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Euthanasia Decisions

ShelterSpeak: What Would You Do?

ShelterSpeak: What Would You Do?

Recently at the Potter League for Animals in Rhode Island, staff and board members were reviewing several operational policies, including the euthanasia policy. To help the board of directors and the non-animal care staff in the shelter understand what was involved in making heartwrenching decisions regarding adoptions and euthanasia, Executive Director Christie Smith presented them with some scenarios based on real situations that had occurred in the shelter.

Smith didn't offer "answers," nor did she ask anyone what they thought should be done. Nonetheless, reactions were vehement. "Those who did the exercise hated it, couldn't do it, didn't know what decision to make, had no idea how tough it was for the staff," says Smith. "And that was all I had been trying to accomplish. The policy review process was much easier after they were able to put themselves in our shoes."

This exercise is applicable to other shelters' situations, Smith says, but would be most meaningful if specifics are adjusted to match the size of the shelter and the issues relevant to the surrounding community.

Smith's scenarios are presented below.

Scenario #1—Older cat with medical and behavior problems

An owner surrenders his 12-year-old cat, a spayed female. The reason for surrender is the cat's chronic house-soiling problems. The cat is obese and infested with fleas; he has severe gum disease, is missing several teeth, and needs additional dentistry. The cages in the shelter are full when this cat is surrendered. What would you do?

Scenario #2—Feral cats

Mr. Brown has approximately 10 feral cats living in his yard and has been feeding them for more than a year. He decides he doesn't want any of these cats and wants to bring them all to the Potter League. After several long conversations with the Potter League staff, Mr. Brown decides he would miss the cats and would like to keep a few of them if they can be sterilized. Now that he knows more about feral cat care, Mr. Brown wants to keep three cats if the Potter League will pay for the vaccinations and sterilization. He still wants to bring the other seven cats to the Potter League. Potter League staff explain to Mr. Brown that they will evaluate the cats, and if the cats are feral and cannot be handled, they will be euthanized and not made available for adoption. He agrees with this plan, and the Potter League vaccinates and sterilizes the three cats he has chosen to keep. Would you follow the policy you explained to Mr. Brown? What would you do with the other seven feral cats he surrenders to the Potter League?

Scenario #3—Unsterilized pit bull with unknown history

A woman living in a low-income housing area brings in a 1½-year-old, unspayed pit bull mix she found in her neighborhood. The League monitors the dog for 10 days, and no one comes forward to claim her. The dog is well-behaved in the kennel and doesn't give staff any trouble. But when a staff member does a temperament test to evaluate the dog, she is very mouthy and snappy whenever she's excited or restrained. Would you make this dog available for adoption?

Scenario #4—Stray cat with FIV

Portsmouth Animal Control brings in a female cat who needs to be quarantined for rabies after biting someone. It is apparent that the cat has recently had a litter of kittens, and the next day, her three 10-day-old kittens are found and also brought to the Potter League. At the end of the quarantine, Potter League staff decide to put the mom and her kittens into foster care until the kittens are old enough to be returned to the shelter and adopted; the mother will then be spayed and placed into a new home. Before placing the cats in the foster home, the League administers a routine blood test and discovers the mother cat is positive for FIV. What would you do now?

Scenario #5—Too many cats

It is the middle of August, and there are three empty cat cages at the Potter League. The weekend is approaching—a time when many animals are adopted, but also the busiest days for relinquishment of pets. The shelter is very crowded, and the reality is that some animals might have to be euthanized. The cats being considered for euthanasia include a delightful, unneutered, two-year-old cat who has just come out of quarantine for biting; a painfully shy cat the staff has been trying to help; a five-year-old female cat who has already been here for four months; three cats from a little old lady who died recently-cats who all appear healthy but are 8, 10, and 12 years old; and a pregnant cat who is about to have her kittens. How do you decide which cats must be euthanized?

Scenario #6—Rabies risk

A cat, reportedly abandoned by someone who moved away, is turned into the Potter League in September. After four days, a wound on the cat's ear that was not originally apparent abscesses, swells, and bursts; two puncture wounds are found on the ear. The ear is cleaned and shaved; no veterinarian can determine what caused the wound. Keeping in mind the rabies-related guidelines on placing animals with wounds of unknown origin, would you make this cat available for adoption?

Scenario #7—Stray elderly cat

Scott opens the front door to his apartment building and a cat rushes in. Scott has never seen the cat before and he brings her to the Potter League. The cat is a lovely, sweet cat, definitely elderly; although the veterinarian can't provide an exact age, he estimates the cat is probably at least 10 years old. The veterinary exam indicates the cat is underweight, has a heart murmur, and should have blood work completed to rule out diabetes, a thyroid condition, or kidney disease. The cat also needs dentistry work done. No one reports her missing or claims her, in spite of the fact that Scott posts "FOUND"signs all over his neighborhood and apartment building. After her stray-holding period, do you make her available for adoption?

Scenario #8—Untrained dog

The Potter League helps an overcrowded shelter by taking in some of its dogs and attempting to place them. One is a timid, unspayed female. Temperament testing by staff indicates that she is calm but suspicious, scared, and nervous. She pays little attention to people, and is aloof and insecure. She really doesn't like to be touched, and it is hard to motivate her to play with toys. She is not housetrained. The League spends several months working with her, encouraging her to play. Volunteers take her on long walks, and she attends obedience classes every week. She is nervous one minute, jumpy and crazy the next, but she doesn't have a mean or aggressive bone in her body. She is returned after one adoption; the adopter says she was just too much to handle and behaved destructively when left by herself. Do you put her up for adoption again?

Scenario #9—Euthanasia requested by owner

Over the course of 18 months, a young neutered male husky/shepherd mix comes into the Potter League three times. The dog regularly runs loose, as evidenced by the number of times he has been picked up by animal control in both Newport and Middletown. The owner and the animal control officers have had numerous conversations about leash laws, licensing laws, and requirements to confine the dog. The third visit to the Potter League is the result of the dog killing a cat on one of his excursions. The owners of the cat are furious. The owner of the dog requests that the Potter League euthanize her dog. Do you honor that request?


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