Define "Shelter" by: Iaon Cottrell

Define "Shelter": a structure that provides privacy and protection from danger

Very much like garbage, people take unwanted pets to the shelter. And very much like garbage, once it is no longer in our field of view, it is somehow instantly no longer our problem.  We paint a perfect little picture in our heads of what the future for that animal will be as we drive away from the shelter. These thoughts allow us to move on with our daily lives with very little anxiety. This is called "Cognitive Dissonance," a condition all humans possess and is the reason we can ignore ethical decision-making processes and commit horrific acts.

Cognitive Dissonance: (N) Psychology. - A condition resulting from inconsistency between one's beliefs and one's actions.

The first example is that we as a community call it the "ANIMAL SHELTER." This is silly. The only way to protect animals is to keep them away from the shelter... Seriously, how as a society can we let the word "shelter" be used to define the location of what I would call a Concentration Camp? 10,000 healthy and treatable animals are euthanized here in Alachua County every year.

What do you think happens to the animals at the shelter?  I WILL PAINT YOU A PICTURE: Mrs. Smith is having a tough time trying to house break her Lab puppy "SAM" her friend gave her. Her friend's female bred with her sibling, because Mrs. smith's friend could not afford to have any of his animals fixed. So, Mrs. Smith, with all her troubles making the mortgage and dealing with her kids and mother dying of lung cancer, (it's called Life), she decides she will remove the problem of housebreaking this puppy by sending it to the shelter. She is not even aware she is a role model  teaching her children that animals are disposable.

She puts the puppy in the car and drives it to the shelter, the whole way talking to the puppy, saying things like "this is the best thing for both of us, and they will find you a good home , you're going to be just fine", and so on. These things are being said not to comfort the animal but to comfort Mrs. Smith in the time it takes to drive the puppy to the shelter. She fools herself into believing there will be a happy ending.  When she arrives, she enters the front door and is greeted by a couple of front desk clerks who know the fate of this animal as they pass a clipboard over the counter. Mrs. Smith says her good-byes and a man in a jumpsuit takes the puppy in the back to a holding area. Meanwhile, Mrs. Smith finishes her paperwork, leaving a couple of fields blank. The front desk clerks give her a little attitude about it, thus taking the focus away from the fact she is sending her puppy to near certain death. Now Mrs. Smith's anger is focused at the clerks:"How dare you treat me this way," Smith says, and as she drives home she will feel more disconnected from the puppy and remember how mean the clerks were. The regret of taking the animal to the shelter will be very short-lived, because in a week she will tell herself that the puppy has gotten a home.

Now back to the puppy "Sam". He will wait in a cold stainless steel kennel for about an hour or so while the paperwork is processed. Hereafter, SAM will be referred to as "A123456789".   The dog in the next kennel is barking loudly for over an hour, and it echoes into A123456789's cage, freaking him out and giving him a splitting headache. When the guy in the jumpsuit came to take A123456789,  he got a little cranky and was not so cooperative.  A123456789 was issued a "WILL BITE" sticker on his file and given a red collar by the man in the jumpsuit. This indicates to the handlers and the rest of the staff that this may be a problem animal. Now, A123456789 is marked as a bad dog for not understanding what is expected of him. 

Next, it's off to the examination room to be seen by the shelter vet. The man in the jumpsuit firmly handles A123456789 and holds him on the cold exam table. The vet does a brief exam and vaccinates A123456789 after a picture is taken. A123456789 is now headed off to the large kennel where the future is yet to be determined. On this particular day, the Shelter is very full, since Animal Services just confiscated 13 dogs from a cruelty case where the owner had all the dogs out on chains without food and very little water.  Also on this day, there will be 8 more owner turn-ins and 11 strays picked up by the Animal Control Officer. Mrs. Smith was not aware that there are only 105 dog kennels and every one is full. All in all today, when Mrs. Smith dropped off A123456789, the total number of dogs in house is 142. This exceeds the legal occupancy by 37 dogs and the shelter will not house more than one dog per kennel. A123456789 will be taken to a holding room where he will stay until room is made for him. So, the man in the jumpsuit heads down the hall to the intake coordinator's office and picks up today's list. This list contains 40 numbers, and the first number is A112233445.

THE END.... Well, not really because this story does not have an end.  It is the same story over and over; all we do as a society is change the owner's name, the dog's breed, age, and reason it goes to the shelter.

So, when I was writing this story I was going to spare you the terrible end, by just not mentioning that the man in the jumpsuit went today to 40 kennels and took 40 healthy animals whose time was up 72 hours after they arrived and KILLED them to make space for the next set of dogs. The next set of dogs will wait their turn here to DIE ALONE 10,000 times this year in our county. I was going to spare you, but I can't.

This is not an attack on Animal Services, this is an attack on the people of our community.  Shelters exist out of necessity. If form follows function, Animal Services play a role that shares smashing similarities to waste management in our community. Animals should not be disposable. I am attacking the people who don't spay and neuter their pets, and the people who haven't the forethought to include the animal they choose to own in their future plans and living arrangements. I am attacking people who know better and silently observe it in their circles of friends. I am attacking the traditional "Kill-Shelter" system and I am attacking the veterinary community for pricing spaying and neutering out of reach for 65% of our community. If euthanasia were classified as a disease, we would be working harder toward a cure. We might even hand out silly little ribbons or magnets to put on the back of our cars, go on charity walks to raise money, and even initiate a "National Euthanasia Awareness Day".

Euthanasia is reactive, not proactive. Be part of the solution or stay the problem.

"WE GET EXACTLY WHAT WE TOLERATE" - I personally am tired of it.

Regretfully yours, 

Iaon Cottrell - West End Animal Hospital.