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Don’t kill the messenger!

By Gary Bogue
Tuesday, August 29th, 2006 at 9:34 am in Shelters killing pets.

On Sunday, Aug. 13, the News & Record of Greensboro, North Carolina, published a dramatic front-page story by staff writer Jason Hardin, about animals being euthanized by lethal injection at their county animal shelter.

The emotional story used photos of a shelter employee carrying a dog to be killed and another one of a dead dog being put into a bag.

Hardin’s story began:

"GREENSBORO — Nearly 8,000 of the animals who entered Guilford County Animal Shelter last year never walked out.

"Instead, they received a lethal injection and were incinerated in a small crematorium on the shelter grounds.

"That works out to about one animal euthanized every hour of every day of the year."

A week later, on Aug. 20, News & Record editor John Robinson discussed the reader response to Hardin’s story in his on-line blog, "The Editor’s Log."

" … The first reader e-mail I received Monday morning included this sentiment: ‘I’d much rather see a picture of your staff being taken to be put to sleep.’"

Robinson goes on to print a balanced selection of reader e-mails in his blog, some supporting the story’s message and others very upset at seeing the photos. My guess is he had a LOT more angry responses than supportive ones, even though there was plenty of good reason to run that story.

Animals are dying every day of the year at animal shelters and it doesn’t have to happen. People definitely need to know that.

Hardin summed it up in his story:

"Animal lovers on all sides of the issue say heavy blame lies within the community. If all pet owners spayed or neutered their animals, the problem would not exist."

Cct31989_125That story and blog brought back a flood of bad memories as I read them. We ran the almost identical front page story here at the Contra Costa Times on Sunday, March 19, 1989 (Download a PDF of the front page):

"Pets Overpopulating County — many more killed than given homes." The story told about 15,500 cats and dogs that had been killed in the county animal shelter in one year.

I was intimately involved in the story. I wrote the sidebar than ran alongside the main story: "You can see death in pets’ eyes." To write it I had to visit the shelter and spend a day watching them killing those animals, dog after dog and cat after cat. If you think looking at the photos in your morning paper is bad, try standing next to the guy who has to give the poor animals those shots and then looking each of the animals in the eye just before it died.

I was also closely involved in dealing with the reader response to our story. I got in early on the day the story ran and picked up a ringing phone to hear a woman screaming in my ear, "I hate you for printing those horrible photographs! I hate you!"

We had printed two powerful photos on the front page, along with the story. A photo of a dog with its muzzle tied shut with a rope so it couldn’t bite while it received its lethal injection, and another picture of frozen dogs and cat bodies piled in barrels in the shelter’s walk-in freezer.

Yes, the photos were horrible. But even more horrible was the number of animals that had to be killed at the shelter every day. Our editors felt such an important, shocking story needed to be illustrated with photographs that were just as dramatic.

The initial e-mails and letters that followed were very, very angry, some demanding the firing of staff members who wrote and edited the stories. The understanding responses came later. But they came.

So here we are 17 years later. The News & Record writes basically the same story and uses almost identical photos to illustrate it, and their readers respond the same as our readers did.

They still want to kill the messenger — instead of focusing on the problem and doing what it takes to stop the killing.

If EVERYONE spayed and neutered their pets, we wouldn’t have all these surplus animals to be killed.

Yes, I know no one likes to look at dogs being carried in to be killed. And I know no one ever wants to look at 50-gallon drums full of frozen dead pets in a freezer. I don’t like looking at them, either.

While you’re being angry at us for bringing all this to your attention, could you please take a moment to have your pets spayed and neutered so we won’t have to write this story again? Thanks.

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9 Responses to “Don’t kill the messenger!”

  1. GG Says:

    “If EVERYONE spayed and neutered their pets, we wouldn’t have all these surplus animals to be killed.”

    … AND if everyone in the community made it a priority to make sure free spaying and neutering, paid for by the city, was available, and worked to make sure their elected officials were funneling plenty of money into public shelters so that animals could be kept alive longer and could be displayed for adoption at more outreach sites, and so the shelters could keep their doors open longer and on weekends so they are accessible to more potential adopters.

    This problem is everyone’s problem, and everyone needs to take responsibility.

  2. Cassie Says:

    Why doesn’t everyone get this upset about babies being aborted?

  3. Pat in Antioch Says:

    I once worked at a vet where (as with all vets) animals were euthanized out of love, for medical reasons. I assisted at more than a few of these, and it never got easier. I always treated the pet and the owners with all the love & respect I could muster, and I admit to shedding more than a few tears. Looking into those trusting eyes was heart wrenching even when we knew it was for the best.

    Could I be part this same thing done at shelters just because an animals time has run out? An animal whose owner didn’t care to offer even the most basic care? NO WAY!!
    I have no doubt that some of these shelter workers offer a loving touch in the final moments of a animals life; I’ve even known some to cry at the end of a day only to have to get up & do it all again the next day. Is it their fault? NO!! It’s the fault of the irresponsible owner who didn’t spay or neuter.

    There are organizations that will help or pay for spays & neuters-you just have to look for them, but I don’t think it’s up to the city’s to take responsibility for it. Sadly, there are still people who wouldn’t take advantage of it.

    To print basically the same story 17 years later, makes a sad statement-we haven’t learned anything and those animals who give their constant love & devotion are the ones who pay the price. Shooting the messenger isn’t the answer—LISTENING to the messenger and LEARNING from him is.

    Go hug your pets, and then, if they’re not spayed or neutered, DO IT!!!!

    Pat in Antioch

  4. Mike "troll" Dame Says:

    hey Pat i just hugged my pets but i dont think you can spay a tarantula:)

    anyways discount and free spaying neutering is great but it doesnt work well if people dont know about it. over the years we have told many clueless pet owners about thiese services and im allways amazed they had never heard of such things, specially when they are obviously concerned about over population problems. i dunno maybe its because they were mainly low income people or maybe its just because they dont have the brains to think about checking into this sort of thing but if you ask me the word doesnt get out well enough to the masses

  5. Kris Says:

    I can’t count the number of times I have argued with people about breeding their “purebred” dog so they can sell puppies. I am very passionate about educating these folks about all the poor pups in the shelters who need homes, and how the community does not need yet another litter of puppies just because they happened to be pure boxer/shephard/rottie or whatever. I have had many different breeds of dogs over the years, but my mixed breed german shephard/border collie/german shorthair pointer is the best pet one could hope for. (And handsome, too) I encourage anyone looking for a pet to start at the local shelter, where they will most likely find a best friend – and save a life.

  6. John Robinson Says:

    Thanks for the link. Actually, we got about equal numbers of pro and con responses to our story. The value, if nothing else, was in getting people to talk about it.

  7. Sandra Wilson Says:

    If we could spay and neuter everyone’s companion animals and the stray and feral cat population, it would make a huge impact. But many people think of animals as discardable, as though they were inanimate objects. And these discarded animals will still end up at the shelter regardless of the number animals that are spayed and neutered. To end the problem, people need to realize the value of each of these precious lives.

  8. pat in antioch Says:

    Hey Mike…forget about spaying the tarantula…..but I would have LOVED to see you hugging her!! :-)


  9. Stephen Miller Says:

    There is a very large population of deniers in this country. They like things the way they fantasize that they should be, and get rabid when they are presented with factual evidence to the contrary.

    Note the bitter attacks upon Al Gore, who has presented incontrovertible evidence of extensive global warming; or upon scientists, who actually KNOW SOMETHING factually, when they present the enormous evidence for evolution, which contradicts the know-nothings’ established prejudices.

    The same people who condemn the reporters are the ones who don’t bother to spay and neuter, the ones who discard their animals in the middle of the night, telling themselves that the dumped creatures will very happily live the wild, free life hunting for non-existent game.

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