Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Underworld

Beneath the world of pampered pets live millions of unfortunate dogs—in shelters, in alleyways, and worse. I’ve come to call it “the underworld.” They'll know nothing this season of photos with "Santa Paws" or over-sized stockings stuffed with rawhide bones. I’ve been grappling with the sheer number of dogs who live far, far away from the well cared for pets that we meet in people’s home and see walking down the street.

It has been my most depressing revelation thus far.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that 6-8 million cats and dogs enter shelters each year. While about half of these animals are adopted, the other 3 to 4 million are euthanized. Even on the low end of that spectrum, 8,219 cats and dogs are put down every day, and their only crime was being born. Black dogs and breeds like pit bulls have disproportionately high euthanasia rates because of the unfair stereotypes placed on them as aggressive dogs.

It’s especially a problem in the American South. Because of economic conditions, many dog owners do not spay/neuter their pets. As one volunteer told me, many families have to choose between putting food on the table and fixing their dogs.

There is the potential for one female dog and her young to produce 67,000 dogs over a six-year period. The offspring often end up in local shelters where adoption rates are very low because people cannot afford the cost of pet ownership. These shelters are brimming with dogs that might be highly adoptable in other parts of the country. Instead, the dogs are sentenced to death to make room for more dogs coming in.

State laws regulate euthanasia. Some states require a dose of sodium pentobarbital—the same injection that a caring veterinarian would administer to the family pet whose suffering can no longer be justified. The animal dies a quick and humane death. However, for many shelters with little funding, it’s an expensive "option."

In states that allow for other means of euthanasia, some animals are put down using carbon monoxide. That’s the politically-correct way of saying “gas chamber." It’s as bad as it sounds—ten times over.

Where does this take me? It takes me to a black-and-white collie mix named Jack who won the proverbial West-Virginia doggie lottery this week. He was set to be euthanized on Tuesday. But when shelter volunteers pleaded for help, the organization we’re fostering with decided to rescue him. He’ll be part of the transport up to New Jersey this week. In doing so, he'll cross the border from dog of the underworld to pampered pet. When he arrives late Saturday night, we’ll have a cozy bed and a nutritious meal waiting for him in our home.

Yes, he’s only one dog, and yes, 8,218 other cats and dogs were likely euthanized that day. But to the future family who adopts Jack, that one dog will mean all the world.


  1. "Saving one dog won't change the world, but certainly the world will change for that one dog."

  2. Yes—thank you! You just summarized my 500-word rambling into 17... and much more eloquently. Mind if I ask who this is?

  3. Who wrote the post or who said the quote? Don't know the quote but this is Amanda! :)

  4. This post hits home. Its the absolute shocking truth. I take care of my three dogs and think "Really - REALLY - this isn't all that hard". And its not.

    Unfortunately not everyone feels that way, or cares to, and the dogs (cats/birds/lizards/children/rabbits) suffer.

    Keep on Keeping on, Kim! You rock!

  5. Thanks, Jen! One of my colleagues (Amanda - see above) referred me to your blog, and I just love reading it!

  6. Great, great post, Kim. I found it through Jen's list, and I'm so glad I did. Good luck to Jack, who already is one of the luckiest shelter dog. I know just how you feel--one of our dogs was about to be euthanized at a shelter before we heard about him and stepped up to get him. He'd been labeled "unadoptable," but he has never given us any trouble. Close call with, thank heavens, a happy ending for Bingo.

  7. Thanks, Glenye. Don't you think these dogs show a sense of gratitude deeper than most humans could ever understand?