NY should stop killing adoptable pets

New York animal shelters are too quick to “euthanize” animals that are not really dangerous or too ill.
New York animal shelters are too quick to “euthanize” animals that are not really dangerous or too ill.
Vanessa Carvalho/Shutterstock
New York animal shelters are too quick to “euthanize” animals that are not really dangerous or too ill.

NY should stop killing adoptable pets

Animals displaying signs of stress just need proper support from their shelter.
December 8, 2020

Imagine being raised in a family that you thought loved you – until you got too old, big, or they taunted you until you snapped, so they dumped you. Worse, your parents were so callous they did not take you to a safe place. Instead, you were abandoned or lost and taken in by an agency, whose leaders – or the politicians who set their policy – decided that if you demonstrated temporary stress due to your traumatic situation, you would likely exit their foreboding facility, dead, in a black plastic bag. Such is the fate of untold animals at New York City’s Animal Care and Control, the Oyster Bay animal pound on Long Island, and other shelters in New York.

In September, Nathan Winograd, founder of the No Kill Advocacy Center, reported that Animal Care and Control posted on their website: “We are reaching a point with some of our dogs where keeping them alive but confined is more distressing and less humane than considering euthanasia. Warehousing dogs is not the answer.”

After this statement made the rounds on social media, the organization removed the portion of their statement discussing that they would be considering euthanasia for stressed dogs. ACC did not respond for a comment on why they did so.

And, on June 2, the town of Oyster Bay Board voted to kill dogsfor displaying various forms of stress or the potential to do so.

There is nothing merciful about taking the life of a terrified animal. Jennifer & Nathan Winograd, authors of “Welcome Home: An Animal Rights Perspective on Living with Dogs & Cats,” discuss how fearful dogs may die: “a long handled hard-wire noose that wraps around a dog’s neck and torso. . . often the head is held hard to the ground. . . so the staff member can inject the sedative. . . the dog struggles to maintain balance… until he slumps to the ground.” In a video obtained by the New York Post, a dog Maverick being led to execution at the Manhattan Animal Care Centerpound encapsulates the terror a dog feels in that situation.

What behaviors qualify as stress for which a dog can be destroyed? Any: There are no laws preventing pounds in NY from killing an animal for any reason – they can just deem them medically or behaviorally “unhealthy.”

Yet the public is unaware of how certain New York pounds may contribute to raising an animal’s stress level.

In 2018, amNY reported, “the city’s animal shelters plan to give stray dogs that come through its doors a dose of anti-anxiety medication to minimize their stress.” Animal Care and Control confirmed this policy is still in effect.

However, Serotonin Syndrome, in which an antidepressant causes severe physical and psychological effects, may occur in animals. Sure enough, Animal Care and Control was doing a research study on the drug Trazadone in shelter dogs. It’s possible that the overuse of Trazadone – or combining it with another drug with similar effects – is exacerbating the exact behavior the drug is intended to quell.

For example, according to records provided to me by Animal Care and Control under New York’s Freedom of Information Law – a dog named King was on long-term use of Trazadone as well as Solliquin – the latter was abruptly stopped when it was “out of stock” – Proviable was added for diarrhea. Suddenly, King developed a non-painful hind leg paralysis, had difficulty urinating, and became anxious. Many believe King’s sudden symptoms may have been due to Serotonin Syndrome – for which he was subsequently killed.

Instead of King being taken to an emergency veterinary hospital for advanced diagnostics by an interested rescue group, Animal Care and Control took his life-- like they do with so manyanimals who have treatable conditions, advocates believe are “wrongly condemned,” some lost and executed the same day, numerous egregiously fixed and killed, and even one who suffered indescribably – dying in their transport van.

Animal Care and Control did not respond to a request for comment on the level of vet care they provide, about King, nor potential Serotonin Syndrome.

Another suspected case of Serotonin Syndrome was an older dog named Duke whose owner had died. According to FOIL records, the shelter described him as: “friendly” and “allowed all handling” – yet he was still given Trazadone. He subsequently developed difficulty of movement and was observed by staff to have lost control of his bladder. Despite rescue interest, he was executed. Animal Care and Control did not respond to a request for comment about Duke.

In the Oyster Bay animal pound, staff have been known to escalate animals’ stress by testing for aggression – by being aggressive themselves: “grabbing snouts and ears, forcing them to sit and lie down, yelling at them and threatening them with brandished objects,” according to the LI Herald. The spokesperson for the town of Oyster Bay (who I was referred to after contacting their animal shelter website) commented that the town hired a certified behaviorist who uses positive reinforcement and decides who is adoptable or not. Advocates claim dogs are misclassified as unadoptable and are killed, according to the Long Island Press.

Another contributor to shelter stress is putrid conditions. A Post headline about a recent Animal Care and Control audit read, “NYC animal care shelter conditions are disgusting.” This environment creates a treatable ailment in animals commonly called kennel cough. Instead of ridding the animals’ temporary home of this perpetual contagion, they have killed cats and dogs for it. The institution stated there is no kennel cough infestation and they have not killed dogs solely for it in a long time.

Approximately one week after I received that response from Animal Care and Control strongly denying a kennel cough infestation, the Post uncovered, through interviews with an employee and volunteer whistleblowers, “‘neglectful’ conditions — including filthy cages filled with urine and feces” at the organization’s Brooklyn location. The same night that exposé broke, the advocacy group Dogs Lives Matter tweeted that a dog named Scrappy was killed by Animal Care and Control’s Brooklyn facility for pneumonia. According to a follow-up piece by the Post, a worker commented that conditions at the Brooklyn site have remained the same.

There are three ways to stop New York pounds from killing adoptable pets. The first, the Shelter Animal Rescue Act has been proposed by animal-champion Assembly Member David Weprin from Queens. The bill would shift the power to kill an animal from pounds to an authorized rescue group that wants to save it. Both King and Duke may have been saved by such a law.

The second piece of legislation, proposed by animal welfare advocates, is the Companion Animal Protection Act, which would require uniform life-saving efforts be made before an animal is executedin a New York shelter.

The third way to ensure homeless pets exit shelters alive is by the public voting in politicians who believe in a true no-kill philosophy – and, when applicable, hold elected officials accountable to hire individuals who have a proven track record of innovative programming to save fearful animals. Pound staffers should view animals’ stress as a call to improve staff skills and community engagement, to help those creatures trust humans again – not as an excuse to kill. And, pound leaders who have breached public trust should be fired.

Adopting these reforms will face resistance from well-funded and connected pro-euthanasia “animal rights” groups, such as the ASPCA, which did not respond to a request for comment and from kill-shelter lobbyists.

In the next legislative session, state lawmakers will be given the sacred power to write the ending for each shelter animal. The question they must ask themselves:What if this pet were my own?

Placeholder blue outline avatar
Dana Fuchs
Ph.D. is a writer living in New York. She can be reached at animalwriter25@mail.com.