By Teresa Chagrin
He was deaf, blind, elderly and emaciated. His fur was matted, his teeth were rotten and he was riddled with maggots inside and out,— even in both eye sockets. And yet, somehow, he was still alive — and in extreme distress. Last month, a good Samaritan found this dog, named Spunik, tethered to a utility trailer in the rain. His owners said that they left him outside “to die a natural death” because they didn’t have enough money to pay for euthanasia. His misery finally ended when police took him to a veterinarian.
Please don’t think that Spunik’s case is an isolated incident. Countless other animals have suffered and died slowly and in anguish when people who couldn’t — or wouldn’t — pay to have them euthanized took matters into their own hands. PETA’s own emergency response crew has helped provide innumerable animals with end-of-life dignity and relief when their guardians could not afford the cost of euthanasia.
This is one reason why open-admission shelters accept all animals — not just the ones who are adoptable and will help make their “saved” rates look good. After all, don’t all dogs and cats deserve to receive that final act of kindness?
Just before last Christmas, a South Carolina man reportedly held down and stabbed his sick cat because he couldn’t afford to pay for veterinary care. When the cat started kicking, he began slashing at the animal’s other side. In Wisconsin, a woman reportedly beat her dog over the head with a hammer multiple times in an attempt to kill her because she couldn’t afford the $50 fee to have her euthanized.
A Nebraska woman pleaded no contest to killing her 20-year-old dog by sealing the animal in a plastic storage bag. She had also attempted to remove a cyst by tying a guitar string around it and trying to cut it off — because she couldn’t afford to take the dog to a veterinarian.
Who is to blame in these cases? The owners, certainly — there is no excuse for letting sick or injured animals suffer or for cruelly killing them, and all animal guardians should be prepared to cover the cost of veterinary emergencies and euthanasia. Ensuring a good life and a painless death are obligations that come with caring for an animal.
But animal shelters are also to blame when they turn away animals in desperate need, refusing to provide those who are terminally ill, injured or geriatric with free euthanasia. Why do they do this? Because nowadays, they are under extreme pressure from people and groups clamoring for “life at any cost” policies. This pressure can also motivate them to charge fees to surrender unwanted animals, require people to get on a waiting list and make them feel guilty at the thought of dropping animals off at the shelter.
The demonization of open-admission shelters has become so intense that some people now won’t even consider taking an animal to one: Just last month, a Florida man allegedly used a kitchen knife to stab his 3-year-old pit bull to death because he “could not bring himself” to take the dog to the pound.
Every community needs to thank its lucky stars for the existence of any open-admission shelter that welcomes all animals regardless of health, age, temperament or any other factor, without restrictions. And people who care about animals shouldn’t be criticizing these caring, decent shelters but instead supporting them for helping animals who would otherwise face terrible suffering.
Caring veterinarians can help, too. Like the animal shelters, they didn’t cause this crisis, and some of the burden falls to them when shelters dodge their responsibilities. But just as human doctors roll up their sleeves to help during crises, veterinarians, too, should be ready to alleviate pain when there’s a need. Offering end-of-life relief at a nominal fee or pro bono and allowing guardians to set up payment plans could spare many animals untold misery.
No dog or cat should have to linger in agony like Spunik did. Guardians, shelters, veterinarians and anyone who cares about animals should work together to ensure that all animals have access to the care they need, including a painless end to their suffering when the time comes.
And just because I’m remembering …