borne by only a small group of people across the world who are prepared to sacrifice so much because they are not ignorant to the reality of what is going on around them. It is something that everyone who has ever loved an animal has to accept as their fight too. Which is one of the reasons I am writing this post and have been trying to write it for so long.
Everyone has a way in which they can contribute to this fight and many are simple. Volunteer: spend time at a local animal shelter or organization so you have a better understanding of what is happening out there. The animals in shelters love attention and walks even if it is only to make their time more comfortable until it must come to an end. Donate if you can and especially towards sterilization programs. We must stop these animals at their source — the more puppies and kittens we can prevent, the fewer healthy dogs need to be put down. Adopt if you are in a position to get a new pet. There is no reason to go out and buy a dog or cat when there are such perfect ones looking for homes. If everyone who could did choose to adopt, the world would be a much better place for it.
Thank you to those who continue to support me and my work especially through donations towards my sterilization programs. Every donation that helps me do a spay gives me the strength to face another day and I have a lot of hope that we can change the world one spay at a time. I only wish to create more awareness about the crisis we are facing and I hope that those working in this line of work feel that my words here have done this important topic justice. I do hope that in my lifetime I could live in a world where no healthy animal is euthanized due to lack of space, lack of homes or lack of resources available. I’m not sure if I will ever get to see that be a reality but I think we all know by now that I will never give up trying!
P.S. If you’re moved by this to support rescuers and shelter dog advocates, here are a couple I happen to know, though there are countless others who are equally worthy of your support: