Every year, millions of animals arrive at animal shelters nationwide, many of them “owner surrenders” from pet parents who no longer want their animals. These pets are taken to shelters for various reasons, including “moving to a place where pets aren’t allowed,” “not having enough time for the pet,” and “expecting a child…” but what really happens when you dump your pets?
According to the ASPCA, more than 7.5 million animals enter shelters nationwide every year, but more than one-third of those animals never leave the shelter alive. Shelter workers strive to provide the best that they can for these animals, knowing that an animal’s interaction with them very well may be their last.
Of the 7.6 million companion animals who enter shelters every year, approximately 2.7 million are euthanized. These sobering statistics only hint at the trauma that your pet will experience after you leave him or her behind, though. Your pet will look for you, listen for you, hope for your return. And then they’ll wonder where you are and why they’ve been left behind.
According to a powerful message written by a shelter manager, pets dumped at kill shelters have “72 hours to find a new family from the moment you drop it off. Sometimes a little longer if the shelter isn’t full and your dog manages to stay completely healthy.”
And if your pet is sick? “If it sniffles, it dies,” the shelter manager’s message continued. And what about the living conditions? “Your pet will be confined to a small run/kennel in a room with other barking or crying animals. [He] will have to relieve itself where it eats and sleeps.” And how will he feel? The message goes on to say, “[He] will be depressed and cry constantly for the family that abandoned [him]. If your pet is lucky, I will have enough volunteers in that day to take him/her for a walk. If I don’t, your pet won’t get any attention besides having a bowl of food slid under the kennel door and the waste sprayed out of its pen with a high-powered hose. If your dog is big, black or any of the “Bully” breeds (pit bull, rottie, mastiff, etc.) it was pretty much dead when you walked it through the front door. Those dogs just don’t get adopted. It doesn’t matter how ‘sweet’ or ‘well behaved’ they are.”
The stressful environment of a kill shelter can make normally sweet, affectionate animals fearful and “aggressive,” further diminishing their chances of being adopted. Senior animals often fail to thrive, quickly becoming immunocompromised, dropping weight and avoiding contact with shelter workers who are doing their best to boost their spirits and save their lives.
And if the shelter workers can’t save them? If frantic pleas on social media go unread and unshared, if the shelter is full, and more animals are coming in, what happens then? Your animal will be euthanized, either by lethal injection or by gassing. According to the post, for animals who are euthanized, “every [pet] freaks out and puts on the brakes when we get to the door [of ]the room’]. It must smell like death or they can feel the sad souls that are left in there, it’s strange, but it happens with every one of them. Your dog or cat will be restrained, held down by 1 or 2 shelter workers depending on the size and how freaked out they are.”
The post continues: “Then a shelter worker who we call a euthanasia tech (not a vet) finds a vein in the front leg and inject a lethal dose of the ‘pink stuff’. Hopefully your pet doesn’t panic from being restrained and jerk…They all don’t just ‘go to sleep’, sometimes they spasm for a while, gasp for air and defecate on themselves…”
For animals who are gassed, the outcome is just as gruesome. A heartbreaking post written by someone who is employed to lethally gas pets stated: “…I don’t eat, I can’t eat. It’s now time, to put these animals in the gas chamber. I put my ear plugs in, and when I go to the collect the dogs, the dogs are so excited to see me, that they jump up to kiss me and think they are going to play. I put them in the rolling cage and take them to the gas chamber. They know. They just know. They can smell the death. They can smell the fear. They start whimpering the second I put them in the box. The boss tells me to squeeze in as many as I can to save on gas. He watches. He knows I hate him, he knows I hate my job. I do as I’m told. He watches until all the dogs, and cats (thrown in together) are fighting and screaming. The [sound] is very muffled to me because of my ear plugs…”
It’s gruesome and tragic – no one wants to read about or think about this. But this is what really happens when you dump your pets at a kill shelter: they have a one in three chance of never leaving the shelter alive. Do those “good reasons” to leave your pet behind sound as valid when you consider what could really happen to your family member? If he or she is lucky, they’ll be adopted into another family, but if they’re not, the only thing they might receive is one last kiss or hug from a heartbroken shelter worker. Just one last kiss before dying.