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Only about 10% of the estimated 70 million homeless dogs and cats in the U.S. are admitted to animal shelters each year. Although many are reclaimed or adopted, about half must be euthanized for humane reasons (they’re injured or ill with a poor prognosis, irremediably aggressive or traumatized, at the end of their lives, etc.) or because suitable homes can’t be found for them. Animal shelters can’t house and support all homeless animals indefinitely—nor would it be humane for them to do so, as animals would be forced to exist in continuous confinement for months or even years, lonely and stressed, and other animals would have to be turned away because there would be no room for them.

Five dogs behind door of kennel in shelter©

Trying to build enough animal shelters to keep up with the endless stream of homeless animals is like putting a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound. Turning unwanted animals loose to roam the streets is cruel, too. Animals left to fend for themselves outdoors suffer, and they often die because of exposure to extreme weather, injuries caused by motor vehicles, starvation, dehydration, abuse by cruel people, or disease.

Euthanasia means “good death,” and true euthanasia—delivered by an intravenous injection of sodium pentobarbital (a barbiturate)—is gentle, painless, quick, and dignified. Because of the high number of homeless dogs and cats—and the lack of suitable homes—sometimes the most humane thing that a shelter worker can do is give an unadopted or unadoptable animal a peaceful exit from a world that has betrayed them. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of Shelter Veterinarians agree that an intravenous injection of sodium pentobarbital administered by trained professionals is the most compassionate method of euthanizing animals. (For tiny puppies, kittens, and some cats, it may be appropriate to use intraperitoneal injections.)

Although rare today, some shelters in smaller communities use unacceptable and cruel methods, such as gunshots, to end the lives of animals who require euthanasia. Bullets are often not placed precisely in the struggling animal’s head or are deflected, and some animals survive the first shot only to be shot repeatedly.

A small number of animal shelters in the U.S. still use archaic gas chambers. Whether ramshackle homemade boxes or commercially made gas chambers are used, this method is always cruel and traumatic. Conscious animals may see other animals suffer from convulsions and muscle spasms as they slowly die. Old, young, pregnant, and sick animals are particularly susceptible to gas-related trauma, and they experience slow, extremely stressful deaths.

sad pup cage

The only way to prevent creating more victims of companion animal overpopulation is through sterilization. The millions of animal deaths at animal shelters and in the streets, alleyways, fields, basements, and backyards that occur every year can be drastically reduced by spaying and neutering. You can help by becoming a spay/neuter volunteer.

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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