Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Is Killing in the Euth Room the Same as Eating a Chicken Sandwich?

            People who work at my humane society often get into debates about euthanasia.  It just happens.  We are exposed to death way too much.  After a meeting regarding euthanasia one of my coworkers stated, “They should just call it the death society.”  Poetic.  But depressing that she sees her job in this light.  I can almost predict when she will quit.  I have seen way too many people, good people, leave this job.  All had very good reasons.  About a month ago we had a new person start up front.  When we went to the preserve freezer and I pulled out a dead cat, I saw her face turn green.  Immediately stopping, I asked her, “How much experience have you had with death?”  When her response was none, I knew she wouldn’t make it the week.  Trying to comfort her I said, “Don’t worry if you every feel uncomfortable just grab one of us and we’ll do it.  There are many days when I can’t go back here.”  No good.  She was gone by weeks end.

            A new person who recently started working there has refused all together to be certified to do euthanasia.  I, myself, also do not wish to be certified.  I have held plenty of times, but as one of our newly certified staff members has stated, “Holding and injecting are two entirely different things.”  To refuse this certification means he could be fired.  It is in his job description that he must do it.  Yet, for whatever reason, he cannot find the cause or structure within himself to do such acts.  A different coworker of mine finds his decisions almost revolting.  She has to be certified as well.  When we were talking about it, she refused to offer him any kind of leeway.  I tried to stand up for him saying in the euth room you go beyond confronting death; you have to deal with the fact that you just killed something.  She called this hypocritical for as she sees it, killing an animal in the euth room is no different than eating a chicken sandwich. 

            But it is much different.  When I kill a chicken, (although someone else far away does my butchering) I do it because I need to eat.  Some people would argue that eating beans or peanuts could offer just as much protein but there are a lot of doctors who would argue otherwise.  And in any case, killing something because you are taking part in the natural food chain is not wrong.  There is a reason why we say grace before we eat.  Perhaps those who don’t are just disconnected to what is in front of them.  I am not blind to think that something else died for me to have a meal.  If I had the money I would live on my own farm and raise my own meat.  I would give them wonderful lives until their purpose brings them to their end.

            The euth room is completely different.  The people doing the injection often times are not the people who made the decision to put the animal down.  The euthanasias are not unjustified, but killing a cat or dog in American culture often seems very unnatural.  Sometimes otherwise fantastic dogs that are just scared and need time are put down because of space.  We simply do not have the resources to train dogs to not be aggressive.  Cats that are good but just aren’t adjusted to people are killed because we don’t want them spreading diseases to our own pets or over populating.  We don’t want dogs that attack people or other animals.  Still, when these animals die, even though we know it had to be done, there seemingly is no larger purpose at play.  We don’t use their bodies to get nutrition.  They didn’t serve us as guardians or protectors or companions.  They are just gone.  The person who is certified has to justify that.  Has to confront that.  Sometimes they feel okay about it and can see they were making our community better, safer.  But other times, it feels so far removed that they can no longer understand the reason. 

            Animal lovers come to work at this job.  It is extremely difficult when we are faced with the idea that not all animals should live.  Many people quit and leave and someday I will too.  In the mean time though, we offer what we can to the living.  We hug them, name them, offer them treats.  We will always argue about the euth room.  It is good that we do this.  Debates challenge our assumptions.  For my own part though, I very much intend on to continue eating chicken sandwiches.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mercy, Please

            I really do not understand why some people treat animals as if they are replaceable. Their mentality is simple.  There is a dog; that dog there.  Sitting right in front of me.  And if he goes, there is another dog sitting right by him that can trade places with him.  He has no personality.  No mind of his own.  No quirks and no certainly no self.  He is a thing.  Such as a table or chair.  Objects that are to be moved around to fit one’s lifestyle as it changes.  Never considering how the chair or table might feel about the change.  They just merely go about their lives figuring that if that dog goes it wouldn’t mind much.  It doesn’t care if it lives or dies.  Certainly it cannot feel pain and has no concept of it being alive.  It is just there staring back at you.  No more of a soul than a rock.

            I see this mindset when people come in looking for their pet after it has been missing for several weeks.  Of course there are those people who never come looking for their animal and people who come crying because they are distraught that their beloved pet has gone missing.  Yet there is a particular breed of person who not only looks for their old possession, but for a new one.  A new hat to be tried on, a new pair of shoes to go with their outfit.   I take them to look through our dog strays and they look through the kennels at each one.  Not really hopeful, but more in a browsing fashion.  Then the question emerges. 

            “I don’t think my dog is here, can’t I just take that one home?”  No concern that their dog got hit by a car or froze in the cold.  I look at them puzzled.  Waiting for a smile that surely means they are kidding, trying to break the somewhat awkward and guilty feeling rising within them.
            “Uh, well. No.”  I mumble out.

            “It’s just that our dog has been gone for a week and I don’t have any hope for him.  That lab there, he looks pretty cool.  We’ll just take him.”  I sigh, knowing they are serious this time.

            “No.  You cannot just take one of these dogs.  These are dogs waiting for their owners.  Waiting out their stray periods.”  I know what the company would like me to say next.  They would like me to say, “But you can see our adoptable dogs.”  We are full and even bad owners have to be better than the euth room, right?  But instead letting my emotions take the better of me I say,

            “No.  If your dog is not here then we have no dogs for you.  I can escort you out or file a lost report but that is really all I can do.”  They don’t want to file a lost report.  I lead them out holding the door open, glade to seem them gone.  Did I do the right thing?  Other people came in and our adoptable dogs went out, as they should.  Space was made available by some good people and others that will have to do. 

            I would love to say that I exaggerated this conversation.  But I didn’t.  True story.  Dogs and cats even though they are amazing life that once lost cannot be substituted, are as it turns out, to many people replaceable.  Somehow all I can imagine when people now walk through our dog stray room or the adoption floor are the dogs quietly whispering, “Mercy, please.  I am not a pair of shoes.” 

Monday, May 13, 2013

“I hope today is kind.”

          This above statement is so simple.  It is filled with such innocence.  “I hope today is kind.”  The first words out of one of my coworker’s mouth this morning.  Tragedy surrounds us.  It absorbs us.  The people who walk in don’t always see it.  Almost every day we have someone come in to reclaim his or her dog.  There are fees that go along with getting your animal back healthy and safe.  It can get very expensive.  People don’t seem to think it cost money to pay people to feed their animals, clean up after them, and make sure they are medically okay.  A majority of people get irate when they have to pay.  They make a scene, cry out, and yell at us for the injustice.  But about once a week there is an unfortunate person who doesn’t get the chance to yell at us because they are in shock that their pet died.  Cars hit cats and dogs too.  This is a very simple sentence that no one thinks about.  It is not pretty.  Their faces fall off.  Their guts drop out.  People come in to find their missing property that they loved so much.  It’s not just a marketing gimmick when humane societies say they save lives.  If dogs weren’t brought in, many of them would not make it. 

            That unfortunate person has a terrible experience in front of them.  I take them to look through all the dogs we have in the building.  No matches.  I go up front to look in the computer at the deceased.  There in front of my face is a match.  I ask about sex, breed, color, location, anything to distinguish this animal.  Everything lines up.  I get the death book.  Lifting the pages I show them a picture of their once beloved pet.

            I have seen strong people, grown men break down and cry.  The same man who on the phone was upset when I told him if the dog was here there would be fees to get his dog out is now crying in front of me.  Not to be snarky, but we both wish he was yelling at me instead.

            “I hope today is kind.” We mumble.  I hope today someone realizes that their life is not the only one worth living.  I hope today people come to see how precious life is; how short it can be.  Yet I know when I go into work tomorrow there will be someone peeved at me because they have to pay to get their animal out.  To receive a healthy happy animal cost money.  Some jackass who says, “Hey dude should I pay $80 to get my cat?”  If you have to ask that question because you’d rather spend the money on something else, then the answer should be no.  But animals in society are property.  Property that they have the right to destroy.

“I hope today is kind.”  We utter under our breaths.

            I once refused an owner request for euthanasia because the animal was perfectly healthy.  I told the customer that they could surrender the animal but we do not do euthanasia for healthy animals.  A lie.  We are supposed to do euthanasia for anyone who requests it.  The logic being we are preventing over population and dumping of animals.   Still, my conscience would not allow it.   The person left.  When I was discussing it with a coworker I told her, “What a shitty situation.”  Her response was, “Is it?!!?”  Her point being the people we adopt out to, a lot of the time, suck.  They don’t care.  The animal really isn’t in any better circumstances.  They have just changed hands to be neglected once again.  My reaction at first was complete horror.  Yet she raises a good question: Is death better than a shitty owner?  I don’t know.  I don’t like to think so.  With bad owners there is always a chance that you may in the future get a better one.   With death there is no hope.  

            I hate it when people glorify death.  The problem with religion is that we are waiting and praising the end.  Why?  Why do we exalt something that we have no proof of?  The problem with believing in an afterlife (especially in the case of animals) is that it gives you less cause to fight for the living.  The present.  The life that is in front of you now.  It gives you an excuse to say, “It’s okay.  His soul is living on.”  I am not saying I don’t believe in any kind of thereafter, I am just stating the problem it can have on peoples’ mentality.

“I hope today is kind.”  We pray silently.

            Many of my coworkers are not ready to give animals the status of people in society.  For the most part I agree with them.  Yet, I simply do not understand why animals have to be given the status of “humans” by society for us to protect them.  It has gotten a lot better as the years have gone by.  In many cites you now have Animal Protection and Control Units.  In large part, it is the way we think that has to change.  Many people believe they have a right to own and control an animal’s fate.  Even if people have control, I do not think God intended us to have absolute power to do as we wish.  Perhaps animals are not humans.  Maybe we are “higher.”  But that does not mean God has forgotten his other creatures and has forsaken them of His love.  It’s odd how people use religion to pardon their blame in death and use it to make themselves feel better but do not use it as a rally cry to protect God’s most absolute gift: life. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

What is in a Name?

          Scholars have debated if a name dictates who a person becomes.  If you give your daughter the name Candy does that mean she will become a stripper?   If you give your son the name Richard, does it mean he will be brave?  Many parents take great time in selecting a name.  A name that will suit their child.  But how do you go about picking a name for an infant that for all intents and purposes has no personality yet?  Parents pick names that they believe are unique and fit the vision they have for that child.  Is the same true for animals?  I see a lot of bad names come through the shelter.  Dogs who don’t come from the best circumstances often carry names like Demon, Beast, Trouble, Naughty, Mistake, Dog, or Lucifer.  Can a name dictate a dog’s behavior?  No.  But the people believing that their dog is just a “Dog” or is the devil certainly do.  Dogs, just like people, have a tendency to reflect their names because of the conditions they come out of. 

            When I first started shelter work someone told me when stray animals would come in, “Give it a name.  It adds something to their spirit.”  A name gives a creature that merely is “just a dog” a persona.   A chance at being referred to in conversation as a self not a thing.  Personalization causes attachment and I think makes shelter workers fight that much harder for the cats and dogs that come in.   Where I work now we don’t give names to the strays.  We don’t name them until after they have been evaluated.  At first I thought this was depriving the animal of something; one thing that was missing from their essence.  Yet after working there several months, I now realize it is to protect the workers.  When you fall in love with a dog and then later in the evaluations he shows to be aggressive towards other dogs, it is very hard to put down Teddy.  However, it’s not so hard to put down that husky who is aggressive with other dogs. 

            A name is something so small yet it gives people their identity.  The same may, in part, be true for animals.  It gives love and life to an otherwise disregarded beast.  Instead of being apart of the collective, it makes individuals.  Perhaps that’s why even though we all know it’s hard on our own spirits, my coworkers and I silently name each animal that comes in.  We never speak of this practice, but it’s done.  Attachments are formed.  Hearts are crushed.  Still, at least for a little while, the stray dog that comes to us is not "just a dog,” he’s someone and that is very special for person and animal alike.