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Southern Dog Rescues

J. Courtney Sullivan writes a lot of great things in her New York Times op-ed “Adopt a Dog With a Southern Drawl.” In fact, she covers a lot of the same ground that I detailed in my award-winning 2012 book Little Boy Blue: A Puppy’s Rescue from Death Row and His Owner’s Journey for Truth. Like Sullivan’s beloved pooch Landon, my boy Blue, too, was an adorable puppy with mere hours to live in a Southern facility before a rescue group scooped him up and transported him to the safety of my adoptive home in New Jersey. I traced Blue’s path to very spot where he once was caged a few steps from a gas chamber, and I know the sense of relief all too well that Sullivan describes—and that is felt daily by the many thousands of us who have opened our hearts and homes to these wonderful dogs.

There is, however, one word in Sullivan’s op-ed with which I must take issue. She writes: “Three years ago, at 8 weeks old, he was hours from being euthanized in an animal control facility in Tennessee.” The word euthanized is inaccurate, and its pervasive use in news coverage only shades the reality of what is happening daily with easy-to-adopt dogs and puppies like Landon and Blue.

Euthanize means to end a life as a means of ending incurable pain or suffering. Giving a dog a lethal injection when he’s 16 years old and stricken with bone cancer may qualify as euthanasia, but killing a friendly, healthy puppy like Landon or Blue most certainly does not. The reason South-to-North rescue transports have exploded in number since about 2008 is that what’s going on in some animal control facilities is pure and simple killing for convenience. Calling this killing euthanasia is an act of ignorance. Euthanasia is a polite word for a horrific reality when it comes to what is happening to these dogs and puppies.

I can’t speak for Landon, but in Blue’s case, the taxpayer-funded facility (please don’t call it a shelter) where he was dumped had a year-after-year kill rate of about 95 percent—an adoption rate of just 5 or 6 percent each year—unless private rescue groups were able to intervene. More than 500 communities across America are now showing every day that the reverse of those figures is possible, that homes can be found for more than 90 percent of the dogs who enter such facilities. Having sky-high kill rates has nothing to do with euthanasia. It also, in some cases, has nothing to do with a lack of resources other than human will. In Blue’s case, as his expiration date approached, he was sitting in a $562,954 kennel addition less than a decade old.

So while I congratulate Sullivan on her op-ed and agree with its content, and while I praise the New York Times for running it to raise awareness, I would ask that all of us writing about this situation strike the word euthanasia from our vocabulary. How we tell this story affects the way readers understand it, and sugar-coating reality doesn’t do anybody any good, especially the dogs still in the cages who will never experience the wonderful lives that Langdon and Blue enjoy.

Learn more about “Little Boy Blue” at www.little-boy-blue.info.

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Kim Kavin is an award-winning writer, editor and photographer with more than 20 years of journalism experience. Her most recent book is Little Boy Blue: A Puppy's Rescue from Death Row and His Owner's Journey for Truth. She lives in New Jersey with her rescued mutts, Blue and Ginger. Little-boy-blue.info
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Submitted by Lisa Collins | May 31 2014 |

While I congratulate any rescue effort, I would think the NY Times would spend some time exposing the slaughterhouse called NYC ACC. I would like to think they could make an effort in their own city, to get the dogs off of the daily kill list, adopted.

Submitted by Ellen Olander | May 31 2014 |

I couldn't agree more that the use of the word euthanasia is so wrong. As someone who lives in the South and works to rescue dogs and send them to shelters up North, I have protested against the use of the word and was almost banned from a shelter that insisted that the weekly list that I called the "kill list" be called the Put Down List as kill was too harsh and upsetting!! All of us in rescue say kill,at least to each other, we never use the term "euthanasia! It is just not true!!

Submitted by Mary J Reed | June 1 2014 |

As usual you are spot on Kim. I have even seen some instantses where one could only describe these senseless deaths as "murder" for convienence.
Love you (& Blue) for all you do to save lives.

Submitted by Kathy | June 8 2014 |

I could not agree more! Great post, and I loved your book, too, and follow you on social media.
I adopted two wonderful dogs (litter mates) from Tennessee -- they were 8 week old puppies whose mama and litter were transported from TN to Massachusetts just hours before they were to be killed. When I saw your book, I just HAD to read it. Good job! KSM

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