Neutralizing Euthanasia

 

A KITTEN’S STORY

That barking. That incessant barking needs to stop. How am I ever going to find my brothers again if I can’t even think straight? I’m not even sure what’s worse, that wretched bark that keeps startling me or all of these eyes looking at me and those funny-looking paws touching my fur after I just finished cleaning it!

Now that I’m surrounded by blue, plastic walls, I’m really beginning to miss that thorny bush my brothers and I would pile under to keep warm, even if it did poke me when I tried to stretch during my naps.

My brothers warned me about these tall creatures, the ones that stand on their hind legs like they’re doing tricks in the circus and with their paws so flexible they can wrap their long extremities around things and actually pick them up — like they are doing to me right now.

I would still be with my brothers if it wasn’t for that beautiful, orange-and-black-winged creature that I followed under that old, rickety brown fence. All of that fresh, green grass on the other side and that forest of tall and fragrant-smelling flowers. Yellows, purples and pinks surrounded by the hum of all those black-and-yellow-striped insects buzzing around.

Somehow I became so overwhelmed with the joy of this new place that I didn’t notice that tall circus creature with a rake. I began to run, scrambling up some rather large steps and onto some kind of slippery surface. I lost my footing and went sliding across it until I hit an unpleasantly solid object.

Then, I remember hearing a soft, sweet voice coming from above me.

“It’s OK little one, I know you’re scared, but we’ll take care of you,” an older woman with long, gray hair said. “Burt, looks like this one lost her family. Get the car ready, we’ll have to take her in where she came from.”

The one with the long, gray hair whisked me into the air and cradled me with warmth, just like my mom used to before she disappeared. I also used to get warm when I would squeeze under and in-between my big brothers, but they never gave off a very pleasant feeling when I did that. This woman seems different, safe—boy, was I wrong.

After she distracted me with a bowl of warm milk placed in front of me on that cold tile, I heard something with a low rumble start-up outside. I could pick out that noise from anywhere, it was identical to the sound of those speedy red and blue creatures that always honked and screeched and startled me when I was back napping under the rose bush since we weren’t too far from the road.

After I drank all the milk, which tasted funny compared to mom’s, I was plopped into this tiny brown box with some sort of flap hanging off the side of it. Once the box got dark inside it started shaking around a bit and before I knew it I was rolling and tumbling and couldn’t get to my feet.

Once the tumbling finally stopped I began hearing a dog bark, and I could smell it too. The smell of a male dog has always been so putrid to me. Suddenly there was scuffling on the top of the box and all I could see was a very bright light and two green eyes staring down at me. The white teeth on this thing were so shiny and flat and straight. I don’t know how this creature even catches anything to eat.

That’s when I started to get the feeling that I wasn’t going home. I don’t even know where I am or how I would get back home. I barely explored beyond that rose bush until this morning.

Now I’m in some foreign place and all I can hear, smell and see is a mess of other animals. Those two gray-haired creatures abandoned me and now all I can hear is that damn dog barking.

INTAKE

For animals brought to the shelter, the intake process can be a very overwhelming experience. This is just one of the reasons employees are very careful not to over-stress the animals while they become accustomed to a myriad of new smells, new noises, new faces and new noses and butts to sniff.

Every intake situation, in other words, when an animal is being processed into the shelter, needs to be treated as a delicate one. There are a few different ways animals are brought to the shelter: it may be a small, stray kitten brought in by a good Samaritan, an animal service officer bringing an animal in from a rescue call or a pet surrendered personally by its owner. Whatever the case, the San Jose Animal Care Center is prepared for each unique situation and the medical staff gives each animal their best shot at life, explained Shelter Operations Supervisor Staycee Dains.

Since this small, stray kitten endured the poignant experience of being surrendered personally by an individual, the kitten seemed traumatized and confused as she was processed in the pet surrender room.

“Cats are sensitive to human emotional gestures … it may have taken so long to discover cats’ emotional intelligence because their responses are rather subtle,” according to “You’re cat can pick up on how you are feeling,” an article on the BBC’s official website.

The article continued to explain that dogs have more obvious responses to human emotions.

The kitten was then photographed, scanned for a microchip, weighed on the scale and put into her new plastic, blue crate which was covered by a white towel. This, according to Dains, eases what is an uncomfortable transition for most animals, and will help the kitten feel more relaxed in this unfamiliar and intimidating environment.

As the kitten tried to find comfort in the crate, what will be her new temporary home, she looked rather anxious as a small, tan Chihuahua barked outside the office door. All the while his owner tried to calm him by schmoozing him into submission with a high-pitched baby voice which seemed to rowel him up even more.

In order to prevent extra stress and anxiety for the animals, Dains says, only one animal is allowed to be in the pet surrender office at a time.

Since the kitten was healthy and weaned, weighing in at just about four pounds, she was carried to the K-Wing where all healthy kittens reside until they are approved for adoption and moved up to the adoption rooms where the public is allowed to observe and interact with them.

In 2015 alone, the center took in 8,855 cats and 6,114 dogs; most of which were fostered out, adopted or released back into the wild through the Shelter Neuter Return, or SNR, program (click here to see infographic), a policy adopted by the center in March 2010. According to a journal by Karen L. Johnson and Jon Cicirelli on the effects of the San Jose SNR project from 2010 -14, the policy was enacted when local activists brought the idea to the shelter manager.

“The goal is to alter all healthy feral cats impounded at the shelter, and then return the cats to their place of capture, rather than euthanize them as healthy, but unadoptable,” the journal stated.

BEHAVIOR

Once an animal is taken in by the shelter, they go through a behavioral evaluation prior to being approved for adoption. There are two stages to behavioral examinations, the first happens while the animal is contained in its cage and the second happens outside of the cage in either a quiet room or an enclosed outdoor area.

Though behavioral evaluations may seem like a potentially critical term, the San Jose center tries to give every animal the best chance at life. Dains and animal care assistant, Alex Vega, explained that the shelter often gives animals with bad behavior endless evaluation extensions on behalf of even the smallest progress.

Dains also explained that the employees of the shelter understand that each animal is unique and have needs tailored to their particular method of becoming used to a new environment. Even if an animal reacts aggressively, it doesn’t automatically disqualify them from adoption.

Some experienced adopters actually prefer working with a more aggressive animal to help it become less hostile, as do local fosters and rescue centers that are experienced in the area and believe they can help the animal.

At the shelter, for more perceivably aggressive dogs such as pit bulls, the evaluation process used to be much more strenuous.

“At any given time, there’s always a media scare about a particular dog breed. Before pit bulls, German shepherds, Doberman pinschers and even bloodhounds had their turn,” according to TerriblyTerrier, a website founded in 2013 covering all types of dogs and dog issues.

Before Dains became the shelter operations supervisor in March 2009, there was a policy at the shelter that only four pit bulls could be up for adoption at one time. This meant either these adoptable pit bulls would have to be euthanized to make space for incoming, potential adoption candidates or not allowed to come up for adoption.

“The shelter made those decisions, not because they didn’t like pit bulls. In fact, most of the staff loves them and are proud pit parents,” Dains says. “The unfortunate decisions were based on antiquated fears, not actual facts, which is how most animal shelters with high kill rates (less than 60 percent save rates) run. Most of us in sheltering were afraid of what might happen, not what actually does happen.”

However, once Dains started working at the shelter, she was able to eliminate the policy.

“Now, adoption candidacy is not based on breed or size, but health, friendliness and displayed behavior,” Dains says.

There are a number of adoptable, enthusiastic, loving pit bulls who can live a healthy, happy and violence-free life just waiting for their moment of revitalization at the shelter today.

MEDICAL EVALUATION

Along with a very merciful and compassionate behavioral evaluation process, at the shelter there is a strong amount of medical expertise.

In fact, throughout the past seven years, the shelter has been fighting to decrease the amount of animals euthanized. And since 2011, the amount of euthanized healthy animals overall at the San Jose Animal Care Center (SJACC) in San Jose, is zero. This is a big transformation since 2007 when the amount was as high as 150: 140 dogs and 10 cats.

When injured animals arrive at the shelter, the veterinarians are prepared to meet every animal’s needs. This includes amputation, enucleation, more commonly known as eye removal or even a spay or neuter at their own private spay and neuter clinic.

An in-depth medical exam of each incoming animal is performed. According to ASPCA Professional, a physical exam of the animal enables the shelter to protect other animals in its care as well as providing the animal with immediate care for injuries and disease that may be causing discomfort or threatening the animal’s life.