Wednesday, August 25, 2010
too many doomed animals
ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOS OF POOR, DOOMED KITTIES
I hope every person around here who has cats -- or dogs -- that they refuse to spay or neuter reads this Associated Press story. It it a long story and very upsetting. But it must be read.
And it could be anywhere, not just in northwestern Pennsylvania.
To all those who think their pets should "have at least one litter," read this.
To all those who are so sure people will want to adopt puppies and kittens, read this.
We have many wonderful rescue groups in this area that try to save as many animals as possible.
Our SPCA does its part, too.
But here is the grim reality for far too many precious animals.
Read it. Cry. Take action.
ERIE — There is reverence in this room.
For the difficult task performed. For each cat or dog, treated with calming compassion until the very end.
The euthanasia room, tucked away inside the Humane Society of Northwestern Pennsylvania, has little in it. The walls are bare and painted light purple. An examination table is placed near the middle.
A staff member, wearing long rubber gloves, removes the animal from one of the clinic's cages and carries it into this room.
Another worker often apologizes to the cat or dog, and then injects it with a dose of sodium pentathol.
The animal is dead within three or four seconds.
But on Thursday at the Humane Society, one animal was followed by another, and another, and another.
Officials said 20 cats were euthanized that day, 15 of which were healthy and at the shelter for less than two weeks.
Euthanasia, predominantly of cats, is soaring at area animal shelters — a crisis, officials say, brought on by a drop in adoptions and a sharp rise in drop-offs of stray and abandoned cats that local clinics are calling an epidemic.
The culprit, shelters believe, is the bad economy matched with the expenses of having a pet, making the sad rise in euthanized animals — many of which are healthy and adoptable — one of the more startling fallouts of the recession.
The Humane Society euthanized 73 percent of its cat intakes between April 2009 and this past July. The clinic projects it will euthanize more than 1,600 cats in 2010, its highest number in at least a decade, said Joe Grisanti, the shelter's executive director.
In 2008, the Millcreek Township agency took in 1,258 cats, adopted out 624, and euthanized 467. In 2009, intakes nearly doubled, to 2,114 cats, while adoptions dropped to 518. The clinic euthanized 1,436 cats.
The Humane Society — which euthanizes for medical reasons, behavioral issues and shelter space, according to its executive director — is on pace in 2010 to see its cat intakes surpass 2009's total.
Grisanti said the shelter, which typically holds about 150 animals, cannot keep up with the pace of strays and abandoned cats being dropped off given the low number of adoptions.
"Everyone thinks this is an adoption agency, but it's a euthanasia agency. And the public doesn't want to know that, and isn't able to digest that," Grisanti said. "People think that this special cat is going to get a wonderful home when dropped off here, but they give little consideration to what will really happen. And that reality is very hard on us because we put to death animals we love, admire and respect every day."
The shelter also has seen more signs of neglect, abuse and significantly diminished health in the drop-offs, leading to a rapid spread of illness throughout the clinic and the harsh consequence of having little chance of being adopted.
Grisanti said he and his staff of about 20 are "frustrated, saddened and angry" at what he calls "an outrageous display of behavior by irresponsible pet owners and the public who contribute to this very serious crisis."
Shelter officials believe there are tens of thousands of stray and abandoned cats roaming the Erie region, overloading animal enforcement officers this year with nearly twice as many cats as officers collected in 2009.
The recession, which began in late 2007, placed a crunch on pet owners' wallets, officials say, and still continues to make them less likely to spay or neuter and more likely to leave their pet outdoors. That habit has spurred a massive spike in mating and led to more unwanted litters.
The poor economy also created a larger number of transients: people faced with new landlords not accepting of pets, and more pet owners with less money eventually giving up on those animals.
"I'm getting bogged down with strays. I've never seen it this bad," said Kris Watkins, manager of the A.N.N.A. Shelter, 1555 E. 10th St., adding that her clinic has seen a 20 percent spike in cat intakes from 2009.
The shelter receives most of its cats and dogs through contracts with several animal enforcement agencies, including the city of Erie, Erie County and Lawrence Park Township.
Watkins said her agency accepts drop-offs from the public by appointment only.
"I have to be selective. I don't have a lot of space," she said. "If we opened our doors and let anyone come in and drop off a cat, the numbers would be astronomical."
The shelter, which opened in 2004, tries to keep its cat population at about 60, said its director, Ruth Thompson Caroll. Last week, A.N.N.A. had 119 cats, and at times this year has taken in three times as many kittens as normal.
Caroll said the shelter euthanized more cats between October and December of 2009 than any three-month period in its history.
"The public needs to be educated on what has become a cat epidemic," she said. "People think they're doing the good-Samaritan thing by feeding and sustaining these stray cats. But they don't spay or neuter, and if the cat doesn't come back, they just do the same thing for the next one to come along."
Shelters take various steps to spare a cat or dog the finality of euthanasia.
Community lost-and-found lists are checked.
Ads are run in newspapers.
Clinic staff scan the animals for microchip implants and any identification that would link a pet to its owner.
Lately, at the Humane Society, those efforts have been futile.
On Thursday, a short-haired black cat was curled up toward the back of a cage inside what the shelter calls its "known-history" room. The 6-year-old, dropped off at the clinic on Aug. 10, had goopy discharge around his watery eyes, and he couldn't stop sneezing.
The room, as big as a walk-in bedroom closet, had 15 cats inside 12 cages, including two litters of kittens on Thursday. Sounds of meowing and an occasional hiss filled the space, which is directly next door to the shelter's "unknown-history room."
In here, there is little hope.
One cat wheezed with respiratory failure. Another cat had physical wounds and open sores.
In a bottom corner cage was a gray 2-pound stray, picked up by Millcreek Township animal enforcement after he was found in the parking lot.
On this day, this will be the last morning 20 of these cats see.
Once euthanized, they are individually wrapped in a plastic bag, stored in a freezer for a day or two, and then taken in 400-pound batches to a crematory inside the building.