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A Final Word on Euthanasia

Throughout our lives we encounter death.

For some, death is nothing more than an abstract concept. For others, given where and how they live, death may be a very tangible experience.

In war-torn areas massacre and mass graves are common and even daily occurrences. In stable areas, as much as we can control our own destinies, we may live to a ripe old age and see our families and friends pass along the way. These are the deaths of people.

Then, there are the non-human animals.

Unless folks are hunting for meat, animals raised for human consumption are slaughtered each day by the millions and come to us in a very removed fashion frequently not resembling the former animal and wrapped in cellophane. Most people do not pause to consider how they came to be, how they lived or how they died.

In the animal kingdom there are some animals that live for just a few days and others that can live for well over one hundred years. There are predators and there is prey. Those wild animals that engage in this complex interaction are part of the natural order. We accept this as an essential component for biological diversity.

Then, there are our pets.

For so many people, these animals are treasured family members and sustain us through life and hardship. We cannot imagine not having them around to give and to receive comfort. Many may have come to us through a rescue or shelter. The animals that enter the shelters but do not come out alive is our focus here.

Shelter animals have their lives cut short simply because there are too many of them. Workers across the country are forced to euthanize thousands of animals every day and most would have been wonderful companions if given the chance.

What to do? Of course we say to spay and neuter pets and stress that pets should be a lifetime commitment. Not enough people live by those philosophies and so overcrowding continues. We know many shelter animals die. This begs the question - how or by what means? After a recent visit to a crematorium, we wanted to share some final thoughts about euthanasia because we do not want death to be an abstraction nor do we wish for the process by which death comes to be labeled in such a way as to mislead or scare the public.

Part of what we strive to do is to encourage the public to make sound and informed decisions. To do that there must be at least some desire or quest for knowledge, and that may involve observing circumstances that can make us uncomfortable, but don't we want to know?

We should know what shelter life is like. We should know what shelter death is like. Certainly not all shelters are operated in the same way and quality or funding can be an issue. But, as scared as many of those animals may be, they are comforted and made safe in their final hours by the compassionate and caring individuals who selflessly choose to work or volunteer in this type of environment.

By saying that these shelter animals are killed are we not painting a picture of violence?

By saying that the deaths of these shelter animals are inhumane or cruel are we not insulting the very people who work or volunteer there?

By saying that the mass killing of shelter animals is equivalent to genocide are we not minimizing events like the Holocaust?

Euthanasia is Greek for 'good death' - a painless death - and is often performed to end the suffering of companion animals. But shelter animals are also put to death humanely as a means to control overpopulation and/or make space for others. This is the reality - and a sad reality this is - but not a cruel or inhumane outcome for those animals.

Photos and videos on some animal-related sites show the process from the time the animal leaves the cage alive to the time the animal leaves the facility dead. We see workers pile up bodies of animals in large bins. We see animals dead in the freezer. We see bags of them loaded onto trucks. These images evoke strong emotions that make some folks decide that an extended life in a cage or life and death on the streets is somehow a better and more humane outcome.

We disagree.

The crematorium.

We had gone for two reasons. We had experienced the sudden loss of a pet recently and although we grieved for her, somehow the process felt incomplete. We wanted to see what happened between the time of her death and the day we received her ashes. We also just wanted to know. We wanted to learn. We wanted to be informed and that is the only way to make good decisions.

A lovely young woman willingly answered our questions and showed us around. We saw the ovens. We saw the fire. We saw the area in which the ashes are gently placed into velvet bags and then into decorated wooden boxes.

There were no private individual cremations on this day, but bags and bags of animals, mostly from shelters. We watched as they were placed into the ovens. We saw bins of the ashes after removal from the ovens and mixed-in small brittle pieces of bone that were due to be interred at a pet cemetery. This made us think about feral cats.

There are so many that do come into the shelters and eventually wind up in those bins. They are held for a period of time, euthanized, and usually sent for cremation and internment. Then we thought about those feral cats that live and die in a different manner.

Having seen animals euthanized by lethal injection and having seen what happens after the animals are euthanized we could never say that what we observed was violent or cruel or inhumane. Maybe because most people are not part of the entire process this subject area is too fearful or too difficult to comprehend.

But what would happen upon observing a freezing or injured feral cat as part of a managed colony? What would happen upon observing that same cat torn apart by a coyote or beaten to death by an aggravated neighbor or flattened by a motor vehicle? For the animals that just disappear, the final fate of those ferals is unknown. Caregivers can have wishful thoughts that the animals are still alive and not suffering, but they don't know. They can hope the animals died quickly and painlessly, but they don't know. What if they knew? What if they saw the end?

We advocate first and foremost socialization and adoption of feral cats. We also advocate enclosed sanctuaries run by non-profit organizations or enclosures on private properties. When those options are not possible we will always advocate euthanasia over release to the wild. For those folks out there who think life and death on the streets is preferred and more humane than euthanasia - think again.

Please view the video clip that follows.

Click here to view the video segments. Warning! Graphic.

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