Navegando por la zona gris: decisiones compasivas frente a los desafíos del bienestar animal 

We are sometimes asked, “Are you a no-kill shelter?” No-kill means 90% or more animals entering the shelter have a live outcome. We are also sometimes asked, “Do you euthanize for space?” The answer to that is complex, and there is no exact science.  

Many animals entering shelters are already trained and adapt well into their new families’ lives. There are dogs who have previously lived with kids, cats, other dogs, are housetrained, etc. A smaller percentage have a behavior history or observed behaviors that would not be safe or responsible to put in the community. What about those in between, referred to as “grey zone dogs”?  

All animal welfare organizations face difficult medical or behavioral euthanasia decisions. Foster-based or limited intake groups can choose the animals they accept, often selecting those they know will be adopted, and typically do not take in more until they have the space to do so. These groups are a valuable part of the solution and we’re thankful for our partnerships with them.  

Open-admission shelters must ensure every unwanted or lost pet has a safe place to go. If every shelter were no-kill or limited intake, there would be nowhere for the most vulnerable or neediest pets. As an open-admission shelter with a municipal contract, we must take in all lost, sick, injured, bite cases, and cruelty or neglect cases. We evaluate and invest in helping them recover medically and emotionally. We perform surgeries, emergency medicine and supportive care. For those who are anxious, fearful, or having difficulty coping in a stressful shelter environment, we provide behavior medication, enrichment, training plans, foster placement, and more.  

When evaluating behavior, safe communities are a top priority. We love animals and value the human-animal bond. It is something we do not ever want to see broken. We consider a pet’s behavior history and observed behavior while with us, understanding that behavior can change over time, especially in the stressful shelter environment.  

For many, euthanasia decisions are clear: an animal with a severe bite history who is likely to hurt someone, a critically injured or sick pet that is irremediably suffering, or a newborn puppy or kitten that is failing to thrive. The majority of animal lovers have experienced the loss of their own pet and understand the decision to alleviate suffering. Most people would also agree that an animal with a severe bite history or one that cannot be safely handled by trained staff cannot be put up for adoption. 

Other decisions are not as clear. What about the dog that is displaying signs of aggression towards other dogs, that growls at strangers, or is constantly spinning and panting in their kennel from severe stress or anxiety? These are not black-and-white decisions; they fall into the “grey zone.” There is no exact science, and that zone is different at every organization based on available resources.  

We have the expertise on our team to work with grey zone dogs, providing training plans, enrichment, hikes, foster programs, psychopharmaceuticals, and more.  However, space has become the issue. Dogs that need the “right home” with no kids, no other pets, and someone with the necessary resources who is willing to provide time, training, or careful behavior management, take longer to get adopted. The reality is that demand from adopters, especially for grey zone dogs, doesn’t outpace intake.  

For those who dislike math word problems, you will dislike them even more when the answer looks like this:   

At our municipal contract location, we have 131 large dog runs and 54 kennels for medium-sized dogs. On Monday, we begin with 190 large/medium dogs in our care. That week, we intake 75 more dogs. We get 62 adopted, returned to their owner, transferred to a rescue, or sent to foster. We end the week with 13 more than we started with. Remember, the kennels were 5 over capacity on Monday. So, we are now 18 over capacity. This trend continues all year long, ending with about 1,000 more dogs entering than leaving annually.  

This is the reality: the decisions are not easy, and shelter professionals face them daily. Our annual intake is nearly 10,000 animals, and has increased, placing further demand on already scarce space. When more animals enter than leave in an already full shelter, it gets crowded fast. Shelters should not constantly operate at or over capacity. It increases stress and illness, and we cannot create a hoarding situation in our buildings.  

So, what is euthanasia for space? Our euthanasia decisions are still medical and behavioral, but that grey zone shrinks when we become full. When we are forced to operate over capacity, we do not have the space needed to work with dogs that come in from a cruelty case and cower in their corner and eliminate when touched. We do not have the space to work with a dog who is jumping, mouthing, and has bitten in the process.  

And what about “no-kill”? When a limited-admission shelter says “no” to a dog with a bite history, we say “yes.” If that animal is ultimately euthanized, don’t we both have a shared role in that outcome? There isn’t anyone to blame here, and there doesn’t need to be. No-kill is a community number and a reflection of it as a whole, not one organization.   

The solutions are as complex as the problem. It takes legislative change, animal welfare organizations of all types and sizes, adopters, fosters, volunteers, community programs to help people keep their pets, access to spay/neuter services, ID tags and the community to help lost pets get home, financial support, and more.  

If you are already helping, thank you. What you do is enough. If you are interested in helping, here are some ways to get started:  

  • Sign up for our newsletter below and stay tuned for recommended changes to our local ordinances.  
  • Also, subscribe to Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation (MAAL) action alerts. Showing support or opposition for legislation is one of the most powerful and lasting ways to impact change. 
  • If you can’t volunteer on a regular basis, consider our one-time volunteer opportunities. They are fun and give dogs much-needed exercise, exposure to potential adopters, and time outside the shelter.  
  • If you cannot adoptar, share adoptable animals with your network.  
  • Considerar Fomentando — it is easy and doesn’t require any long-term commitment. Even just for a weekend helps us learn more about the animal to better market them and gives them a break.  
  • Care for the caregivers. The staff and volunteers at “no-kill” organizations and open-admission shelters both care deeply for animals, and this work is emotionally challenging. Kind gestures or words of support go a long way.   
  • Make sure your pets and others you know are wearing collars with ID tags and have microchips with current information. If you find a lost pet, follow our steps to help them find their way back home so they don’t ever have to enter a shelter.  

There is a national animal welfare crisis right now. The reasons for this are also complex. Intake is up and adoptions are down across the nation. There is a nationwide veterinary shortage that impacts access to care. Economic conditions, housing shortages, and rental restrictions also have an impact.  

While there are challenges, the APA has been around for over 100 years and has an experienced, dedicated team. We continue to evolve to best serve the community and work hard for positive outcomes for as many animals as possible. That positive outcome was over 8,000 animals last year. We have work to do and know we will get there with such caring people working, volunteering, and helping however they can.  

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