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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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