Euthanizing dogs for space

If you ever take a tour of Indianapolis Animal Care’s facility on the southwest side, they’ll show you a room in the back corner of the building. The room is located down the hall from the adoptable dogs, near a bathroom and a fire exit. It was built to be a euthanasia room.

After the facility was built in the ’90s until about 2016, the staff person who entered that room euthanized dogs and cats all day. A typical year saw 10,000 dogs and cats euthanized in Indianapolis, many of them in that room. That would be about 40 animals a day, or 5 an hour if you worked an eight-hour day.

The Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust released a report in 2017 showing a 90% decrease in pet euthanasia since 2000, and a 63% drop in just the years between 2012 and 2017 alone. The trick wasn’t really anything earth-shattering: you increase the number of adoptions and decrease euthanasias by reducing the number of animals ever born.

Today if you visit Indianapolis Animal Care, that death room is just an extra medical facility and storage room. The need for a dedicated room and staff person has passed, but the euthanasia hasn’t.

IAC has been pleading with people all year to adopt a pet. Every shelter in the region pulls animals as quickly as they can from IAC without busting their own kennel capacity. And a few weeks ago the euthanasia for space started again.

The real kick in the teeth is that IAC was *this* close to becoming a “no-kill shelter”. IAC is a no-kill shelter for cats, having achieved a 90% re-homing rate. Dogs have hovered around 89% for a while, but never quite hit 90%. This news is probably a setback to that number. If you’re curious, 90% is considered healthy. 10% is reserved for what is likely to be animals brought in after being hit by a car, already sick, or otherwise in need of humane end-of-life treatment.

When I volunteered there, people routinely said, “I had no idea this place was down here.” When I volunteer at Indy Humane and people go “dog shopping” — usually for a specific size of dog — they sometimes leave because one isn’t “in stock”. Often I encourage them to visit IAC, and the look is always, “What’s that?” In all the years I’ve volunteered at Indy Humane no one has ever said, “Oh yeah, I’ve been there.” No one has had a clue the City’s shelter even exists. For most people, Indy Humane *is* the City’s shelter, despite it being a private facility with no legal requirement to take in every animal that comes to it. The sense of scale is distinctly different. Indy Humane has a facility designed to take care of puppies and small dogs, or dogs in need of focus and attention. At any given time, there are about 50-70 dogs at Indy Humane, either read-to-be or soon-to-be adopted. IAC has about 200.

IAC is publicly-funded and does have a private “Friends of IAC” group that offers some private money, in addition to other sources from time to time. Being what it is, IAC is also charged by law with taking in every animal, every time, no questions asked. For anyone who spends time there, the crass-sounding “BZZZ” doorbell from the back drop-off door sounds with alarming regularity. Often it’s people who found a dog or cat. Frequently it’s someone surrendering a pet. Rarely is it a donation of kibble.

Every achievement in reducing dog and cat euthanasia has come with a mix of a city ordinance, private enterprise, and public investment. Success requires private enterprise to run robust marketing campaigns. Private charity is required to donate to groups like FACE, which has single-handedly changed this City’s pet population trajectory with low-cost spay/neuter services. Public legislation to require spaying and neutering pets has been the biggest help in the City. Further, some public investment in a no-questions-asked intake shelter is necessary because it’s clear private facilities are not up to the task. Mostly because there’s no way to budget.

That series of policies and procedures works and just needs “more of everything”. IAC, for instance, seems content on advertising itself through the local news and a Facebook page, which are two lousy ways of advertising. FACE is at capacity, public investment is maxed out as part of the public safety budget, private shelters are full because the public ones are full. Plus, Marion County’s spay/neuter laws stop at the county line — the animals don’t.

As city policy goes, there’s not much else to do unless more money is found. Since it likely won’t be, the better approach is more aggressive spay/neuter laws at the state level. The kind that requires all animals be spay/neutered before leaving an adoption facility.

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Justin Harter for District 12