In college, I worked in an animal kennel in Illinois that housed both strays and dogs boarding for a time. I didn’t like holding for euthanasia, but I was proud I was strong enough to do it. I was young and stupid. Another worker had more seniority than me and had the opportunity to be supervisor, but she didn’t want to help with euthanasia. After I eventually quit, she did help with euthanasia. Then she quit.
Some states allow use of the gas chamber. In some rural areas, they shoot strays. It all depends on what the state law allows. California has one of the most humane laws on the treatment and impoundment of stray dogs and cats, including the method of euthanasia. Animals are to be injected in the vein of their front leg.
In Illinois, it’s legal to inject the euthobarb serum straight into the animal’s heart, or thereabouts.
Getting a heavy-duty needle through a rib cage isn’t painless, by the way.
I, too, eventually had to let the pain in. But not right away. I found myself despising the animals at times, especially the boarders. They were so lucky not to be a stray. I’d stare at them as I moved down the main aisle and they’d know I was pissed. I’d swear if a dog shit in his cage after I cleaned it. They understood they had done something wrong.
One week, I went overboard twice. I placed my Doberman in a cage with another stray and egged them on to fight. When they commenced to fight, I stopped the proceedings instantly apologized to my dog only.
The other time I went overboard with a friendly, cute little Beagle. He was a boarder. I told him what a bad dog he was, cleaned his cage of pee and squeegeed it dry after knocking the squeegee against his legs a couple of times as I reached it to the back of the cage.
I wasn’t done. I emptied his paper water bowl, struck him on the head with it and tossed the empty bowl on top of his head as he cowered in the corner. I told him he was bad, shut the cage door, made sure no one had been watching, and left him there for the night.
I didn’t sleep much thinking about what I had done, what I had become. I loved animals. That’s why I took the job. So why was I acting like a monster?
I arrived early the next morning, went straight to his cage and found him in the exact position I had left him, curled up with a paper water bowl upside down on his head. He peered out from under the rim. I opened the door, snatched away the bowl, filled it with water, pet him, apologized and told him what a good dog he was. I was whimpering. The Beagle allowed me to pet him, though warily.
When I brought the dog to his owner in the lobby that afternoon, the dog was happy to go home. The owner didn’t even look at me or the dog as she paid the bill. Had she, she probably would have seen pure guilt in my eyes.
I wondered if the dog would return. If he did, would he bark, back away from me? The universe provided an answer. A couple weeks later the Beagle and his owner returned. I answered the call that a dog was in the lobby and needed to be brought back to the kennel. The Beagle saw me and followed on his leash without hesitation, even wagging his tail. I couldn’t believe it. I thanked him, and for his stay I treated him like he deserved, like royalty.
I never became angry at a dog or an animal after my experience with the Beagle. I didn’t love them all and cuddle with them all either, but my time intimidating the animals was over. The Beagle was my savior in that way.
Before quitting, I held for less than thirty euthanasias while working at that small animal kennel during college.
Twenty years later I found myself living in California and volunteering at the Carson Animal Shelter, where more than 7,000 animals are euthanized a year. There are no “cardiac sticks,” or needles piercing hearts, as that method of euthanasia is illegal in California, and that's a good thing.
As a Carson volunteer, I didn’t assist with euthanasia. But I knew from experience that type of work can be difficult spiritually.
I remember a young animal care attendant working in her first week at Carson. She talked about positive energy. She waved her hands over me while I cleaned kennels to share some. I saw her a week later and asked about positive energy. She said there was euthanasia happening in back, and there was no positive energy.
She never talked about positive energy again, and quit soon after.
Pit Bulls are the most common breed of dog at the Carson shelter and the most euthanized. The above photo is the only photo I took at Carson while I was a volunteer. The Big Man was one of several dogs I befriended before they were euthanized.