Death Is a Merciful Alternative

Sandy Driscoll lives in Los Angeles

Recent news stories have called attention to the dire conditions that exist in the city animal shelters, especially the South-Central facility.

I was a shelter volunteer for almost 20 years from 1977 to 1996, during which time I saw thousands of animals come in. Many were healthy; some of them were injured, sick or diseased. On the average, only about 30% got out, either by redemption or adoption. The others were euthanized.

Until a few years ago, Los Angeles operated several spay and neuter clinics adjacent to the shelter facilities. These clinics provided low-cost surgeries for the adopted animals and pets owned by Los Angeles residents. Due to a funding problem, the clinics were closed, and, sadly, were never reopened.


Fast forward to April 2000. As a result of passage and implementation of a Senate bill last year, the shelters can no longer euthanize animals unless they are in dying condition. They must keep and place any that don’t fall into this category, including sick, injured and diseased dogs and cats.

The concept of a “no kill” shelter sounds gloriously humane. Many private shelters, SPCAs and humane societies have operated in this manner for years. What the public does not realize, however, is that these shelters must refuse admittance to incoming animals once they are at full capacity. Where do the rest of the animals go? Are they abandoned, dumped on the streets and in parks? Left to run loose and be maimed/killed by an automobile, or starve to death?

The public shelters now have to operate as “no kill,” or at least “minimal kill” facilities, but do not have the luxury of refusing admittance to any animal. So now, at the South-Central facility, we have the classic example of disastrous results wrought by the passage of the Senate bill that misguided animal lovers fought so hard to pass.

Let’s put the responsibility squarely where it belongs--on the politicians who passed a bill that looked and sounded good, without regard to the ever-burgeoning overpopulation problem, or any thought for who is going to adopt all of these animals.

When I was a shelter volunteer, I had many people ask me how I could spend time in the shelter, and tell me, with tears in their eyes, that they simply could not face going into that place where “you kill all those animals.” I used to tell them that my time there was put to good use if I could get just one dog or cat into a good home who otherwise might not live. At least I knew that the rest would be painlessly and humanely euthanized.

A few days ago, I stopped in the South-Central facility to see for myself the current situation. It was a Saturday, normally a busy day for shelter adoptions. Only one family was looking for a puppy to adopt. I spoke with a volunteer and a kennel employee, both of whom were very helpful and concerned about the conditions forced upon them by a political system mostly concerned with its own reelection.


As I passed the kennels, each cramped with too many dogs and puppies, many of them sick or diseased, I was reminded again that euthanasia is not the worst thing that can happen.

This time, it was I who left in tears.