No! We would like to adopt out as many animals from the shelter as possible. One of our goals is to place the animals into good, permanent homes. If everyone were a good responsible pet owner there would eventually be no need to euthanize animals. Unfortunately, many pet owners allow their pets to run loose, breed at random, and spread disease. The number of unwanted dogs and cats which are euthanized or die on the streets would be even greater if shelters adopted pets to irresponsible people.
The board of directors and the staff of the Humane Society of St. Joseph Country (HSSJC) have agreed to make an official statement about euthanasia in order to dispel rumors and innuendos about how the shelter conducts its business.
Our Shelter has a “No Kill” adoption center. This statement is clear and accurate, but it does not mean that some animals are not put to sleep. Some animals in every shelter are put to sleep, and this fact is indisputable. Veterinarians tell us that they have euthanized animals from all local rescues and shelters. At our shelter, we euthanize for aggression, severe medical problems, chronic non-responsive illness, and severe injury.
When we do animal control and a 30 lb. dog is hit by a 1200 lb. vehicle, there is not much we can do after we have scraped it off the pavement. At 2 a.m., when our officers are on the scene, they take these injured animals to the Animal Emergency Hospital, where the doctors help to decide whether or not to try to save the animal. The animal is either sedated with pain medication until the owners can be found, or put down immediately. If it is micro chipped, it is easier to find the owners. If it is not micro-chipped, we also wait to find an owner if the animal is not severely injured. Despite broken limbs, concussions, and lacerations, we repair their little bodies and try to make them well again. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t. The decision to euthanize is very difficult and not made lightly. However, night after night, our animal control officers go out and try to help animals that are caught in traps, shot, torn apart by coyotes or dogs, hit by cars, struck by bee bee guns, hung from trees, or just injured by accident. These animals are evaluated, and then, if we have to, are humanely euthanized. Animal Control means dealing with all these animals that are loose, or turned in to us by owners or by good Samaritans who find these tragically injured animals.
We do not keep aggressive dogs and cats. Dogs that have bitten humans are usually not adoptable. Dogs that have killed their neighbor’s animals are also not usually adopted out. Our public trust would be undermined if the community learned that we were adopting out animals that had viciously killed another animal or turned on its owner and mutilated him or her. Who would adopt from us if we adopted biters to a family with children? We do not let aggressive animals out of our shelter. This is called common sense.
In regards to sick animals, we do not adopt animals with the last stage of renal or liver failure, or animals afflicted with a disease that cannot be cured. We spend enormous amounts of time and money treating cats with upper respiratory infections, sometimes for months. The staff devotes a great deal of time and effort to save these animals, if at all possible. Some staff members are so dedicated that they even care for the animals off the clock and on their own time, sometimes even in their own homes.
We have and will adopt animals that are special needs, such as those with diabetes, food allergies, skin conditions, cataracts, blindness, lameness, or missing limbs. Many people come to take the special needs animals. Potential owners are always given the full background, if known, about our animals. Age is not necessarily a special need, but we also try to find homes for our seniors, and even offer a senior-to senior discount.
The many veterinarians who come to HSSJC to help with surgery can also attest to our dedication to these animals and how long we keep them to try to save them. Sometimes saving an animal is beyond logical reasoning when we take in wildlife that are maimed and in need of extensive surgery or treatment: a deer with a broken pelvis, or a fox with a fractured femur, and a pit bull starved and frozen in the dead of winter. Nevertheless, we have our victories—such as Burt the squirrel with amputations—and we celebrate them in our newsletters to supporters.
However unpleasant and abhorrent, euthanasia is part of the job for any animal control organization, like HSSJC. Rescues may shut their front door and say, “We can’t take that animal” and send it elsewhere. That “elsewhere” is our shelter. Rescues can refuse to rescue, but we cannot and then must deal with the problem animal. A case in point happened just recently. One morning, a lady called asking that her cat be euthanized here because another group--who professes to fostering and saving feline leukemia positive and FIV positive animals--turned her down, because her pet was positive for FIV. We would not have an issue with this particular rescue organization had it not falsely advertised itself as an agency that provides compassionate care for all animals with these diseases. When we have to report this cat as one of the euthanized animals, then some in the community will castigate us for euthanizing it. This particular rescue will not have to take “the blame” for not saving an animal.
Our new facility is always full and can be toured by the public if there is any question as to our dedication to our animals. All the animals live here until they find homes. Those who criticize HSSJC for euthanizing some animals suggest, unjustly, that we do so for space reasons and with no sense of conscience or compassion. Staff, volunteers, and all those here at HSSJC involved in caring for the animals are offended by statements that suggest that they don’t try to save every animal that comes in the door. We here at the shelter know we cannot save them all, but we do a good job trying.
As director of the Humane Society of St. Joseph County, I want to give the society’s opinion of the feral cat issues that we face in our county. Since many in the community have similar questions about the Humane Society’s stance towards feral cats, I think that the best way to address these issues is in a question and answer format.
What is a feral cat?
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), feral cats are unsocial animals who are descendants of domestic cats
who have returned to the wild. A cat born and raised in the wild, or who has
been abandoned or lost and reverted to wild ways in order to survive is considered a free roaming or feral cat. While some feral cats tolerate a bit of human contact, most are too fearful and wild to be handled. Ferals often live in groups, called colonies, and take refuge wherever they can find food—rodents and other small animals and garbage. They will also try to seek out abandoned buildings, deserted cars, even dig holes in the ground to keep warm in the winter months and cool during the summer heat.
What are the problems posed by free roaming and feral cats?
Public health and the welfare of the cats are the most compelling reasons for our policy towards free roaming cats, whether they are owned or feral. Cat feces
contain certain parasites (Toxoplasmosis and Ascarids ) which can be spread
when deposited into children’s sand boxes, grassy areas and in yards and playgrounds. Neurological disease, such as blindness, can be devastating to humans affected. Cat Scratch Fever caused by Bartonellosis is another issue facing humans if scratched or bitten by the cats. Ringworm, although not fatal, is a serious dermatological, zoonotic disease.
Rabies is one of the most serious health threats to animals and humans. This zoonotic disease is caused by a virus carried through the saliva of the cat. If a feral or free roaming cat bites someone, there should be a responsible person or group to contact if the cat is in a maintained colony. A responsible person or group may then provide a vaccination record, identify the cat with the rabies vaccine, and then pay the medical bills for the victim. It is very important that cats are vaccinated for rabies because they often prey on, toy with, and even eat bats, which frequently carry the disease. St Joseph County has had 9 positive cases of
rabies in bats in 2009 and 3 already this year. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has recorded two deaths in Indiana—one in 2006 and one in 2009 (in neighboring Marshall County)—and verified that these deaths were caused by bat rabies. In short, the health and welfare of humans and of animals, as well as Indiana law, strongly suggest that feral cats be vaccinated.
What are the dangers to feral cats themselves?
Feral cats have common predators: coyotes, fox, dogs, and humans are the most common. Worse than death, strychnine poisoning, gunshot wounds, arrows, burning the animal alive are just a few of the abhorrent things that people do to animals that they don’t like. The cats can be destructive when trying to find shelter, and they can use neighborhood property to defecate and urinate. Consequently, people will do what it takes to eliminate them as nuisance animals.
We here at the Humane Society feel that the cats deserve to live; however, we also feel that feral cats need to be out in the country in areas like farms and in other large spaces, and definitely out of urban neighborhoods in close living quarters with people. Freezing to death in the winter, not being medicated when injured, no treatment for broken bones, and no pain relief when in pain also are issues to which we give serious thought.
What does “Trap Neuter and Release” do for feral cats?
We give much credit to Michiana Feral Cat Coalition for spaying and neutering the feral or free roaming cats in our community. Two pairs of cats can produce over
3 million cats in as little as 10 years; therefore, the efforts of these community groups must be appreciated. We disagree, however, with where these animals are placed. The Humane Society of St. Joseph County prefers to release them with caretakers who will be responsible owners and who do not live in close proximity to large groups of people in urban areas. Pet owners and animal lovers must always respect the property and wishes of our neighbors who may not love animals in the same way. We need to appreciate living in a world with diverse opinions about animals. Wild life is included in this group of animals since in most cases they were here first. They have learned to adapt to our homes, fences and habits, and they also have a right to live amongst us.
What does the Humane Society do with feral cats?
We have nurtured many feral cat colonies by spaying, neutering, testing, vaccinating, ear tipping and micro-chipping these animals. These select few are then released to the people who brought them to us for this free service. By this effort, we try to prevent the huge amount of homeless cats. Since we cannot tame these animals--due to time constraints, space, personnel, and their fear of humans--we cannot keep them in our shelter. We place as many as we can. In the last few years, we have captured or had brought into the shelter only less than a dozen ear-tipped cats. On the other hand, we have in our quarantine today 10 litters of kittens and 287 total cats that will be spayed or neutered, tested, and put into our adoption facility to add to the 85 already awaiting homes. Our resources will go to those cats that can be re-homed. We do not release any cats that are positive for feline leukemia or feline immunological virus, and these are put down so that other cats do not contract these diseases.
Even though we have a new shelter and are adopting many more cats than in our
old shelter, we still have problems finding homes for the many animals in
our care. The disposable animal issue and the irresponsibility of society have brought about this dilemma. As shelter personnel, we are expected to solve this
problem; however, try as we might to spay and neuter everything that goes out of
our doors, education is still one major component to the solution to this problem.
Until the legislators, veterinarians, the public, the rescues, and the shelters all come together in the same mind-set, we are going to continue to struggle to solve this huge problem.
Dr. Carol Ecker, Director Humane Society of St. Joseph County