Why We Euthanize

Published by Ingrid Newkirk.

The word “euthanasia” comes from two Greek words—“eu” meaning “good” and “thanatos” meaning “death.” Euthanasia is defined as a merciful release from life in order to end suffering.

How can anyone fail to recognize that there is a world of difference between painlessly euthanizing animals—the aged, injured, sick, and dying, whose guardians can’t afford euthanasia, for instance—out of compassion, as PETA does, and causing them terror, pain, and a prolonged death by leaving them to struggle 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, or homeless animals—even if the best we can offer them is a painless release from a world that doesn’t have enough room for them in its heart or homes. People may throw stones at us, but we are against all needless killing: for hamburgers, fur collars, dissection, sport hunting—the works. In 2019, PETA helped more than 26,000 companion animals in more than 250 cities, including by providing more than 12,500 dogs and cats with spay/neuter services. We go so far as to transport animals to and from our mobile clinics, where they are spayed or neutered and given veterinary care, often free of charge. Since 2001, PETA’s low- to no-cost spay-and-neuter mobile clinics have sterilized nearly 170,000 animals, preventing hundreds of thousands of unwanted puppies and kittens from being born, neglected, abandoned, abused, or euthanized. And on a national level, PETA focuses on the root of the problem through our celebrity spay/neuter campaigns.

Big Girl was still alive when a fieldworker found her.

If anyone has a good home, love, and respect to offer, please go to a shelter and adopt one or two animals. 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 have to face. Most of the animals we took in and euthanized could hardly be called “pets,” as they had spent their entire lives penned or chained up outside. They were unsocialized, never having been inside a building of any kind or ever experienced a scratch behind the ears. Others were indeed someone’s beloved companion, but they were elderly, sick, injured, dying, aggressive, or otherwise unadoptable, and PETA offered them a painless release from suffering, with no charge to their owners or guardians.

Euthanasia and PETA’s Vital Work for Animals

Every day, PETA’s fieldworkers help abused and neglected dogs—many of whom are pit bulls often forced to spend 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 flystrike prevention; free veterinary care; sturdy wooden doghouses stuffed with straw bedding; and attention.

What we see on a daily basis is enough to make you lose faith in humanity. So, how does euthanasia fit into PETA’s work to alleviate suffering? 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 that had restricted her for years. She suffered from three painful and deadly intestinal obstructions, which prevented her from keeping any food down, and 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. And that was just one of the dozens of sad cases that 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 abysmal 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 severe that his right eye was swollen shut and his jaw was torn open and hanging.

This dog was suffering from an advanced stage of cancer.

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

Do Your Part

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 someone’s backyard, suffering on the mean streets where people just kick them or shoo them away, tortured at the hands of animal abusers, or, tragically, euthanized in an animal shelter for lack of a good home. If you want to save lives, always have your animals spayed or neutered.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind