Here is a story on one of the more 'humane shelters" in Florida.

See Spot Die

by John Dorschner, Miami Herald staff writer.

There are a hundred million dogs and cats in America. We cuddle them, talk to them, make them part of the family. Every year we buy them $5 billion worth of food, not to mention collars, bowls, flea spray, vaccinations and little pink sweaters...

We love our pets. Except, of course, when we have to move, or get tired of walking them, or sick of paying the vet bills. Then we abandon them. By the millions. We tell ourselves they'll find a new home, but the truth is, when we drop them off at the animal shelter, we drop them off to die.

So many unwanted pets, so few homes for them. They get handed over to the dog pound, abandoned in parking lots, let loose in parks, or simply allowed to drift away from home and never searched for: mangy mutts, elegant purebreds, pit bull pups, fluffy kittens, dogs that look like Rin-Tin-Tin, and Lassie, and Toto.

People take their cats to the shelter and say they want to get rid of them because the pets don't match the colors of their new decorating scheme. They want a new cat, one thats color-coordinated. Some people go on vacation and drop off a pet; they don't want to spend the money on boarding; they say they'll pick up a new pet when they get back.

The result: four out of five pets are left unclaimed. Those unclaimed are given a lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital. Then they are thrown into a large plastic hamper, wheeled outside and tossed like bags of garbage into an incinerator. Nationwide, between 12 million and 20 million unwanted pets are killed each year. The numbers are inexact, because this is one subject few want to research. Man's best friend has become man's biggest victim.

When people get tired of their pets, most don't want to deposit them at the animal shelter; they know what's likely to happen to them. And so they engage in a quiet little fantasy, imagining they're a Robert Redford, climbing to a mountaintop to release an eagle. They're not abandoning Fido -- they're setting him free.

Often they choose parks or affluent neighborhoods. Perhaps some wealthy family will pick him up. Or maybe old Fido will revert to the wild, learn to fend for himself, catching squirrels and whatnot.

But pets are not wild eagles. Animal control officers know that a roaming dog is much more likely to be squashed by a speeding car than to learn to live in the wild. The Service has trucks that do nothing except travel the country, picking up tens of thousands of dead dogs and cats each year. The animals that survive forage through garbage cans and alleys, desperately trying to avoid starvation.

In the Dade, Florida, animal shelter, for example, where 25,000 dogs are killed each year, the situation is typical: the shelter is dreadfully overcrowded, four or five dogs locked in a run intended for one. It is primitive -- concrete and wire mesh, with screening on the outside walls to allow in whatever breeze exists. Each day, the barking of 300-plus dogs reverberates like the pounding din of jackhammers. The stench of urine permeates everything, despite the dedicated efforts of the shelter workers.

It is here that most of the dogs and cats of Dade County spend their last five days. And so the dogs wait. And wait. The hound from the day-care center spent most of the time lying on the floor, its snout in a puddle of urine and water from her three cellmates. A few feet away, Chica, the beautiful vizsla with fleas, was squeezed into a run with three mutts. She sat by the door, looking expectantly at each visitor who wandered by. The grumpy chow from Kendall was in a run with a massive red Doberman that had killed a poodle. The smaller chow stayed silent at the back of the run, huddled against the wire mesh. The little bearded Tramp sat at the back of a run, with three larger mutts, his shoulders bent forward, intimidated by this turn of events. Max, the boxer, was given his own cage. Boxers are prized dogs, and it was assumed someone would adopt him. Not so the pit bull pup from the park: As with all pit bulls that enter the shelter, his card was stamped NOT ADOPTABLE. It was a death sentence.

The Shelter is always overcrowded, and each morning a sheet is prepared, a simple white piece of paper. On it is a list of tag numbers -- the tags the officers put on the animals -- and the notation, ER. ER stands for Euthanasia Run, the run where the dogs are placed a few hours before they are executed. The execution chamber is at the end of the corridor, close to the incinerator. It's the size of a small bedroom. A wall-unit air conditioner rumbles and rattles, its noise blending in with the constant yapping of dogs. The bare fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling cast a raw, stark light. The floor is concrete, sloping toward a central drain, to collect the urine and water.

Jessica slipped a white lab coat over her red T-shirt and joined Lily, a feisty woman with glasses and short curly hair. Lily's the vet-tech; she's been there 14 years. Her job is to handle the needles, Jessica's to hold the dogs. Jessica began bringing in the dogs, attaching their leashes to the screens of the cages. The dogs yapped loudly, expectantly. For the first time in days, something was happening and they were excited.

As the dogs arrived, Lily prepared the tray. It consisted of a half-dozen plastic bottles, each six inches high, filled with a turquoise liquid. On the side was the word POISON, printed in red, flanked by two red skulls and crossbones. Inside was sodium pentobarbital. For euthanasia of animals. For veterinary use only. The brand name: Fatal-Plus.

Lily filled a series of needles with six cc. of Fatal-Plus and placed them on the tray. Then she slipped on a pair of thin plastic gloves, the kind surgeons and dentists use.
When they were ready, Jessica shut the metal doors, so outsiders couldn't see in. She spread a section of a newspaper on the two-by-four-foot, stainless steel table. A red pad had been placed under the table so that the table was precisely the same height as the gray plastic hamper next to it.

Jessica grabbed the first mutt -- a knee-high gray-black guy -- and lifted him to the table. She leaned forward, her chest on the back of the mutt, forcing him down on the table, front paws straight out, her arm wrapped gently around the dog's head.

Lily took a ragged yellow sponge out of a plastic bucket and sponged off the right paw, flattening the hair so she could find a vein. "Okay," said Lily, stepping forward with the needle. She searched for a vein, then plunged in the needle. The mutt tensed at the prick of the needle, scanned the room frantically for a few seconds. Then his head slumped onto the table. Within 10 seconds, he was dead.

Jessica slid the dog back into the plastic hamper. It landed with a heavy thwupppp. And so it went. Get up on the table, hold tight, inject, and thwupppp.

Lift up, hold tight, thwupppp.

Lift up, hold tight, thwupppp.

Sometimes, especially with the big muscular dogs, Lily had trouble finding the vein. Some dogs panicked at the prick of the needle, struggling desperately in Jessica's grasp.

One large black dog struggled, breaking loose from Jessica's strong grasp, jumping on the floor. The dog dashed frantically around for a few moments, then its rear legs collapsed. It rose, took a few steps, collapsed again as the Fatal-Plus seeped into its brain.

With some of the larger dogs, especially the obedient German shepherds, Jessica lifted the front paws up, so that they rested on the table, the rear haunches on the floor. Lily injected the animal, then Jessica tugged at its leash, pulling it off the table, trotting ahead of it five or six steps to the outside door. "Come on, boy, come on, boy," she said, gently, swinging open the door and getting another six steps out of the dog, until -- a few feet from the incinerator -- the dog suddenly stopped, falling over on its side, dead. Obedient to the end.

Meanwhile, next door, in the vet's lab, the vet had the hound from the day-care center on his scale. He was examining her, but when he saw her teeth, he shook his head. "Eight years," he scribbled on the card. "No person is going to adopt a dog so old." An assistant trotted the dutiful, anonymous hound back to Run 9.
And the vet was right: The hound was too old. Several days later, she was injected with Fatal-Plus. No new owner stepped up to adopt the chow. He, too, met with Fatal-Plus. So did the pit bull pup found in the state park. So did the two black Lab-mixes picked up at the South Dade nursery. As for Chica, the beautiful viszla with fleas: She was adopted, but escaped from her new home. She just fled, said her new owner. "Volo como una paloma." She flew like a pigeon.
Could she still be running the streets, foraging for food, desperately seeking her original owner? Was she hit by a car? Or was she picked up a second time by Animal Services and put back in the shelter? All we know is that for Chica, as with most dogs and cats, the odds are horrendously against her.

Each year, tens of thousands of homeless dogs are put to death for no other reason than their owners were unwilling to care for them.

The story of one "gassing" shelter.

Death in gas chamber common fate for unwanted animals

By Sylvia Cooper, San Antonio News staff writer

The black-and-white mixed cocker spaniel waited patiently in a cage at the Richmond County Animal Control Shelter.

He was one of about 11,000 unwanted, neglected, sick, injured, abused or vicious animals that will die in the center's gas chamber this year.

He had no name, only a tag identifying him as R-159. He had been picked up on Milledge Road a few days earlier.

In the same cage was 007, a short-haired, spotted pointer puppy, a red chow chow and a mixed shepherd dog that animal control officers had picked up running loose on U.S. Highway 25.

Kennel master John White caught them with a catch pole, a stick with a wire noose on the end, and led them into the death room, where he loaded them into a round cage on wheels.

He rolled the cage into a round metal cylinder that resembles a large barbecue grill. The dogs' tails were still wagging.


Mr. White closed the door, locked it and turned the handle on one of the nearby tanks of carbon monoxide. For a minute, there was no sound at all but the barking of dogs in other cages.

Then it high, mournful wail and then a deeper howl that rose in a crescendo of desperation that went on for about 45 seconds.

And then it stopped.

This is one of the thankless jobs we have to do because people won't take care of their animals and have them spayed and neutered and take care of them,'' said the center's director, Jim Larmer. ``We have to be the ones who have to end up putting them to sleep to dispose of them.''

Last year, the center killed 10,788 of the 13,913 animals it picked up, trapped or received from the public. Columbia County Animal Control put 2,495 to death.

Ready to unload, John?'' Mr. Larmer said after the dogs stopped howling.

Mr. White left the dogs in the chamber a few more minutes to make sure they were dead. Some have revived at the landfill, only to be returned for a repeat gassing.

 Mr. White unlocked the door, opened it and rolled out the cage.

All were dead.

 Mr. White donned a pair of thick green gloves. He pulled the chow out and threw it onto the back of a pickup truck already loaded with dead dogs and garbage. Next came a dog with cancer and then the pointer puppy and the little spaniel mix.

A worker hosed the feces out of the cage, making it ready for the next load of dogs and cats.

 It had been a busy morning at animal control, where an average of 43 animals are killed each workday. Most die in the gas chamber -- a method of euthanasia now outlawed in Georgia in all new facilities.

Richmond County was grandfathered in under the law and still uses the gas chamber. It's cheaper and less troublesome for workers. More animals can be killed in less time. And it takes only one attendant, compared with lethal injection, which requires two people.

Efficiency is important because 26 more animals had been dropped off at the facility or picked up by officers in the past 18 hours that day.

Columbia County Animal Control uses the more humane and less painful injection recommended by the state and humane societies.

All new animal shelters are required to use lethal injections, and Richmond County is planning to build a new center next year. Meanwhile, an additional 11,000 animals are expected to meet their end in the round cage of death unless Augusta officials decide to shut it down.

Back in his office in the outdated, overcrowded facility by the old landfill on Mack Lane off Tobacco Road, Mr. Larmer and animal health technician Rosemary Reynolds showed their ``cruelty books,'' photograph albums that document for court purposes neglected, abused and injured animals.

There are three books. The Polaroid pictures, dating back to 1991, give evidence of dogs eaten up with mange or starved. Dozens had been tied with ropes or chains that have cut deep gashes in their necks.

Some people put collars on puppies and never take them off, Mrs. Reynolds said. The collars eventually grow into an animal's neck.

``You'll be surprised how bad some people will treat an animal,'' she said.

People who abuse their pets often try to heap abuse on animal control officers, said Edward Jefferson, a five-year veteran of the department.

``Some of the public you can talk to,'' he said. ``But most of the time, the public thinks we are cruel to animals and they don't like us because we are animal control. They figure animals can run loose and do whatever they want to do.''

But to animal activist Ruth Tracy-Blackburn, animal control officers are unsung heroes.

 ``Richmond and Columbia counties are so fortunate to have animal control facilities. People can sit there and criticize them all day long, but it's the people's fault the animals are out there,'' said Ms. Blackburn, vice president of McDuffie County Friends of Animals.

 Columbia County Animal Control uses lethal injection, a much more humane way to destroy unwanted dogs and cats.

 Friday, the day this is usually done, technicians already had put 25 animals to death by noon and were about to do No. 26.

He was a black male Labrador-bulldog mix whose owner just didn't want him anymore. Except for the scars on his head and ears that bore testimony to fights with other dogs -- probably over females in heat, since he had not been neutered -- he appeared perfectly healthy.

The employees led him into a small room, known as the O.R. He offered no resistance when they lifted him onto the stainless steel table. He sat placidly while one tied a tourniquet around his foreleg. Then senior animal control officer Mary Grant injected a vial of a narcotic, Socumb, into a vein and untied the tourniquet.

Almost instantly, he began to go limp and the technicians lifted him from the table and laid him on the floor in the next room. His tongue lolled out of his mouth, and he was dead.

It took 25 seconds from start to finish.

His eyes stared lifelessly at the pickup truck that held the bodies of the 25 other animals that had been killed that morning, most because nobody wanted them.

They would be buried in the Columbia County landfill.