Less than 10 minutes after Shannon Nott gave up her yellow Labrador, Lucy, to the Kansas Humane Society, she realized she had made the wrong decision.
The 41-year-old Wichita woman was still in the shelter parking lot, off K-96, on Tuesday when she went back into the building to retrieve her dog. But it was too late, a staff member told her. The dog, about a year old, had already been euthanized. Nott was devastated.
She says people need to know how quickly pets can be put down.
“I think the public needs to know what really goes on out there,” Nott said. “It is the Humane Society, after all. Whatever happened yesterday was not humane.”
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The Humane Society says its staff made clear to Nott that the Lab was not a candidate for adoption and would be euthanized that day because, based on information Nott provided, the dog had severe separation anxiety that caused it to chew into carpet, furniture and drywall.
Kim Janzen, the Humane Society president and CEO, said, “To an outsider, it’s going to seem that we acted rashly, but we didn’t.”
Once the shelter made the call that the dog was not adoptable, based on the organization’s resources and because of the dog’s behavior, it didn’t matter whether the animal was euthanized in minutes, hours or days, Janzen said.
“All it does is delay the inevitable,” she said.
“Ultimately, we can only adopt out the animals that the public is willing to take.”
Nott chose not to pay a $30 fee that would have given her the option to reclaim the dog, and she signed the part of an agreement that said she chose not to retrieve the animal, Janzen said.
Nott said she didn’t read everything before signing, that she was upset.
Nott said she was never told that Lucy would be euthanized that day, only that the dog might not be a candidate for adoption.
Otherwise, she said, “I would not have left without my dog.
“I didn’t know they were killing her when I was walking away from the building.”
Exploring every option
Critics have accused the Humane Society of euthanizing too many animals.
This week, Janzen said, “We’re saving more animals than at any time in our history.”
The live release rate — the number of live animals leaving the shelter divided by the live animals coming in — is 71 percent for dogs this year through November, she said.
In 2010, of the 14,311 live animals the shelter took in, it saved 9,056, or 63 percent, she said.
Janzen said she couldn’t say how often an animal is put down in the relatively short time frame that Nott’s pet was. “Every animal is different, and every day is different at an animal shelter,” she said.
Julie Morris, senior vice president of community outreach for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, provided this statement: “All shelters across the country are independently owned and operated, and unfortunately there is no standard mandatory waiting period for euthanasia of pets surrendered by their owners. Waiting at least 24 hours before determining the final disposition of owner-relinquished animals would not only give a person who has signed over an animal time to make sure they’ve made the right decision, but it would give the shelter some time to consider its options, such as alternative placement.
“When faced with the incredibly tough decision to relinquish an animal, the ASPCA encourages pet owners to explore every possible option — including checking with local breed rescue groups and no-kill shelters as well as friends, neighbors and family members to see if they might be able to help care for that animal — before relinquishing it to an open-admission shelter that in all likelihood is already overburdened.”
Nott got Lucy as a gift from her daughter about nine months ago. While Nott worked, the dog was home alone at least eight hours a day, and Nott thought the dog had developed separation anxiety. Lucy began digging at carpet and destroying household items. It reached a point where Nott felt she could no longer keep the dog. She tried to find a new home for Lucy through Facebook. About two hours before she took Lucy to the Humane Society, she tried to reach an animal rescue group, which can find a home for pets that are more difficult to place.
Finally, she brought the dog to the shelter on Tuesday afternoon.
This is a Nott’s account of what happened next: She disclosed Lucy’s destructive behavior. “I was trying to be honest.”
A woman dressed in scrubs told her that because of Lucy’s destructive tendencies, the dog would have to be evaluated and might not be adoptable, that the worker would recommend that the dog be placed in a crate to be tested for separation anxiety. The worker said the only way to correctly diagnose the disorder was through crate testing.
The worker checked Lucy’s teeth and weighed her. That is the only examination Nott saw.
Nott said she was in the building for 30 to 45 minutes and that her dialogue with the worker lasted about 15 minutes of that time. The rest of the time, she spent hugging the dog, leashed to a wall in a small room.
Nott said she thought the Humane Society would explore options beside euthanasia. She was thinking to herself: “I’ve got to do this. They’re going to find her a home.”
She was leaving Lucy with her rawhide bone, toys, brushes and a new bag of dog food.
When the worker asked if she could give a donation, Nott said she had no money to give.
She said she was distraught while filling out the paperwork and wanted to get away.
After Nott said goodbye to Lucy, she got into her car and quickly became hysterical, she said. She was sobbing, by phone, to her sister.
“She said, ‘You know what? Go back and get the dog. We’ll figure something out.’ ”
Nott was still in the parking lot. No more than 10 minutes had passed since she last saw Lucy.
Lott was still hysterical when she went back into the shelter to say she had changed her mind and wanted her dog back.
But the same worker told her it might be too late. The worker ran down the hall and returned quickly.
“She said, ‘It’s too late.’ She said, ‘The dog’s been put down.’
“They didn’t even give the dog a chance at all,” Nott said.
‘We were very, very clear’
Janzen, the Humane Society president/CEO, said the shelter made clear to Nott that euthanasia would be the only outcome for her dog.
This is Janzen’s account: The staff spent 45 minutes talking with Nott, making sure she knew what would happen and what her options were. The shelter concluded that Lucy had severe separation anxiety, according to what Nott disclosed: that the dog digs at carpet and a door and has chewed on chairs and eaten a hole in drywall.
A “staff member told her very, very specifically, ‘If you leave this animal here, it will be put sleep today.’ ” The worker said it multiple times, Janzen said.
Janzen said she realizes that Nott was in a “lose-lose situation.”
Such cases are “not only heartbreaking for the owners; they are heartbreaking for us,” Janzen said.
The staff tried to give Nott names of rescue groups that might take the dog, but Nott didn’t seem interested, Janzen said.
About six years ago, the society started a program where an owner who gives up a dog can reclaim it. It provides safety nets so the animal won’t be euthanized until a certain point. The owner is responsible to contact the shelter at a specific time and date, and if the animal is not a candidate for adoption, the owner can take back the pet. There is a $30 fee.
“When we presented her with that option, she declined, and we were very, very clear with her,” that if she left the dog, it would be euthanized that day, Janzen said.
It doesn’t help an animal with severe anxiety to be placed in a kennel, and that animal’s stress would raise stress for other animals at the shelter, Janzen said.
“Ultimately, what we wanted to do is avoid putting the animal through additional stress.”
In Lucy’s case, a worker asked a supervisor if a crate test should be done, but the supervisor decided a test would only increase the animal’s stress and suffering, Janzen said.
Most people won’t adopt a large pet with such behavior, she said. If the dog would have been put up for adoption, “we’re basically putting a new owner in the same situation Shannon was. … There was no way we could responsibly adopt that dog” to a new home.
“Had we known that there was a chance that Shannon was going to come back … yeah,” Janzen said.
“If we had had any indication that she was on the fence or might come back to get the dog, we would have held the dog longer, just to be on the safe side. We gave her multiple opportunities to explore other options, and she declined them.”
What the staff worker heard from Nott was something like, “I just need to sign the paperwork and get out of here.”
Janzen said she wasn’t faulting Nott. “I think she tried to do the very best she could.”