Animal euthanasia debate sparked by area rate study
CAPITAL REGION An animal welfare study released Tuesday by the Humane Society of the Capital Region has put a spotlight on the area’s animal euthanization rate and what the organization calls serious gaps in services that address animal homelessness, overpopulation, neglect and cruelty.
Local shelter directors agree there is room for improvement but said some information in the report may be misleading.
The study, “Report on Animal Welfare in the Capital Region,” analyzed an 11-county area that includes Albany, Schenectady and Rensselaer counties. It states that more than 11,000 animals were euthanized at the Capital Region’s four major animal shelters between 2009 and 2011.
The euthanasia rate, according to the report, is 3.4 animals per thousand people — almost twice the rate for the Northeast as a whole. The figures were obtained from the state Health Department, said Mary Anne Kowalski, secretary for the Humane Society of the Capital Region.
“I think what we were surprised at is that in the Capital Region, the number [of animals euthanized] had actually gone up, where in other parts of the country it’s going down or staying about the same,” she said.
Brad Shear, executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society in Menands, said the number of local euthanizations, offered without certain comparative data, isn’t useful.
“They don’t have a numerator and a denominator for this equation,” he said. “Euthanasia statistics are only significant as compared to what else is happening. If I say 1,000 animals were euthanized at a shelter and that shelter took in 10,000 animals, then they’re euthanizing 10 percent, which would be, across the United States, probably the top 0.005 percentile of shelters. Now, if they’re euthanizing 1,000 animals and taking in 1,500, that’s a whole different story.”
Michael Daugherty, executive director of the Animal Protective Foundation in Glenville, said incidents such as animal hoarding cases that bring large numbers of ill or injured animals to shelters at one time can skew the data.
Daugherty said the APF has no concerns with the report, but added, “I think what’s important to understand is there is no place in the country where there is a standard for identifying numbers of animals that are euthanized. If you look at Taos, New Mexico, versus Elmira, New York, you are going to find that there is different information that is kept.”
Local spay and neuter services were deemed inadequate in the study, which noted some counties have no discount programs available for low-income residents with pets.
The study states that 50,000 area dogs have not been spayed or neutered, which can add to pet overpopulation.
Shear agreed there is always room for improvement in that area, but said tremendous strides have been made to increase spay and neuter programs in the last several years. Now that it has a surgical suite, the Saratoga County Animal Shelter spays and neuters every animal before it leaves, he said.
The Mohawk Hudson Humane Society received $30,000 through the state’s Animal Population Control Program to subsidize its spay and neuter program last year, he reported.
“Those are big dollars for us, and I think we’re going to see them again this year to continue to sustain that program,” he added.
The APF will open a new low-cost spay-neuter clinic in about four months, Daugherty noted.
The report calls for local animal welfare organizations to come together to find collaborative solutions to address gaps in service and to work together to apply for grant funding from national organizations.
Kowalski said the group that conducted the study looked at what strategies were working in other areas of the country and made recommendations accordingly.
“A community-wide approach to increase spay and neuter and promote adoption from shelters is really what’s working in other parts of the country, and we’re hoping that this report will be a catalyst for the Capital Region to start looking at options to work together.” She said some states are forming coalitions of animal welfare organizations to coordinate services and avoid duplication.
Daugherty said he thinks coming together as a community and discussing the issues is very important.
“It’s not so much whether Taos or Elmira are higher or lower than each other based on a formula, but how any place in the country, whether it’s Schenectady or Taos or Elmira, can reduce the numbers of animals that have to be euthanized. That’s really the key.”
Shear noted local animal welfare organizations already work together quite closely.
“That might not be obvious to the public because we’re not putting out this statement about that, but we’re all in close contact. We all have good relationships already,” he said.
The report does highlight some positive news, as well, Kowalski noted.
“I think the good news is there are a lot of animals out there that are being taken care of by community groups and shelters and rescue organizations, and a lot of them are being placed. [But] we believe the community can do better.”