I Can’t Call It “Euthanasia”

011317-euthanasiaI’m a writer by trade, so I try to be precise in the words I choose when I write.

That’s why I don’t use “euthanasia” to describe the death of an animal in a shelter because of overcrowding.

By definition, “euthanasia” is a humane way of ending the life of a being who is suffering from a painful and incurable disease. In my opinion, “too full” does not qualify as a disease.

Our cat Aoife was euthanized in 2015 after inflammatory bowel disease took away her appetite and she lost an incredible amount of weight. She couldn’t process food, and she was growing weaker by the day. We opted to euthanize her to end her suffering.

In 2013, our cat Rory was euthanized after a diagnosis of histoplasmosis impacted his appetite and energy level. The weakness led to a heart attack, and his veins were too narrow for an IV. He was suffering. We decided to do the humane thing and let him go.

But I can’t call what happens every day at overcrowded shelters across the country “euthanasia.” Shelters of all types – kill and no-kill – are constantly full. Many publicly run shelters are not allowed to turn away any animal for any reason, so their kennels and cages fill over and over. A high profile event like the national “Clear the Shelter Day” may empty or nearly empty a shelter, but it only takes days for these facilities to fill up again.

An owner who surrenders a pet can almost bank on their pet being killed if the accepting shelter is not a no-kill shelter and if the shelter is beyond capacity. Because there is no “stray hold” or waiting period for an owner to claim an animal, pets surrendered by their owners can be killed almost immediately. That’s not euthanasia.

A feral cat who is turned into a shelter rather than allowed to live in its outdoor home is almost always killed. These cats are rarely microchipped or identified as a feral cat in another way (like an ear tip), and they can be impossible to handle. Most feral cats die when brought to a shelter. That’s not euthanasia.

“Euthanasia” is a word we use to make ourselves feel better about what is actually happening. Perhaps if we called these deaths “killing,” the movement to reform shelters and decrease the kill rate would gain momentum.


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