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Editorial: Inconvenient animal lives

The citizens of Rowan County should hang their heads in shame for sending 5,000 animals a year to their deaths at the Rowan County Animal Shelter. It’s galling how carelessly people here throw animals’ lives away and expect taxpayers to foot the bill.
That must change. The county can’t stop euthanizing animals, but it can lead the way in changing attitudes.
Though Mecklenburg County has more than six times the population of Rowan ó 890,000 to our 139,000 ó the number of animals Charlotte-Meckenburg euthanizes is low by comparison. In 2007-08, big Charlotte-Mecklenberg euthanized 12,474 animals. Rowan euthanized 5,498. Whether that’s a reflection of education levels, income or other factors, we don’t know. But Rowan’s numbers appear disproportionately high.
People don’t like to think about what happens to homeless animals that wind up in the shelter. Out of sight, out of mind. But we must face the unpleasant truth. Only a lucky few are adopted. That’s about 572 dogs and cats in the past 10 months. They get new homes, new owners and a second chance at life. The rest ó some 4,700 in 10 months ó are put to death and disposed of like so much unwanted trash.
Some are vicious and feral, some sick. Among them are the unsold products of puppy mills. But many are relatively healthy animals who have been abandoned in one way or another and just need someone to care for them.
From a practical standpoint, gassing several animals at a time is a quicker, more affordable method of killing large numbers of dogs and cats. For now that may remain the primary method Rowan County uses to euthanize animals. But if the county expects residents to show more responsibility and care as pet owners, then government also needs to treat animals as worthwhile creatures who deserve a gentle death.
No one is calling into question the work or attitudes of the county’s animal control employees, who care very much about animals. They hate the abuse and neglect they see. But when top health and county officials unanimously advocate the quickest, cheapest method of killing animals, that sends a message.
The state is nudging change along by requiring shelters to use lethal injection on very young, sick or injured animals. In carrying this out, shelter workers will get valuable training and experience. That is a step forward. But preventing the need for euthanasia may be even more important. The county should focus energies there, too, from low-cost spay-neuter programs to raising public awareness about the responsibilities of pet ownership. This issue is not going away.

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