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Don’t kill the messenger!

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.

Posted on Tuesday, August 29th, 2006
Under: Shelters killing pets | 9 Comments »