--by Mike Murray
The "no-kill" philosophy is a complex and thorny one. In simple terms, who could disagree with the notion that it is desirable to save the life of every homeless animal? Alas, life is not simple. Neither is this issue.
Everyone involved in animal welfare is, at some level, concerned with rescue: the saving of life. But I think that those who -- within the physical limits that constrain their ability -- endeavor to give each animal what it needs most are doing the greatest service. And, to be sure, physical limits do exist. Needs do vary.
In a perfect world, we would permanently rescue every homeless animal. We would take in every abused, abandoned, and / or neglected critter we came across. We would feed the hungry; we would provide medical assistance to the sick or injured; we would place the adoptable; we would provide lifetime sanctuary for the unplaceable.
But we do not live in a perfect world. There are limits to our resources. Hard decisions have to be made. For "no-kill" shelters, selective intake is necessary. Since not all animals can be adopted out (some for extreme medical reasons, some because of temperament), a no-kill policy precludes some admissions. Further, since no shelter has unlimited capacity (and because it takes longer to find suitable adopters for some animals), space becomes an issue.
No-kill agencies have good intentions. But what happens to the animals they turn away?
What haunts me more than the reality that some animals are euthanized is the knowledge that so many of them are wandering around cold, hungry, scared, lonely. Desperate. Or that some are tormented by extreme physical or mental pain. As much as the notion of terminating life disturbs me, the image of such suffering disturbs me more.
Complicating matters is the reality that some potential funding sources limit their giving exclusively to no-kill operations. But I submit that extended-stay, "seldom-kill" shelters are doing an even greater good.
I experienced one of the most difficult moments of my life when I (along with my wife) arranged for, and was present for, the injections that prematurely extinguished the life of a dog we had recently adopted. The mutt was mentally tortured. Because of a lifetime of abuse, heaped upon her by someone who I would very much like to confront one day, she could not make the transition to any kind of normal life.
Neither could any sanctuary be located that would take her in (even under the condition that my wife and I would provide a large initial gift, followed by monthly payments to cover the cost of housing the animal throughout its life). Though the rescuing shelter tried mightily to save her, as did we, the reality of what she needed most eventually became inescapable.
Hard as it was, we ultimately did what needed to be done. We keep the mutt's framed picture on a living-room wall. We maintain her ashes in a place of honor.
I had never before arranged for the premature death of an animal. I found the experience devastating. For sure, I have regret. But I have no doubt. My wife and I took the action we believed to be in the best interest of the animal.
Extended-stay, seldom-kill shelters do that every day. They save life most of the time. But they mercifully end it sometimes, too. They give animals what they need most: rescue. Sometimes that rescue leads to adoption. Sometimes it doesn't. But it always leads to a cessation of suffering.
God bless 'em.
Copyright © 2002 Michael F. Murray -- All rights reserved.