Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Twenty nine and three

The trucks from Hamilton Burlington SPCA are already there at Toronto Animal Services waiting for the delivery from Montreal. Twenty nine dogs and three cats are coming, rescued, many a hair's breadth away from euthanasia. Usually, TAS would be taking in a bunch but not this time. It's got lots of dogs waiting on health checks and speuters already and then there's the closure over Christmas, so this time all the animals will be going to HBSPCA.

The truck from Montreal is late - missed the DVP turnoff and they need to turn around. I go inside the facility and go upstairs to get Kipper, the red Doberman, to take him out for a walk. I like Kipper. He's young, energetic, just ever so slightly ill-mannered and friendly in that Velcro Doberman type of way where he makes sure that a part of him is always in constant contact with you.

I see a family in the adoption office. The older son has one of the puppy mill Shih Tzus cradled in his arms. An older woman is fussing over the dog, brushing it. Another woman, younger is overlooking. "Are you taking him?" I ask even though I know the answer and she says, "Yes," with a big smile and I say, "Congratulations." The boy holds onto the dog who is a little overwhelmed, I think, by all the attention but he'll do fine. The family is already in love with him.

I get Kipper and take him downstairs. He slips a bit on the smooth floors in his puppylike eagerness to get outside.

In the main foyer, a woman hands over her Boxer. Her eyes tear up but she gets no sympathy. She's leaving the country and can't be bothered to take her dog. "Will he get a new home?" she asks. "We'll do what we can," says the staffer. The woman reaches out for the dog, who is wagging its tail thinking it's on some great new adventure, and the staffer turns away with the dog and leads it upstairs to its cage.

The Boxer will get a chance at a better home but there have already been five owner requested euthanasias this morning. They were all old dogs, unhealthy dogs but not necessarily at their last breathe. It's Christmas, though, and I suppose it must be inconvenient for these people to keep old dogs around when there's so much shopping and celebrating to do. Who wants to be reminded of the precariousness of life at Christmas when there is the sanctity of consumer orgies and feeding frenzies to attend to?

Kipper and I go outside. The air is cold, getting colder. The trucks from Hamilton are still waiting. They've been waiting for an hour now. One of the drivers sees Kipper and she opens her door and she tells me that if her sister saw Kipper, she'd take him home. We talk about dogs for a few minutes and then I move on. Kipper is getting impatient.

Half an hour later, we are back inside TAS and Kipper is sitting beside me on the new sofa, quite happy to watch all the comings and goings. Another dog walker sits and we talk for a bit. A man walks by and tells us that the people upstairs didn't give him the dog he wanted because he didn't have a letter from his condo landlord giving him permission to keep a dog in the building. He seems a bit pissed. "I thought my word would be good enough," he says. The other dog walker asks him when he's going to bring the letter in and the guy says he's not going to. It's too far to go. How far? she asks. It's like 40 minutes away, he says. This is the guy who earlier said he wanted a white Shih Tzu because his kids are afraid of dark coloured dogs (referring to the tan coloured Shih Tzu). They think darker coloured dogs are evil, he said and I had wondered if maybe he was talking about his own preferences.

Someone runs in and announces that the truck from Montreal has arrived. I put Kipper back in his kennel and head outside.

The back door of the truck is open and the barking of dogs fills the air. Chow Chows, Labradors, Great Pyrenees, Boston Terriers, Jack Russell Terriers, Chihuahua, happy mutts, Great Dane, Huskies, unidentifiable puppies, Shih Tzus, I can't remember them all. Twenty nine dogs all excited, nervous, happy, scared. The members of the TV crew from Global are moving around, the cameraman trying to get the best angles, the reporter trying to get the interview.

The volunteers get to work uncrating the dogs, taking them for quick pee breaks, then recrating the dogs to be transported to Hamilton. One of the guys from HBSPCA likes the bigger dogs, you can tell. He spends a bit more time them, let's them hang out just a bit longer on the grassy patch. He's got the Great Dane with him. The dog has open sores on his body, mostly at pressure points like at both his hips as the bone rubs through his too delicate and undernourished skin. About a third of his tail has recently been torn off, a knob of flesh protrudes, slimy and bloody.

Someone unloads a beautiful Pyrenees mix and hands him to me. He is thin, with black speckled white curly hair. His coat is urine stained but otherwise he seems healthy. His demeanor is that of the ideal family dog, something in his open attitude, the way he carries himself. I bring him over and hand him off to one of the HBSPCA workers.

There is an old Chow Chow staring out at me from the back of the HBSPCA van. He was just taken out of the crate he arrived in from Montreal and put into the HBSPCA crate. The bottom of his original crate was covered in thick gobs of feces. His hair is filthy, matted. He stinks of course. How could he not? His face is graying, the corners of its eyes drawn downward in what seems like an impossible mask of sadness for a dog. I want to reassure him, tell him that this will be a Merry Christmas for him. I want to promise him that, that he and all the rest will be saved. I wish there was a way I could do that. I wish I knew how to do that.

Newsreel at Global Toronto.


Much thanks to all the workers and volunteers at Companion Animal Adoptions Centres of Quebec, Hamilton Burlington SPCA and Toronto Animal Services. The caacQ's French Connection Highway of Hope has rescued 433 dogs to Toronto since it started in May 2008.


Laura HP said...

It does seem like an awful lot of people are ditching their pets before the holidays...in the past week alone there's been three rabbits surrendered, giving us eleven total. The small animal room is way too full now.
So it's really lovely to hear about the French Connection's latest delivery! That is a lot of dogs. And the shih tzu finding a family =)
Here's a lovely holiday story - a cat named Omega arrived at TAS in October surrendered by her owners. She was 7 years old and pretty shy. She was scruffy, and her face was shaped so that it looked like she was frowning at you all the time. Everyone figured she'd be with us for a looong time. Then last week, a couple came in and asked for a hard-to-adopt cat (yay!). They fell in love with her and took her home, and now she'll be with a family for Christmas =)

Ian said...

That Boxer story kills me.
I can`t imagine anything that would make us give up our dogs.
At our house "It`s till death do us part"(with arrangements for the pets)
What Country,what job,what.. is worth handing your dog over?

I`m really looking forward to the update on that Boxer.
I hope his forever family is reading your post and are on their way.

And I hope all the rescues find wonderful families.

LynnO said...

Okay, maybe I'm just sensitive...
I've got a 15 year old retired sled dog here in my house and the bloodwork shows she's in renal failure and her liver is shot. There's no "fix" for this dear old friend.
I've moved her into the house because I just couldn't stand to worry about her outside, but she doesn't like other dogs and I'm boarding several and have more of my own in here besides.
I'm thinking of euthanizing her for Christmas. (If she doesn't expire before then...)
She's still eating and drinking. But I have to assist her to get up to go out to potty. She's incontinent (although the pee pills I got last week seem to be helping.) My vet and sponsor is on holiday standby. Is this a twisted gift?
Fred, I love your posts, but sometimes we have to make difficult choices.
I want to groom that chow...maybe I'll go groom some rescue dogs around here instead.
Life is Good, short, but good.
for now
-lynnO and ende (short for Endevor...my sing-song poem to her when I trained her as a pup was "I'll love you forever Endevor." She was owned by someone else at the time, and was sold a couple of times since then, but came home to retire with me a few years ago.)

Fred said...

Hi LynnO, I'm sorry that you are faced with such a hard decision for Endevor right now but I can understand your situation completely because your decision will be based on the health of your dog.

The five that were brought into TAS, except for maybe one, were not at that critical stage in their lives. Also, just the fact that five came in on the same morning, the first week of Christmas, is a big jump in numbers and that's highly unusual for TAS.

Ian said...

I hope I didn`t insult anyone.
Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows that the time comes when you have to say goodbye but there`s a right time(health) and you`ll know and there`s a convenient time.

The right time could coincide with Christmas.

I`m also sorry for the decision you are facing LynnO.
It`s never easy.

borderjack said...

Fred, your description of Christmas is dead-on ("It's Christmas, though, and I suppose it must be inconvenient for these people to keep old dogs around when there's so much shopping and celebrating to do. Who wants to be reminded of the precariousness of life at Christmas when there is the sanctity of consumer orgies and feeding frenzies to attend to?").

I hate what it's become. At our house, Christmas has reverted to becoming simpler, but with every cat and dog getting a toy/catnip pillow messily wrapped for their opening pleasure.

I give a lot of credit to my animals for making my Christmases simpler (and hopefully, more meaningful), because they can't get caught up in the shoving and spending frenzy at the mall...My desire to spend time with them pulls me away from that. My extended family has also learned that to have me for Christmas means to include my dogs. (the cats are a little harder, so I bring them turkey leftovers!) They're a big part of why I can survive this time of year.

borderjack said...

BTW, God bless all of you wonderful people for the rescue work you do. Heartfelt thanks and wishes to you each for many, many blessings in the coming year. Whenever I get down about the state of humanity, folks like these rescue workers always bring me out. I can't imagine better people.

Anonymous said...

~This is totally heartbreaking, especially when you wrote that the boxer was 'wagging his tail, thinking he is going on some great new adventure'. That's the thing about dogs...it never even crosses their mind that this person they love so much would ever do anything so cruel as abandon them & never see them again.
~It was Dec. 12 of last year that I had to euthanize my 13 year old lab...I would have given anything to have more time with him but he was so sick..I couldn't stand to see him suffer anymore. However, the people who give up on their dogs just because they are old and now an inconvenience are another story.
~I live in Hamilton and would love to take one of these dogs but, as it turns out, I am getting a new dog on Christmas Day (cocker spaniel). He doesn't come from a shelter but his family does not want him anymore so I am taking him before he does end up there.
~Btw, I've always wondered what is involved if you move to another country and want to bring your pet so I googled it. I had always heard that the pet has to be quarantined for months but it turns out that is not always the case. If anybody is interested there is a good article here:

Anne said...

I think it was a good post, except for the judgement of the receiving customers.
TAS performs a service- that service is accepting unwanted animals. It is not our place to judge the customers that use that service- especially on a euthanasia decision. Euthanasia is a deeply personal choice and only the owner is equipped to decide what is best for their pet.
There was a discussion about euthanasia on another vet-related blog recently- almost everyone on there indicated that they would rather euthanize a week too early than even an hour too late to avoid the suffering of their animal. So instead of assuming these customers are poor owners, maybe we should instead assume that they love their pet and are making a difficult, and yet kind decision to allow their animal to die peacefully.

LynnO- I'm sorry to hear about the difficult decision that you have to make. I'm sure whatever you do will be out of love for Ende. What a lucky dog to have a mom like you

Erin said...

LynnO I am sorry that you are reaching the point of making a very difficult decision. Your situation sounds different to me than the ones Fred is describing.

We had to make that decision for our beloved Moka in August and even though it was very clear that there was nothing more to be done and we had exhausted every option, it tore us to pieces. We stayed and held her as she passed away.

Fred, I would be curious to know if the people who request euthanasia stay with their pets while it's done. I know not everyone can do that, but I would think that if they stayed to hold their friends, then they reached that decision after much thought and soul searching.

I am very glad that those 29 dogs and 3 cats are getting a chance at new loving homes for the holidays. I doubt they could ask for a better gift.

Amy said...

So instead of assuming these customers are poor owners, maybe we should instead assume that they love their pet and are making a difficult, and yet kind decision to allow their animal to die peacefully.

If someone loves their pet and wants it to die peacefully, then they should do the right and kind thing and take their animal to the vet themselves to be put to sleep. I can't imagine putting either of my dogs down without them being in my arms, hearing my voice, and knowing that I am there with them until the very end. There is nothing kind about having an uncaring stranger spend your dog's last moments with him or her.

Fred said...

Hi Anne, I beg to differ. Not everything is black and white and I may have been too black in my critique but I'd still not rule out convenience as a motivator in more than a couple of the euths requested earlier this week. The numbers are just too skewed in my opinion not to think otherwise. TAS South, I think, gets an average of maybe one or two owner requested euths a week, not usually 5 all at once and it just happens to be around Christmas holidays.

Also, while low cost euths is an important service TAS provides, it is also an unfortunate option from the pet's point of view. The pet is taken away from the owner, put into a cage in a strange environment until it's time, then it's leashed by some stranger and lead past the rows of other anxious, nervous, frightened animals into the clinic and placed on a stainless steel table where its mouth is likely roped shut (so it doesn't bite) and there it's injected to die in the arms of strangers.

So, yes, it's entirely possible that five people sincerely felt they just had to euth their pets just before Christmas and none of them could afford a more decent end of life ritual for their pets that, except for one, weren't really at death's door (according to the vet tech who had to perform the euths) but I find it unlikely, and from the dog's perspective, quite terrible.

In high school, I had a gym teacher who would get two kittens for his young children at Christmas every year. They all liked kittens but cats not so much so just before Christmas of the following year, the gym teacher would euth the one year old cats and replace them with kittens again. I'm not suggesting that the people who turned their animals over to TAS this week are anywhere near that callous but there are people who will do callous things for convenience, not necessity.

Maybe it's not my place to judge but we all have opinions. Not that it matters anyway what I think - and rightly so, it shouldn't. This is a city provided service, an important one. The owners paid their money and their pets were put down as requested.

Anonymous said...

Judge not lest ye be judged? I've been thinking about that in Chase's case, but I guess we judge Because We Can.

Questionable Christmas euthanizations smacks, to me, of convenience. It might be of the "I have time off to deal with this, and I won't have that in January" variety, although, turn that around and all of a sudden you have all the time in the world to enjoy and cherish your old friend.

A rope around the muzzle, a cage and strangers? I can only wish Soylent Green on the "owners".

Caroline said...

It's great to see the Hamilton Burlington SPCA helping those dogs from Montreal but what about all the cats that are dying right next door to them at the Hamilton Animal Control? The cats could have used the dog cages. HAC euthanizes 3 days a week and is not open to the public for adoptions nor do they offer low cost spay or neutering. I've fostered 8 cats from there for TCR and they all found homes but many die there each week.

Anonymous said...

Shelters should not perform "Owner requested euthanzia" Shelters should 1. Suggest they go to their vet 2. If they don't have a vet suggest one from their list of cooperating vets 3.Have the animal surrendered as any other animal determine if it is healthy enough for adoption or can be treated to make it healthy enough or if not euthanize in the most humane way posible. Shelters should not euthanize animals just becauce the "owner" wants to.Some Vets have this policy also.

borderjack said...

Is there any discretion on the part of the shelter when receiving an animal for owner-requested euthanasia? that is, if the shelter feels the animal is not necessarily suited for euthanasia when it is brought in, can it instead put it up for adoption? Is there a transfer of "ownership"?

Fred: I've learned a lot from your blog, and until I read this post, I didn't even know owners could take their animals to shelters to be euthanised. Having read this, I can certainly understand the need for a low-cost alternative for people with animals whose time has come...but is there basically a way out, so that if it appears to be a convenience-motivated request, does the shelter then have options?

Fred said...

From what I understand, if someone walks in with a perfectly healthy, adoptable dog and requests that it be euth'd, it won't happen. What the mechanism is for not euthanizing, I'm not sure - whether it be written in policy or just personal dissuasion.

There is, however, as in human end of life decisions, a gray zone where there is no clear answer and in most of those cases, I believe, the animal will get euth'd if the owner requests it be done.

As long as the city offers low cost euths, there will be people at one end of the spectrum who will use it with the best intentions towards their pets and others at the far end of the spectrum who will use it primarily for their own convenience.

Anne said...

I've worked in incoming for over 4 years now, so i've seen everything from the animal surrendered because it doesn't match the couch, to the poor transient people who's beloved dog was killed by a car and they couldn't afford to have him disposed of anywhere else.

I disagree with Anonymous's statement that shelters should not offer euthanasia services. Our shelter does so because we strive to serve ALL stages of an animal's life. And having your pet euthanized at your vet can be very expensive- we charge $50 for euthanasia and body disposal. The same at a local vet may cost up to $300. Also, some vets won't offer euthansia services if they disagree with the decision (especially with behavioral problems like Litter Box issues or Aggression). I do not agree that only the rich should be allowed to have their lives enriched by pet ownership- and sometimes finances are tight. If we did not offer this service (in which 2,953 customers took advantage of last year) what would've happened to the pet? Probably would've languished in its home until it lost dignity and suffered until it passed naturally. or until the owner could find some other way to end it's suffering.

And euthanasia is handled differently at every shelter. At my place the animal is not put away- it is immediately euthanised so it doesn't have to sit in a cage and be stressed. And it's not done by 'uncaring strangers' as Amy said (i'll try not to take offense at that for every shelter worker), but instead by a certified VT who offers kind words and love during the animal's last moments. And our shelter won't offer convenience euthanasia- they have to have some sort of unfixable health or behavioral problem.

I'm not saying that NONE of these people made this decision out of convenience. But maybe our view of 'convenience' (they have guests coming over and the dog is incontinent and falls over and smells) could actually be misplaced (the dog is very stressed when strangers are in the house, and he no longer gets any enjoyment out of things he used to love).

I can remember every instance in which i judged a receiving customer and then was proven wrong. These moments fill me with shame and make me a better person for the next customer that has to relinquish their animal- whether i agree with them or not. Because if i judged every person that came through the door, i'd never be able to do my job, and the animals would be the ones that suffer for it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for keeping your readers in the shelter/adoption loop in Ontario & TASS.

Good to know that their are still more dogs somewhere in the TASS building. We are still looking for a dog to adopt and can hear more than we see lately..

LynnO said...

Thank you all. The discussion helps. Our Animal Control euthanizes for free. Used to be when my vet was the manager that she would try to talk people out of the euthanasia and into relinquishing (and then she worked HARD to find somebody to take that animal pronto because the staff HATED when she did this...) Compassion fatigue and burnout was rampant there.

I had a rescue sled dog that I got as a yearling. I'd rehomed her six times (with a lifetime take-back guarantee) and she came back seven times. Finally, when she was ten, I took her to Animal Control and requested euthanasia. (She wasn't at death's door, but she was old and cold and slow and didn't have much coat and needed WAY more than I had to offer at the time to live a happy and comfortable life. I asked the staff if I should relinquish her instead, the gal said, "she'll sit, alone in a cage, for three days and then we'll kill her anyway." I believed her. She asked if I wanted to stay for the euthanasia, but I was too ashamed. I left. That was six or seven years ago and I still feel the shame. Enhanced because I didn't stay and help my friend leave with love. (At the time there were legal issues about even allowing owner to stay...one local vet file a complaint because the "free" service was competing with her private sector business! So she was demanding that owners couldn't be there for free and that's how she'd get them to come across the street and pay a hundred bucks or more to have her do the killing. Sigh.
I think the low-cost/free euthanasia services are an important public option. I think we all judge (and I'm trying hard to curb that in myself.)