Better off Dead: The Ultimate ‘Doing it Wrong’

Better off Dead: The Ultimate ‘Doing it Wrong’

“Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additional existence.
Life, in short, just wants to be.”
Bill Bryson

As rescuers, working to save the lives of pets, you would expect that we’d be driving the charge to overhaul the animal sheltering process should it be failing and causing unnecessary death.

However, rather than find it abhorrent that we’re are damaging the very pets we purport to care for, it seems we’ve become apologists; excusing killing and poor performance with the defeatist rhetoric that not only is a certain level of killing acceptable, but that killing should be considered a viable alternative to the ‘trauma’ of being impounded.

For dogs who come into pounds what being in a pound does to them, mentally, is much crueler than euthanasia. Some dogs just do not deal well with impoundment and become either difficult or impossible to rehome due to the behaviours they exhibit when people visit the pound looking for a dog. For those dogs being PTS on day 1 would be preferable - sad but true.


I work every day with animals that sit in concrete runs waiting to die, they are scared, defensive, no doubt confused, some of them get rehomed, one would hope to a better place, but we know that is not always the case. Most die, but they die after sitting in those cage scared. A quick painless death before that, is preferable.


Rather than demand an environment that cares for the animals unlucky enough to find themselves impounded; rather than implore that we operate in ways that make an animals’ stay as least behaviourally challenging as possible; rather than insist on policies that increase a pets chance of adoption, and pressing to get pets off site via foster carers and rescue… we simply proclaim that quick death is preferable to being given a chance at life.

My pound is now at the all surrenders are PTS on surrender stage. We can cry, beat our breasts and stamp our feet and say it is unfair, but there is no where for these animals to go, a very lucky few will be pulled out and saved. I know for a fact that many dogs that are pulled from the pound go to homes that are less than desirable, is that good just because they are alive, I don’t think so.


This is the language of certain failure. When animals are coming out worse than when they went in; when the way they’re treated causes them to lose their chance to become a pet again; when the way they’re presented to the public causes the adopter to reconsider rescue because the dog has lost it’s marbles; then we’ve failed in our duty of care. And failure is not something we should be proud to defend.

When we believe that a pet is better off dead, than with us;

The animal has no idea whats going on. Its better to be PTS at the vets than dumped in a shelter where it spends 8 days in a tiny pen and is then PTS anyway.


Then we’ve absolutely failed. And we must recognise it as failure if we’re ever to move towards success.

Whenever a shelter kills a homeless animal entrusted to its care, it has profoundly failed. And animal shelters fail, as a general rule, fifty to eighty percent of the time. Put another way, animal sheltering is an industry whose leadership mostly fails. Unlike any other industry, however, these directors still retain their positions, are pillars of their communities, and are tapped as ‘experts’ by the large national groups. That credibility, and esteem, has been seriously threatened by the No Kill movement. In other words animal control directors, fearful of being held accountable for failure, are putting their own interests ahead of the lives of the animals.

Nathan Winograd -

An animal should never, ever be better off dead than in our care. And when it is, then we’re doing something completely and indefensibly wrong.

Shel, Saving Pets Blog

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2 Responses to “Better off Dead: The Ultimate ‘Doing it Wrong’”

  1. Lynn Orbison says:

    I’ve heard that line before: “they’re better off dead…”

    I actually said it once. I was volunteering for a “free” spay/neuter clinic for a guy who had 400 dogs. By the time #350 came in, some of the dogs were in pretty sad shape. I was at one of the grooming tables…my job was to spend a few minutes cleaning up the dogs post-op. They were still knocked out so especially the shy ones, this was our big chance to handle them safely and “do stuff” that nobody would ever be able to do when they were awake.

    Two dogs came in together. Apparently they were tethered back in the woods and had been “forgotten” at mealtimes sometimes. We named them Mutt and Jeff. They came to my station and I burst into tears. The organizing vet came over and asked what was the matter. I told her I couldn’t help these dogs…that what they really needed was to die. They were horribly thin, their coats were matted and nasty. They had sores on them. They had already suffered way more than I would ever have allowed, and I cried for their future. Just getting them back into shape, even if I took them home myself, well, it would have been hard on them. And these dogs weren’t going home with me, they were going back across the street. What were the chances that they’d get more food and better food and “special care” enough to make their lives worth living?!

    The vet requested permission from the owner to euthanize these two…but my tears continued because we had just spent a lot of time and resources catching them, transporting them, drugging them, neutering them, and then, because I have a weak stomache and a big heart, we kill them at the last stage…that just was awful. Even if it was the right thing to do.

    They changed the procedure some to have somebody evaluate the dogs before they even came into the building….was that better? Somebody else “called it” before any of us invested in the animal. Ouch. It was just a bad deal all the way around. But we did the best we could.

  2. Lynn Orbison says:

    Okay. I’m feeling bad for “ranting” on your lovely post. I feel a need to say something positive.

    1) more than 300 animals were altered during that week by that crew of volunteers.

    2) the whole reason that kennel got into such horrible shape was because the guy didn’t believe in euthanasia (unlike most mushers and breeders.)

    3) the owner was older and realized that if he kept having puppies they’d likely outlive him and he knew that without him, most, if not all of them would be killed. That’s why he agreed to our “help”…you can decide for yourself if we were helpful or not.

    4) I’ve groomed one of the dogs from that kennel several times. I usually cry every time I see him. He’s a gordon setter mix named Gordy and he’s ancient. He winters down in Arizona but lives here in Alaska for nine months out of the year.

    5) I saw another “rescue” from that kennel just the other day. She’s pretty much the same. She’s shy and neurotic. There is something physically wrong with her brain…I was being paid to foster her but I got too frustrated with the lack of progress. Others wanted to kill her because she was “defective.” But they found another foster home for her.

    6) I agreed to foster another dog from that kennel. And then I had some visitors come out for dog sled rides and they wanted to adopt him! They were from Georgia I think. But the people who gave him to me didn’t want him to move out of state so they took him back. I think he’s dead now.

    7) I spent several hours grooming one of the first dogs to come through the process that week. His name was Blackie and he was an older big black hairy husky. I pulled TONS of hair off him, I trimmed his nails and clipped the fuzz off his feet. I dematted his tail and had him looking LOVELY! Some people were upset that I “wasted” so much time on that dog. But I’d told the owner to send his favorites over first because I knew that by the end of the week we’d all be rushing to be done. Blackie looked great, I felt great, and the owner got something good out of it. (There was so much bad that week…) Blackie was in great shape. Most of the dogs that lived loose were. (There were probably a hundred loose dogs.) Some were feral, some were fat. Some were pregnant.

    The euthanasia rate for the whole ordeal was probably less than 25% at first. (Better than the “average” shelter….right?) But then we had 60+ dogs that he agreed to relinquish and nobody wanted to adopt them. A caring crew of volunteers fed and watered, cleaned up after and socialized them for MONTHS. But winter was coming and the whole “commute to love on them” thing was getting old. The owner wanted them all back…but he only got to take a dozen or so and then Animal Control euthanized the rest.

    I think we might have sent one or two to Best Friends Sanctuary.

    A couple of the volunteers from out of state wanted to adopt puppies. But the whole reason the owner agreed to the spay/neuter event was so that he’d never have more puppies and he was reluctant to give up all the young dogs. The volunteers were really mad about that.

    Oh, there was another old dog in pretty sad shape. Another local vet “sponsored” it and it lived happy and healthy at their clinic for years until it died of old age. I think another vet, a musher, took a dog and added it to his team.

    I remember giving away a dog to a gal that stopped by to see what we were doing. That one lived too. Although I could never follow up because I didn’t even get her name or number.

    One vet in town offered to volunteer to euthanize for free any animal from this kennel that’d we’d bring to him. Okay, maybe that’s not a positive. Sorry.

    That kennel ended up with less than 250 dogs at the end of the week. I think maybe he hasn’t taken in too many more, but, well, I don’t know for sure. People used to dump their dogs in his driveway. Which would maybe be okay if they were spayed or neutered, but the intact ones just start the problem all over again.

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