Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Better off dead?

These eyes have followed me around town all week, peering out at me from newspaper displays all over town, including this one in yesterday's snowstorm. It's the cover of Isthmus featuring Vikki Kratz's provocative, eye-opening article about euthanasia at the Dane County Humane Society. I was among those who thought the Humane Society had pretty much become a no kill shelter a few years ago when the leadership was replaced by a group that wanted to reduce the number of animals killed. I also assumed the big new shelter the organization built would help reduce euthaniasia rates.

The reality is far more complex. Kratz begins with her own experience when she volunteered to foster cats for the organization.
But after leaving several phone messages and sending an email, I was told that the shelter was scaling back its foster-care program. If I wanted to help, I should come back in two months.

Frustrated, I turned to Dane County Friends of Ferals, a local rescue group. A couple days later, I had two Siamese kittens in my home. They had bright blue eyes, gorgeous markings — and colds. They sneezed long ropes of mucus over everything I owned. But after a week of antibiotics, the kittens recovered. Two weeks later, they were adopted.

I was surprised to learn the kittens had come from the Humane Society — the same shelter that had rejected my offer of help. And because the kittens were sick, they had been marked for euthanasia. In fact, by the time Alison Colby, then director of Friends of Ferals, got to the Humane Society to pick them up, three of their littermates had already been killed.

The Humane Society regularly kills animals with treatable medical conditions.
The story that emerges is one of conscientious, well-meaning people with different ideas of what's the right thing to do. The bottom line isn't pretty.
And in March, the Humane Society implemented a new set of animal-care guidelines, which included reducing the number of cages available for cats on its main adoption floor. As a result, the shelter's euthanasia rate for cats went up. This year, for the first time in five years, the shelter reported killing cats — 29 so far — for "space." Its euthanasia rate for cats reached 40% in October of this year, up from 29% in October 2006.
If, like me, you find this figure shocking and depressing, be sure to read Vikki Kratz's entire article. In addition, here are some places to go for more information: Ted O'Donnell's No Kill Madison blog, Dane County Friends of Ferals, and the Dane County Humane Society -- although, in view of their euthanasia rate, I sort of wonder about the Human Society's URL --

12.12.07 UPDATE: Vikki Kratz comments on the Human Society's (lack of a formal) response to her article here and provides a link to their letter to volunteers and supporters.


cathy said...

I volunteer at the Humane Society, for a program that was set up a few years ago to treat cats with ringworm. Like many volunteers, I have mixed feelings about the new euthanasia rule. On one hand, I would like to save as many animals as possible (volunteers all do, that's why we volunteer). On the other hand, I found it pretty depressing to come in for my shift and see 30 cats that needed up to 4 medications each. I was getting burnt out, and I know some other volunteers felt the same way. Lately we have had more manageble numbers, so I can do the meds, spend some time socializing the kittens, and still have enough energy to shovel my driveway when I get home. I think if our community is going to become a no-kill community, then people are going to have to give more time and money to that effort, and most people are already giving as much as they want. I know I am.

-Deb- said...

I am not surprised that the volunteers are worn out, since I tried for weeks to volunteer with the DCHS (and the affiliated Four Likes Wildlife) and could not rouse a response from anyone. There are few more serious dysfunctions in a non-profit organization that an inability to tap volunteer support.

I am now working with Angel's Wish.