Euthanasia is an upsetting subject for any shelter. It does not only end the animal’s life, but it also hurts the hearts of all the people in the shelter who are exposed to this topic. Unfortunately, euthanasia is a harsh reality in the shelter’s everyday activity in Estonia today.
CAUSES THAT BRING ANIMALS TO SHELTERS AND COULD LEAD TO EUTHANASIA:
- Cat overpopulation - people allow their cats to reproduce without thinking what will happen to those kittens later on. People often don’t know what to do with kittens later. At best, the kittens end up in shelters, but often times they are abandoned at random farms, apartment building staircases, dumpsters, etc. In the high season, kittens arrive at shelters in box after box, literally.
- Unspayed/unneutered cats escape, gather into cat colonies, multiply uncontrollably (often times incestuously) and become feral. Usually compassionate “cat ladies” involuntarily promote this scenario by feeding these animals. Cats are smart animals; they only multiply when there is sufficient food around.
- The main reason for dogs ending up in the shelter is behavioral problems: Vagrancy, destructive behavior, and aggression in different forms are examples of behaviors with which owners are unable to cope. Fortunately, dog overpopulation has started to decline.
Which animals have little chance of getting a new home?
- Estonians generally won’t adopt an animal that requires lifelong medical treatment or is disabled; therefore, hope for these animals to get new homes is very small. Nevertheless, sometimes miracles happen, and in hope of such a miracle, we try to help these animals increase their chances.
- Animals with behavioral problems have a hard time getting accustomed to new homes in Estonia; and therefore, are hardly ever adoptable. Animals with behavioral problems arrive here with minor issues, like having accidents indoors, up to the other extreme, like uncontrollable aggressiveness, and all those in between. Most of these problems are solvable, depending upon the adopter’s desire and ability, but often most people are lacking in either one or the other. Those people who have the desire and the knowledge to solve these issues already have their own animals at home.
The principles of euthanasia after the initial 14-day period in the tartu animal shelter
- First of all, we observe the animal’s nature and behavior, and then health condition.
- We don’t see a reason for putting down healthy and human-friendly animals (i.e. we don’t euthanize based on appearance, age, or lack of room in the shelter). Somehow we have been able to house friendly animals in the shelter even when we are short on space.
- An indicator for euthanization can be when an animal attacks people, and the incident is determined to have happened without the person’s provocation (even if it’s involuntary).
- Another instance in which euthanization is considered is for feral, unsocial adult cats and kittens from 3 months of age (only if the animal hasn’t shown any behavioral progress since arriving at the shelter, which rules out stressful behavior related the animal’s initial arrival at the shelter).
- We must let animals pass on if their quality of life suffers due to health conditions (systemic diseases, such as epilepsy, diabetes, tumors, etc.) or if we cannot obtain funding to cure animals with severe trauma (emergency veterinary medical care is expensive and we can only use donations from the public for these expenses).
- Another indicator for cat euthanization is the existence of the FeLV/FIV virus (comparable to the HIV virus in humans) in the bloodstream, which is determined via a blood test. The lives of cats such as these may be cut short due to secondary immunodeficiency diseases as mentioned previously - Estonians wouldn’t want to own an animal with continuous health problems. Even if someone has a big enough heart and would want to adopt such an animal, there is always a risk that this animal would escape and infect other animals by contact. We do not want to be responsible for spreading the virus.
- Cats and kittens with ringworm - ringworm spreads explosively in shelter conditions, treatment is lengthy, expensive, and the disease also infects humans, which rightly causes aversion. The infected cats’ stay in the shelter lengthens substantially (an especially bad situation is when kittens grow up during this lengthy treatment and become less desirable in their advanced age to most adopters). Most importantly, infected animals are dangerous to other shelter residents due to the density of our animal population. Almost all shelter workers have had ringworm, and we are doing everything we can to reduce this risk for our adopters, their families, and other pets. Sadly, we don’t succeed every time.
Euthanasia is performed by the shelter’s veterinarian in compliance with laws and ethical principles.
Once again, even though we try to be rational and find a reasonable indicator for making these decisions, we are forced to make them nonetheless (often due to the carelessness of other people). Every animal that has passed on takes a part of our hearts with them – all of our hearts.