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Why We Euthanize

Written by Ingrid Newkirk | March 21, 2013

In my first year working at a grossly substandard animal shelter in Maryland, I forced myself to go in early to euthanize dogs by holding them in my arms and gently helping them escape an uncaring world without trauma or pain and to spare them from being stabbed haphazardly—while they were fully conscious, terrified and aware—in the general vicinity of their hearts with needles blunt from reuse and left to thrash on the floor until they finally died by the callous people who would arrive later to do the job.

I always wonder how anyone cannot recognize that there is a world of difference between painlessly euthanizing animals out of compassion—aged, injured, sick, and dying animals whose guardians can’t afford euthanasia, for instance—as PETA does, and causing them to suffer terror, pain, and a prolonged death while struggling to survive on the streets, at the hands of untrained and uncaring “technicians,” or animal abusers.

Diamond was suffering from a painful facial tumor that was slowly eating away at his face
Sasha had a severely infected bite wound

It’s easy to point the finger at those who are forced to do the “dirty work” caused by a throwaway society’s casual acquisition and breeding of dogs and cats who end up homeless and unwanted, but at PETA, we will never turn our backs on neglected, unloved, and homeless animals—even if the best we can offer them is a painless release from a world that doesn’t have enough heart or homes with room for them. It makes it easy for people to throw stones at us, but we are against all needless killing: for hamburgers, fur collars, dissection, sport hunting, the works. PETA handled far more animals than 2,069 in 2012. In fact, we took in more than 10,000 dogs and cats and work very hard to persuade people to spay and neuter their animals and to commit to a lifetime of care and respect for them. We go so far as to transport animals to and from our spay/neuter clinics, where they are spayed or neutered and given vet care, often for free! Since 2001, PETA’s low- to no-cost spay-and-neuter mobile clinics, SNIP and ABC, have sterilized more than 50,000 animals, preventing hundreds of thousands of animals from being born, neglected, abandoned, abused, or euthanized when no one wanted them. And on a national level, PETA is focusing on the root of the problem through our Animal Birth Control (ABC) campaign.

Big Girl was still alive when a field worker found her
Still Alive

If anyone has a good home, love, and respect to offer, we beg them: Go to a shelter and take one or two animals home. The problem is that few people do that, choosing instead to go to a breeder or a pet shop and not “fixing” their dogs and cats, which contributes to the high euthanasia rate that animal shelters face. Most of the animals we took in and euthanized could hardly be called “pets,” as they had spent their lives chained up in the back yard, for instance. They were unsocialized, never having been inside a building of any kind or known a pat on the head. Others were indeed someone’s, but they were aged, sick, injured, dying, too aggressive to place, and the like, and PETA offered them a painless release from suffering, with no charge to their owners or custodians.

Every day, PETA’s fieldworkers help abused and neglected dogs—many of them pit bulls nowadays and many of them forced to live their lives on chains heavy enough to tow an 18-wheeler—by providing them with food; clean water; lightweight tie-outs; deworming medicine; flea, tick, and fly-strike prevention; free veterinary care; sturdy wooden doghouses stuffed with straw bedding; and love.

What we see is enough to make you lose faith in humanity. One pit bull we gained custody of, named Asia, looked like a skeleton covered with skin when PETA released her from the 15-pound chain she had been kept on for years. Asia suffered from three painful and deadly intestinal obstructions, which prevented her from keeping any food down. She faced an agonizing, lingering death, so our veterinarian recommended euthanasia to end her suffering. We pursued criminal charges against those responsible for her condition, leading to their conviction for cruelty to animals. That is just one of the dozens of cases we see every week.

The majority of adoptable dogs are never brought through our doors (we refer them to local adoption groups and walk-in animal shelters). Most of the animals we house, rescue, find homes for, or put out of their misery come from miserable conditions, which often lead to successful prosecution and the banning of animal abusers from ever owning or abusing animals again.

Santana had facial injuries so serious that his right eye was swollen shut and his jaw was ripped and hanging
Facial Injuries

This dog was suffering from advanced cancer

As long as animals are still purposely bred and people aren’t spaying and neutering their companions, open-admission animal shelters and organizations like PETA must do society’s dirty work. Euthanasia is not a solution to overpopulation but rather a tragic necessity given the present crisis. PETA is proud to be a “shelter of last resort,” where animals who have no place to go or who are unwanted or suffering are welcomed with love and open arms.

Please, if you care about animals, help prevent more of them from being born only to end up chained and left to waste away in people’s back yards, suffering on mean streets where people kick at them or shoo them away like garbage, tortured at the hands of animal abusers, or, alas, euthanized in animal shelters for lack of a good home. If you want to save lives, always have your animals spayed or neutered.

See more about how PETA saves animals.

Commenting is closed.
  • Carrie Richards says:

    I really think PETA should initiate a huge campaign to put an end to the rumors being spread all over the Internet.

  • Dave Robinson says:

    Well done Ingrid, well done PETA for being consistently compassionate. Well done for refusing to shy away from doing society’s “dirty work”. Well done for so fearlessly telling it and showing it as it is. And well done for putting the record straight in the face of your divisive, ego-driven detractors.

    Thank you for facilitating awareness on such a broad spectrum of issues – all the best for 2015 – and keep up the good work!

  • rejoyce9 says:

    I have seen hysterical humans cling to the no kill nation ideal, and cost healthy, adoptable dogs their dignity, their comfort and eventually, for many, their lives. These people are delusional. Death row animals draw in borderline personality and hysterical people who need an outlet for the constant feeling of pain and/or emptiness. These animals also draw in the criminal element, who is only to eager to “rescue” these poor souls while the unbalanced folk pay the price for their efforts. The truth hurts, but it is much worse to see an animal rescued by an idiot, than it is to think of one dying in the arms of a loving, kind and professional human.
    Thank you for being willing to risk public persecution and hatred, once again, to do right by the animals of earth. I just hate that this could hurt you financially, and will be sure to up my donation as a result. You do the hard, good work that most benefits the unwanted, unloved animals. They are “loved” in the abstract, by unbalanced humans. That’s not love. You love animals. That has always been clear, and that has always been your agenda.

  • Annette R says:

    I completely agree with you, and this is why I joined PETA (in addition to the fact that you were one of the first groups to speak up in defense of rats!) HUMANE euthanasia is ALWAYS preferable to the alternative. I have seen cats left to languish in “no kill” shelters for years, which is certainly very inhumane…all in the name of “no kill”. The problem with the animal protectionist movement is that many of us have moved from seeing SUFFERING as the worst evil, to see EUTHANASIA as the worst evil. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although our rat rescue does not euthanize rats unless they are seriously, horribly, incurably ill (we do not even euthanize for behavioral issues, but we also do not adopt them out), we recognize that suffering is ALWAYS to be avoided, even if it means doing so by humane euthanasia. This is why even though our rescue is “no kill” by default, we do not adhere to the “no kill” philosophy. We have seen that mindset create hoarders and inhumane long term living conditions for animals, esp. dogs and cats (who cannot live in cages long-term without developing serious psychological damage).

  • Thank You PETA. As a Person who had to euthanize my dog, many years ago, she was suffering tremendously from an incurable disease for many years, inspite of all the medical aid i could provide her. I have hated myself all these years for resorting to this act. I’v had many dogs, currently I have adopted a stray cat. After reading this article at last I’v been able to rest my conscious in peace. May my Darling Peggy’s soul rest in peace.

  • paula Young says:

    I ran a brick and mortar dog/cat shelter in one of the WORST communities in lower Westchester County NY for 5 years. We tried to be a “little kill” performing eutanasia only on very ill animals or aggressive ones. However, it became more and more difficult. Finding GOOD homes for dogs, especially pit bulls, is nearly impossible. There are at least 10 dogs for every one home – and places like the NSAL, that import fluffy breeds for adoption from out of NY State do not help. WE MUST CHANGE THE SPAY/NEUTER laws! S?N laws MUST BECOME MANDATORY for all domestic pets. That is the only solution!!

  • Ann Simmons says:

    I have read both sides of this argument and it saddens me that any of this exists. But having worked in an animal hospital in the past I am all too aware of the things done to animals. PETA, I have supported you in the past and I will continue to support you, as well as all of the other animal organizations I try to help. There are so many animals that need help from all of us, so I just have to trust and pray that all of these organizations will do all that they can to help them. We have to be their voice, otherwise they will never have one. If we all do this together we can make a difference.

  • Ori Bori says:

    Thank you for being there for them.

  • Phil Christopherson says:

    Thank you PeTA for your efforts at preventing the birth of animals and willingness to destroy those unfortunate enough to be born. Through your efforts, we may eventually have an animal free society. Keep up the good work!

  • Thank you PETA for not turning away from those most people would rather ignore or dismiss & leave in a state of suffering & agony.

  • Chay Laurente says:

    I’m working on my Argumentative Research Paper (ARP) for my Midterms. I have seen your video about euthanasia and have decided to have it as my topic. I am currently working on it now. 🙂 More power to your organization. I’m an animal lover and I always read your posts on Facebook and I share them too.

  • Claudia Salas says:

    Ok, I understand now 🙂

  • Zizzy says:

    Thank you for your compassionate work. There is not enough compassionate euthanasia in animal rescue. A feral kitten with both eyes so severely infected that they had to be removed before the burst, is not completely blind- an still feral. Another dog in the shelter has bitten numerous people and must be an “only” dog… what quality of life do these poor creatures have? When a cat cannot be a cat, or a dog cannot be a dog- end their lives humanely.

  • Fan o Elijah Wood says:

    IIIIIIIIII want to work here! Save the frogs and stop buying frog o spheres and boycott Brookstone stores!

  • Haydee Torres says:

    I’m all for euthanizing an animal that is suffering from advanced disease or trauma but not just for space…AND NOT BY GASSING THEM. BAN THE USE OF THE GAS CHAMBERS NOW PLEASE. SPEAK UP AGAINST THOSE SHELTERS THAT USE GAN CHAMBERS OR DECOMPRESSION NOW, PLEASE, IT’S INHUMANE, IT’S TORTURE.A long torturous death. Thank you, Haydee Torres what can I do and how please advise now!

  • chris says:

    it is important to note that the reason many animals must end up being killed is because of the actions of people. animals cannot be used as commodities carelessly, slotted in somewhere between designer coats and designer everything else without the natural order being hurt and things going haywire, like the number of abused or abandoned dogs sky rocketing. i think people made the problem so we should fix it. our town has two shelters one of which is no-kill. there is a waiting list months long to leave an animal there. taking in a few animals until a home is found is not an effective way of solving the problem.

  • KittyCrack Baby's Meomy says:

    I live by one simple rule do onto other as you want done to you. In other words be kind and show love have faith that there is a better place for animals(Rainbow Bridge)and human(Heaven)where there is no pain or suffering just peace,love,an happiness.Yes KARMA is well known and it will get the bad ones in the end. I am a cancer surviver but one round 5 with terminal this time and pray that God takes me in my sleep if not that someone would do the same for me and not let me suffer because they don’t want to let go.God Bless

  • Emma says:

    Thats why I like shelters like PETA and Dogs Trust. Putting animals out of their misery is a last resort

  • Debra Albert says:

    With all my heart I am for freeing these animals from pain and suffering , I just wish it could have been sooner they went through so much. Thank you for bein kind to them at the end. God bless you

  • Elaine Soucy says:

    When an animal is in pain, like the ones shown above, euthanasia is definetely a good thing. I don’t believe that letting living creatures suffer is right, and sometimes the only way to elevate that suffering is to put them to sleep.

  • Gabi Schwanke says:

    I know what it takes to make the decision to euthanize an animal AND to stay with the animal until the very end when it gets “put down”. Often even animals who lead a good life in a nice family suffer badly when they get ill or/and old, because their keepers don’t want to let them go. I often experienced this and tried to help the animal by talking to their keepers. Believe me more than once in my life I cried because I lost an animal (dogs, rats, birds) and still after many years remember and miss them, because they were part of my life. But always I prefer better me suffers from the loss, than the animal (=friend and family member) suffers just because I can’t let go. It’s always a tough decicion, when theres hope and a realistic chance for the pet to live on happy, it’s perfect. Buit if there is no chance or just a minimum chance but the animal lives in constant pain and would have to undergo endless stressful treatment, it is like gambling with a living creature. No good. Better release the animal from the pain and an unhappy life. Better WE cry instead the poor helpless soul. – MY RESPECT to those who chose to stay with suffering and dying animals, to help them this or the other way. YOU KNOW WHAT LOVE REALLY IS ABOUT.