I keep telling myself this is supposed to be a feel-good story. An animal control officer found a stray puppy. No one claimed him. No one wanted him. The shelter was full. Somehow, the puppy survived two euthanasia injections. When his incredible story was posted to a pet adoption website, he got a name (Wall-e), donations toward boarding and hundreds of offers to foster or adopt him.
Wall-e beat the odds. What about all the other stray mixed breed puppies who are not so fortunate? If hundreds of people could be so easily moved to adopt Wall-e, how do we motivate them to adopt that unwanted puppy at their local animal control?
Last year, I posted a shelter dog in need on my Facebook page. She had puppies and they were in danger of being euthanized, too, simply due to lack of space at the shelter. One of my friends was horrified at the thought. “They don’t kill puppies,” she wrote.
They do. And before animal lovers start to vilify shelters or their staff, let’s think about the people whose job involves euthanizing unwanted cats and dogs. In reading Wall-e’s story, I was surprised to see the name of the animal control officer whose initial attempts to euthanize him failed. Even though it was a part of his job and he then spread the word about Wall-e’s remarkable survival to a community of potential adopters, the public will likely never see him as a hero.
I will never forget my friend telling me how it felt to euthanize a perfectly healthy kitten when she was on staff at a shelter. Normally, it was not part of her job. She was an “intake counselor.” The person who heard the most ridiculous excuses and sometimes tragic stories as the owner handed their cat or dog off to her behind the counter.
She was asked to help with this kitten because a staff veterinarian had stayed late and no one else was available to assist. In that split second, she almost told her no, toying with the idea of adopting her. But she couldn’t, for reasons with which we’re all familiar: our houses are full, too.
If Facebook or Twitter had existed back then, and my friend had posted that kitten to her page, would she still be alive today? It's hard to say, because that kitten, and puppies like Wall-e, end up at shelters by the thousands every year. Are there really not enough homes for them all? Or are there thousands of untapped potential adopters who simply don't know that an unwanted cat or dog needs them?