This week we saw the ‘accidental’ killing of Target, a dog who had survived the streets of Iraq, in an Arizona shelter.
Target, who was rescued by a soldier as a puppy, later returned the favor by alerting soldiers to the presence of a suicide bomber, thus saving dozens of lives. Target and her buddy Rufus were rightfully considered heroes and her soldier guardian, Sgt. Terry Young, was given special dispensation to bring the dogs home after his deployment.
Then Target, a dog who’d survived suicide bombers in Iraq, got loose and ended up in an Arizona pound where she was put down. Though those who knew Target saw a hero with incredibly soulful eyes, once she entered the animal control system, she was a number about to be destroyed. Target became a victim in an assembly line of death that has kills 3-4 million dogs and cats a year. It was no accident.
The worker was fired for improperly following procedures, but this is a “heads must roll” band-aid slapped on an institutional problem. And that problem is kill shelters, which view animals as beings we have a right to destroy. We don’t – the basic assumption is wrong and Target got caught up in the killing machine.
The good news is that progress has been made as attitudes continue to change about how we treat the animals of the world (go Prop B!). In the 1970s, American shelters killed 12-20 million dogs and cats, at a time when there were 67 million pets in homes. Today, shelters kill about 4 million animals, while there are more than 135 million dogs and cats in homes. What this says is that if we can cut the killing down from 20 million to 4 million, we can eliminate it altogether. We are on the way; we must finish the job.
The most widely accepted definition of a no-kill shelter is a place where all adoptable and treatable animals are saved and where only unadoptable or non-rehabilitatable animals are euthanized. In order to make this the standard, this complex issue, with many moving parts, must be tackled. Spay and neuter programs must be beefed up, robust adoption programs put in place – money must be spent. But first of all, we must change our values toward animals.
For there are heart-warming alternatives to killing them. Another story Global Animal posted this week was about veterans being treated for PTSD by adopting a dog. The unconditional love and unbridled joy of these stray dogs is helping these men, many of whom have been discarded themselves, to reconnect to the world and help return them to the land of the living.
These soldier’s time for killing is over. Now is their time to save, and be saved.
Kill shelters must make the same transition.