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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.
  • Therese says:

    Thank you for demonstrating compassion under difficult and horrific circumstances. I was disappointed the recent New York Times article did not convey that PETA is remaining due to its mission to end suffering. Healing adoptable animals is the admirable cause for the good work of no-kill shelters across the country. It doesn’t appear PETA has ever positioned itself as a shelter so comparisons to such organizations are unfair.

  • Leigh says:

    Like Lori I am proud to support PETA and the tireless work they/we all do, euthanasia is necessary especially in these terribly cases, its unfortunate that these things happen to beautiful creatures yet we can all be reassured that karma will get these people in this world or the next.

  • XelosOne says:

    We need PETA for humans. As Marina commented, she hopes when her time comes someone shows her the compassion PETA shows to animals. The fact is that my father’s doctor said quite the opposite at the end of his life as he was kept alive against his wishes and those of the family after a medical error during a routine diagnostic procedure. The direct quote was, “We treat animals better than this.” And then he humanely ordered a large increase in my father’s morphine dosage which finally and mercifully allowed him to slip into endless sleep. I strongly support euthanasia, by PETA and for humans who desire it.

  • Tam Green says:

    I am so sad to see these images and can feel the pain and suffering that animals have to suffer. It’s the laws of cause and effect and hopefully animal abusers will soon feel the effects of their choice to abuse and neglect animals. Euthenasia performed in a caring, warm and sensitive environment relieves their suffering and returns them to God and love foe them. No creature should have to endure the cruelty inflicted on them by humans. They are suffering and need our help. IT MUST STOP.

  • Marina says:

    As a cancer survivor, I can only hope that someone will show me the same mercy and compassion if I become ill that my quality of life is as compromised as the poor animals in these photos. Euthanasia is a kindness.

  • Angela says:

    It is compassionate to euthanize animals that are extremely sick or so feeble from old age that they can’t function. I don’t think it’s okay to euthanize animals to make room for other animals or because they are inconvenient to have around.

  • Tonia says:

    On behalf of animals everywhere u guys are awesome and thanks for the great charitable work u do…♥

  • Carol says:

    This is the guy who should have to explain himself. Please spread the truth about Richard Berman’s disinformation campaign against PETA… share it with everyone, tweet, fb, etc.

  • Lilibeth Whitney says:

    It drives me crazy, it breaks my heart, but I’m not the one suffering…..Bless your bravery..And kindness…..

  • Melanie says:

    I think most of us that have had pets have had to make the decision to euthanize when an animal was suffering or in pain… if you havent had to make this decision trust me you will. Thanks for this post and the explanation. Now I have somewhere to refer the naysayers.

  • Anthea says:

    I firmly believe that euthanasia brings a much needed release to any animal that is at the stage where there will be continued suffering. Having worked with the SPCA I have wept as I have taken animals to the vets to be “put down”. However, I firmly believe that at last they have found peace and rest. Do we keep animals alive for human benefit when a suffering animal may need to escape any more trauma, even with aggressive treatment which may prolong life.

  • Danielle says:

    I seriously just cried reading this and looking at the pictures of those poor dogs. I have three dogs myself and I can’t imagine ever doing anything to hurt them or cause any kind of pain. The only shelter in my area keeps only the “good looking” ones and puts all the rest down after no more than three days…sometimes the same day. The place is dirty and the animals have to sleep and eat in the same cages they use the bathroom. In my opinion it’s very cruel, but no one here seems to care and definitely not willing to help me. Honestly, it’s tragic.

  • Lori says:

    Proud to be a PETA supporter. We must work to stop animal cruelty. When a human being can harm an animal it means that there is a very small gap to them harming another human. The government must understand this and start funding more programs to assist all the overworked overburdened rescue groups.

  • Lynn says:

    This group comes the closest I’ve seen to my views on euthanasia … ONLY to end suffering. Not out of convenience.

  • Jackie says:

    Sometimes that is all that can be done for a suffering animal. I would much rather see an animal humanely euthanize than to watch it suffer. How many animals die of starvation, do you know what a cruel way to die that is. I believe with all my heart that PETA is doing the best that they can for all the living creatures on this earth. Kudos to PETA for doing the best they can with what this heartless world hands them.

  • Holly says:

    PETA does everything in their will to help save and love animals everywhere and all kinds, if more people would care like PETA does we wouldn’t have so many sick and diseased animals to euthanize, but since we do PETA does what is in the best interest for each individual case! Thank you PETA for loving animals as much as I do and doing so much to secure a future for animal rights!

  • sara says:

    some youtube commenters were going on about how can peta be an animal rights organization when it euthanizes so many animals, so i came to this site to see for myself what they were talking about. and after reading your statement on why you guys euthanize – i gotta say, idk what those commenters are whining about. as a pet owner, i accept that there will come a time when i will have to decide to put my pet out of his or her misery. i have done it before when our cats have gotten too sick to treat, and while i’m happy to say that all of our pets are healthy now, i know i will have to make that decision for them in the future and i will not hesitate to do it. not because i’m some cold uncaring bitch, but because i love them and i dont want them to suffer needlessly. what you guys are doing is only an extension of that, and i admire you for it. right now my life is too busy, but maybe sometime in the future when my kids are a little older and i have more time, i may be able to help out at our local shelter as well. in the meantime, you guys keep up the good work for the rest of us.

  • Wash DC says:

    I love PETA for everything they do. THANK YOU! I support you.

  • Summer says:

    Its better to put-down an animal to ends its suffering then see one die from a painful death.

  • David says:

    It really seems like PETA gets it. My philosophy is anti-suffering. It’s great if you can adopt an animal who was abused. I did so myself. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of people to this, and, unfortunately, there are so many animals without homes. I would much rather an animal be humanely euthanized that to make it live a horrible life. We, as humans, are horrible to animals.

  • roberta says:

    helps animals

  • Justyna says:

    oooooh my God…;(

  • Betty says:


  • Nan Newall says:

    Animals that cannot be saved should be allowed to die in dignity, which is why I support euthanasia. I totally agree with PETA’s stand on euthanasia.

  • Izabella says:

    Thank you very much PETA.Stop Cruelty against Animals!

  • carmy says:

    please help them uman angel

  • Stanka says:

    Help the Animals..

  • paulo pinheiro says:

    Very good !!! Gostaria de te-los no Brasil !!!!!!!!!!

  • Vanna Rocha says:

    I personaly think many are better be euthanised than live a HELL LIFE chained, caged, abused, beaten, starved or dumped in the streets by horrendous people, HOW MANY RESCUERS CHECK BY SURPRISE THEIR PETS AT THE ADOPTERS HOME ? ALMOST NONE. How many adopters are real loving and consider animals as FAMILY ? NOT SO MANY ) I AM SURE PETA WOULD NOT JUST KILL . BETTER THEY DIE THAN SUFFER ! >>> But i am sure emaciated street animals and so many that can be treated and care for should have a chance and BE LOVED and find peace at last.

  • alan kaplan says:

    I am a PETA member and donate money when I can. We are fortunate to have an organization like PETA . I sometimes consider PETA too radical in their approach to helping animals but hey someone has to be totally outfront and expose the greedy bastards who mistreat animals and tell it like it is. please continue yr wonderful work!

  • Mila says:

    Amy if you read the article instead of just looking at the pictures you will read that PETA is not an animal shelter. They refer adoptable homeless pets to animal shelters. PETA has no business with well cared for healthy pets. They are only allowed to go into a worst case scenario where a crime has been committed by this time the kindest thing to do is to end the suffering. PETA is a group dedicated to fight and inform the public about animal abuse (not a facility rehome unwanted pets) and if you don’t like the way they spend their funds there are many animal shelters that would appreciate your donation.

  • Amy says:

    Good job using those pictures to tug at people’s heart strings. I dont disagree with euthanizing those pets in the pictures. But I refuse to believe that over 2,000 pets, only about 20 of those would be adoptable and 1980 of them NEED to be euthanized. I can see pets going to PETA as a last resort and people who put them there thinking their pets would have a higher chance of living and getting adopted. I mean PETA has a much higher budget than your local shelter, so they can easily have more space and other resources. What it looks like is that the company is not trying hard enough to put these pets in foster homes, to train them, whatever. I think too much money is going into advertising and not enough on actually helping animals.

  • JeffFixit says:

    I have recently had to make that decision to Euthanize for three kitties over the last year. And I swore I would never do this before. One had a hip that got infected like in your photos above, and after months of treatment with no improvement, I had to make the decision for my neighbors cat. The second was my own. He had suffered a stroke. Over a few months Drugs and rehabilitation got him back, but then another stroke made him only walk in circles to get into his cat box. He was getting better then a third stroke which kept him from standing or walking. He no longer knew who we were. And could hardly see. It was the toughest decision of my life. But it was the right one. I loved Screamer Guy. Two months later my girlfriends Old Tripod Dog got sick. She brought him over to me, She thought we would have to put him to sleep. My same vet gave me medication, shots, and we nursed him back to health. He is now doing fine. Then last month her cat (14 yr old) was acting strange and not eating. She brought him over. Took him to my Vet, got all the meds prescribed. I stayed up for days & hours nursing him back to health. He got better for a week, but his poor old body just couldn’t heal, and went down hill fast after three weeks. She made the decision to Euthanize. I think this is a tough decision for anyone that loves their critter. And for those that don’t they should take them to someone that does care for them like myself or Peta. But please don’t let your animal have a less than your quality of life. I just wish we could make this decision for ourselves or a loved one that are suffering with no hopes of recovery.

  • Mike says:

    I have to say that I am always incensed by your group’s public stunts that always go over the line but I am moved by this article and it’s compassion. I am a nonconformist first and foremost, and I believe that sometimes the only way to get attention for a worthy cause is to go right up to the line but not cross it, but a lot of your group’s actions only serve to spark hatred and contempt for itself. Subsequently you are no better than the right-to-life groups who terrorize legal abortion clinics and endanger (and sometimes kill) the people who work there. Again this is a very moving and informative article and I will give credit where credit is due.

  • Lori Gleason says:

    Sometimes it takes a caring heart to do the dirty work. If I was an animal, I’d much rather be playing at the Rainbow Bridge than suffering needlessly in this world.

  • Gloria Picchetti says:

    If I were a severely injured animal I would want to be euthanized. An animal has no moral issue to suffer pain.

  • Debbie Williamson says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this information so that everyone can see and understand that death is sometimes a compassionate gift. Everyday, I appreciate and admire PETA and all the work you do. Bless you.

  • TG says:

    PETA, keep up the good work. Don’t let the ignorant smear campaign that’s going around get you down, especially since it’s being conducted by people who profit from the sale and exploitation of animals. True animal lovers recognize and appreciate your great accomplishments. I’ll continue to make regular donations to PETA for the tremendous work they do in reducing the suffering of animals.

  • Zida'sukara says:

    I agree that the animals on the pictures really need to be euthanized, I only looked at the pictures very shortly, it hurts me to see animals in this state. However, I am also afraid that animals that could be helped as forexample animals who show bad behaviour will also be euthanized. The main reason for their bad bahaviour are humans and neclection but couldnt they be helped with training so they can have a second change? Sometimes when I watch animalcops I really feel sorry for some euthanizations as I think they could be helped in some way with their bad behaviour. The dog whisperer shows a lot of cases(I am not a big fan of him because of other reasons)where animals can be helped after some efforts. And I agree with Mr. Steve A his post that a lot of Pit Bulls are very sweet. My cousin has been attacked as a small boy by 2 Bouviers, they all of a sudden got wild and attacked him as a pact while he was only playing on a playing ground. The owner(a friend of him was letting the dogs out at the attack) was truly in panic and said this has never happened before and he did not know what to do. He even asked my oncle and aunt if they insisted in euthanizing his dogs but instead they agreed that he would train his dogs and would keep them on a leach outside. This is why I have a doubt on euthanizing an animal because of behaviour problems, you hear and read about many cases where a training in behaviour can give very good results. Ofcourse I understand that many help-organizations have shelter problem, problems of having good trainers or just having trainers at all, time problems etc.. But this is an issue that keeps coming in to my mind when I am thinking about euthanizing animals. For the other issues, keep on doing your good work!!

  • Kevin says:

    Its better to kill these animals..than to make them live with this suffering..

  • Angie says:

    This photos makes me wanna cry & shout out loud & makes me feel like the best solution is to remove people from this planet…

  • Romina&Sasa Kulundzic says:

    S T O P I T ! !! !!!!! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Sydnee S says:

    For all you bashing PETA(who is truly one of the only organizations that has their head on correctly) because they support euthanasia? The animals they put down are either to sick or to much of a danger to society(unpredictable, never socialized, to afraid of humans that they can do a lot of harm to us)would you like someone at a shelter to say a dog is good with kids to just get a home for them and then attack one of your children or yourself? They are doing our dirty work. They are handling our aftermath of not properly taking care of our animals, spaying/neutering them, or properly training them. They try to place all the animals in proper homes that they can. Please people open your eyes! They aren’t the bad guys! Instead of being mad at the only organization that truly has animals best interests in mind, go volunteer at a local shelter, adopt an animal, donate money or supplies to allow shelters to continue to take in animals and provide proper care. THINK ABOUT IT!

  • Frost says:

    I am ashamed as a human being for our torture to animals

  • suzanne says:

    I posted a comment yesterday after seeing an article about your organization that deeply disturbed me…I had concerns about the writer’s motive but still it disturbed me…the photos especially of dead animals in garbage bags and in cages at your shelter. I wrote you and your response helped me with my anger…and to understand that the article I saw might have been purposely put out to discredit you…as I originally suspected. I’m still somewhat not sure what to believe but I do know that the majority of what your organization does has helped millions of animals and I apologize for my previous comment saying I would no longer support you!

  • wendy white says:

    Although I don’t follow a meat free diet only, I try my best. Relating to PETA, I believe there is no organization like yours, with the exception of Greenpeace and I wholly agree with what you are doing. I’m a great believer in euthanasia for both animals and suffering human beings who no longer want to live. It’s a quiet, peaceful way to leave this world of cruelty….I’m referring to animals. Keep up your excellent work and I’ll support you for the rest of my life. Wendy White, Toronto, Canada

  • peanut says:

    I am sure PETA has been trying to push for legislation to ban pet shops and the like for a long time. Now it is up to your local government to take a stand!! I think PETA is doing thier best to raise awareness. Now we need to call on our local government to make a stand!

  • Sarah says:

    Years ago now, when I was physically able, I used to be very active in dog rescue, on the front lines and behind the scenes, from transporting to assessing new homes. I worked with 3 shelters, both non-euthanising and euthanising. The truth is that the most efficient, the one that helped the most dogs, was of the latter type. We got a lot of very damaged animals who had suffered lives of extreme neglect and some of them would require a lifetime of intensive care due to mental issues or illness/disability. Some of them were adopted and that’s wonderful, but often these animals, particularly those suffering badly or with aggression issues, just had to be put to sleep because we needed the space in kennels and in foster homes for the dogs who were lucky enough to be healthy and had a chance of a forever home. If we had kept the “unhomables”, we would have had to have turned away those healthy dogs and they would have died or suffered horribly. What can you do? Help more, or help fewer? It’s a disgusting situation and not pretty, but this is the position that people put us in. As a member of PETA for the past decade I don’t believe they are going around “killing animals” and “stopping pet ownership” as all the members I knew (including higher ups in the UK office) loved animals and had beloved rescue pets. I just see them in the same sad situation as so many other rescues.

  • bricoh says:

    i’ve been thinking about euthanizing lately. I do think it’s necessary sometimes. i had put my favorite cat down years ago when she couldn’t make it to the litter box or keep her food down. but to see a cat as roadkill, i’d rather they go peacefully by the needle. because of this i’ve taken in 7 (was 8) cats from the street- to which 3 kittens came from a victim of a careless driver (hard to watch as her nerves were still moving like she was still crossing the street and face smashed into ground). she was an awesome cat.sorry about graphics, but it’s REALLY NOT pretty and this is reality.finding homes is harder than expected. i even had to get the kittens back from a ‘rehoming’ due to the conditions. the neighborhood is almost seemingly cat-free. now i don’t worry so much and have to keep looking out windows to make sure they’re OK.

  • KC says:

    I think your attitude is wrong. Certainly animals in medical distress need to be humanely eased out of this world. But when I first read about PETA euthanizing healthy animals it had a PR / drama smell about it. I don’t agree. You have to fight with everything you’ve got, all the time to help the animals. This doesn’t.