The difference between euthanasia and ‘killing’ an animal

Dear Editor:

I have deferred writing in regard to the actions which have taken place at The Hudson County SPCA over the past two months. I will do so in what I regard an appropriate manner at some point. However, a recent newspaper article demands that I respond to one issue. In fact, this is the only issue which matters at all regarding this or any other animal shelter and that is the Life of the animals at that shelter.

Part of that article dealt with the issue of "euthanasia" at the SPCA. Let me first make very clear the distinction between euthanizing an animal and simply killing that animal. My philosophy and the practice at The Assisi Center when I was director there was stated in our mission statement. It was that an animal would be euthanized at the behest of a veterinarian and only for specific humane veterinary purposes. And that is what we practiced. This newspaper article referred to some "50 or 60″ animals which were euthanized over a period of 14 months. That number is about correct, and we were sorry at every one of those cases. Although none of us likes to think about it, there comes a time in the life of an animal when that animal is sick beyond curing and injured beyond healing. In those cases and when extreme suffering was its only alternative, our policy was to do what any family would do for one of its beloved pets. What this newspaper article failed to report was that those 50 or 60 animals euthanized were from the more than 1,000 dogs and cats who came to us in those 14 months. The article did not mention the hundreds more animals who came to us ill and immured whom we healed and cured and the more than 900 of those animals for whom we found new adoptive homes.

The article mentioned that one euthanasia form indicated that the dog was euthanized because "it could not walk any more." Well, maybe we should have written a better explanation for that wonderful animal who was brought to us by its elderly human companion. The dog was 18 years old and was literally ready to go onto its heavenly reward. And there are several of those stories as well.

Let us make a clear distinction here.

Euthanasia is the merciful and humane ending of an animal’s life when that animal is suffering extreme pain and whose illness is incurable or whose injuries are beyond healing. Euthanasia is practiced by veterinarians and performed when any family recognized its need for a beloved pet. That is what we practiced at The Assisi Center. Any other taking of the life of an animal is plain and simple killing. No excuses. No explanations. And that killing is what takes place at most animal "shelters" in America. It is what took place at the SPCA before it became The Assisi Center and that is because that is what is recommended by the Jersey City Health Division Animal Control Officer and by the New Jersey State Department of Health Veterinarian. It is an abominabale practice and one which we refused to practice at The Assisi Center.

It must be understood that most shelter and Animal Control Officers kill animals after seven days. This is done routinely even as we speak. Perfectly healthy animals as well as animals who can be healed or cured are routinely put down. These people who kill animals tell you it is for economic reasons or because an animal is unadoptable because of its age or breed or condition or some other feasible excuse. Well, that’s why a lot of folks are angry with me and with my practices at The Assisi Center. You see, we put the lie to all those myths. We proved that more than 900 times that there is no such thing as an unadoptable animal.

One of our first adopttions was a 12 year old German Shepherd with a mammary tumor. A dog was hit by a car and paralyzed. It was brought to us by its owner to be killed. We refused. We took that dog to orthopedic specialists and healed it and now it lives a happy healthy life in a new home. We adopted a 12 and 14 year old dog to a woman in New Hampshire. And those of you who followed our story know about "Project." Her picture was on the front page of the local papers when she came to us completely emaciated and unable even to sit upright by herself. Well, she got personal care and now is one of the happiest and healthiest animals you’ll find. And I have hundreds of stories like that. So you can imagine the measures we went to before we euthanize any one of our babies. If you care to, call any of the veterinarians or special hospitals who treated our animals and ask them about us. They will confirm what most people already know. The Assisi Center did not "kill" a single animal entrusted to our care. We worked at the only principle which matters – the Life and dignity of the Life of every living creature on this planet.

In fact, however, I have been criticized for "spending too much money" on veterinarians and medicine. Exactly what did they want me to spend the money on? Let me state loudly and publicly that I would have spent more if it had been necessary.

I have been criticized for "spending money on vets and then having to euthanize the animal anyway." I state loudly and publicly that it was our policy to extend every benefit to every animal to determine whether that animal could live. We never allowed an animal to suffer unduly. And we never killed an animal which had a shot at living.

This newspaper article mentioned that some $160,000.00 was spent on veterinary and medicine. What the article left out was that a greater amount of money was spent during that same period of time on legal fees. There were many reasons for that end, and it is discussion for another time. However, I find it unacceptable to criticize spending for the good of the animals and not mention this non-animal expenditure. I write this information so as to clarify what we did at The Assisi Center and to state that we proved that it could be done. We didn’t do anything extraordinary. We did what is the only right thing to do. We were not a "no kill" shelter. That is a stupid contradiction of terms. All "shelters" should be "no kill." The Assisi Center was a Life Center, and we did our work.

There has been much dialogue recently about all of these related issues. It comes from many different persons and organizations. Those of us who worked at The Assisi Center find it interesting that most of those persons never set a foot into our Center and never did anything to help in any way, and yet, now they have all the answers. Meanwhile, there has been a great outpouring of support for what we did at The Assisi Center. That support has come from those people who did help and who do know that what we were doing was the right thing for the animals. And they know that that is all that matters, the animals. This isn’t about personal agendas or personal positions or having one’s "own" shelter or personal vendettas. It is supposed to be about what is right for the animals.

We at The Assisi Center proved what the real issue is and what the real solutions are. We didn’t talk about it. We did what had to be done. Apparently that offended some people who had and still have their own agendas. For those persons who truly care about the animals, we stand proudly on what we did at The Assisi Center, and we pray that all people will continue that work.

Tom Hart


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