In general, across the United States, animal shelters have an obligation to hold, for a certain period of time, animals that are brought to them before considering euthanising the animal. This obligation comes from the law and it varies slightly from state to state. During this holding period the shelter must try and find the owner of the animal and take care of the animal properly.
The holding period allows the animal’s owner to repossess her companion animal. This is obviously better than putting the animal down or having the animal wandering around homeless.
During this holding period the shelter does not own the animal. The shelter possesses the animal. The cat (I’ll refer to cats from now on) is still owned by the cat’s caretaker and owner whoever she or he might be1.
There is an opt-out clause to this general way of proceeding. Under restricted or limited circumstances a shelter is allowed under the law to euthanise animals before the regulation holding period is up.
The animal has to be assessed as:
- very sick,
- in extreme pain,
- suffering extremely or
- having a contagious disease
..before they shelter can euthanise early. The decision has to be made by a veterinarian or the shelter supervisor. If the shelter is able to identify and contact the cat’s owner they should do it before euthanising. Even if the cat is very ill etc., if the owner is known the shelter should allow 24 hours before euthanising and they have an obligation to try very hard to contact the owner.
This is the opt-out clause and the weakness in this clause is that the shelter supervisor can make the decision to override the general law on his own assessment. How good is he? How skilled is he about assessing animal illnesses? How fair is he? How animal sensitive is he? These all affect the decision. I tend to believe that not every shelter supervisor has the required skills and attitude to make a good decision.
I’d like to make a quick comparison with the UK, specifically the Cats Protection organisation, a large cat rehoming organisation across the UK.
Importantly, under their rules and guided by the Animal Welfare Act 2006, which applies to everyone, they state that only a veterinarian can make the decision to euthanise a cat in their care.
Also, the actual act of euthanising a cat is carried out by a veterinarian and not staff employed by a shelter as appears to be the usual case in the United States. The method will be by injection only. There are no gas chambers.
As mentioned, while the cat is in the care of Cats Protection they are governed by the rules of the Animal Welfare Act like anyone else. This is a first class Act that protects animals and guides caretakers.
After euthanasia, post mortem examinations are sometimes carried out in the interests of the other cats and also all euthanised cats are cremated as organised by the veterinary clinic.
That seems to be a very high standard of care and dare I ask, is it a higher standard than is found in some shelters in the USA? That is just a question not a statement.
What happens to euthanised animals in the USA? Are they dumped into a bin or whatever? Or used for pet food2?
There is only one decent way to handle the body of a euthanised cat or dog: dignified cremation. To recycle dead animals creates a conflict of interest that leads to bad decision making on the matter of when to euthanise a cat or dog in possession of a shelter. This is because there is an outside commercial reason for euthanising the animal.
Associated: Articles found on PoC when searching for “euthanise”
- Picture of ginger cat in collage by petsadviser.com