When I first heard the term "owner requested euthanasia" I envisioned a low income, older couple with a frail, elderly dog or cat wrapped up in a blanket, lovingly carried in their arms into an animal shelter to be peacefully euthanized at the end of his life.
Providing the service at an animal shelter seems like a smart thing to do. It brings in a little extra revenue and provides a compassionate service for the community in their time of need.
But then I learned the ugly truth. Along with the above scenario, other scenarios are playing out at some shelters in Wisconsin.
1) A healthy or treatable pet surrendered by an owner who hopes that the shelter will find their pet a new loving home doesn't pass the shelter's behavior or medical evaluation. Often unbeknownst to the owner, they have signed a surrender document consenting to the "euthanasia" (killing) of their pet. This is often buried in the fine print. The pet may be dead before the owner's car leaves the parking lot because a surrendered pet doesn't have to undergo the mandatory seven day stray hold in Wisconsin.
2) A healthy or treatable pet is brought in by an owner in the hopes that he can be re-homed.
A "friendly" staff member counsels the owner that "euthanasia" is the most humane option.
The benefit to the shelter? They don't report this in their regular kill numbers. So when you look at the "owner requested euthanasia" numbers, it looks suspiciously high.
The good news is that the cat is out of the bag about owner-requested euthanasia. More and more people are demanding a clear definition and accurate reporting.
The new national database project Shelter Animals Count (more on this in a future blog) gives this definition of Owner Requested Euthanasia: "For the purposes of this document, we are choosing to define owner requested euthanasia as the euthanasia of a pet whose owner brought the pet to the shelter for that service. In other words, the owner brought the pet in specifically for that service - it was their intent before arriving. Any other definition of "owner requested" euthanasia leaves much up to interpretation and therefore a great deal of variation among organizations and their reporting."
Richard Avanzino of Maddies' Fund wrote an excellent article on the subject of owner-requested euthanasia.
Here is how the Tompkins County SPCA deals with the owner requested euthanasia: "We've eliminated owner requested euthanasia from our menu of services. If someone asks for it, we give them the party line: "we are not in the business of killing people's pets for them." We recommend taking the animal to his own veterinarian where the pet can die with dignity surrounded by caring people who know and love him."
1. If you have to surrender an animal, ask before you sign on the dotted line. "What will happen to my pet if he/she doesn't pass your evaluation process?" Can I come and pick him back up?
2. Scrutinize shelter statistics carefully. Ask your local shelter what their policy is on owner-requested euthanasia. If you don't like the answer, or if you don't get an answer; take your donations and support elsewhere.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive."
Sir Walter Scott