Politics & Prejudices
The quality of mercy
Former board members say Michigan Humane Society kills too many animals
Published: June 15, 2011
Does the Michigan Humane Society kill far too many animals? That's what two former board members claim. They set off a firestorm of controversy this month by resigning over this.
Indeed, the figures at first glance are horrifying. Last year, the society's three shelters in Detroit, Rochester Hills and Westland took in something like 29,000 animals, mostly dogs and cats, puppies and kittens. More than half showed up in Detroit.
And the vast majority of all the creatures the society took in were destroyed. Seven out of every 10 were given a lethal injection.
Those who operate no-kill shelters called that "outrageous" and "barbaric." Michigan Humane Society officials say they have no choice. "None of us here wants to euthanize any animals, but, unfortunately, it's sometimes necessary," the society's chief veterinarian, Dr. Robert Fisher, told a reporter.
Now I know that some people will say, why care about this? The state is falling apart, the city is full of homeless people, and there are all sorts of urgent problems at all levels of government. Why waste time and space on mere animals?
Well, for one thing, because they are living and feeling beings who totally depend on us and whose existence is largely due to us. And, as Gandhi once noted, you tell a lot about a society by how it treats its animals.
So what's the truth here?
Frankly, so far as I can tell, the Humane Society is, sadly, doing the right thing. Anybody who thinks an open-admission animal shelter could, or should, avoid "putting animals to sleep" is ignorant, an idiot or both. I know something about this.
I have had dogs and other pets all my adult life.
They have been as dear to me as children might have been. I have had to be at the euthanasia table to say good-bye to seven old and sick collies, every one of whom I loved and love still.
Not pleasant, but it was necessary. Yet when I first heard of this controversy, I didn't automatically assume the Michigan Humane Society was correct. I have had legitimate concerns over the competence of the society's upper management over the years.
So I went last week to visit the toughest and grimmest of their three animal shelters; the one in Detroit, right off southbound I-75 at Clay. The society, which desperately needs a new building, does the best it can with a 19th century building which once was a machine shop where pistons were made, and where animals are saved.
I told Jennifer Rowell, a North Carolina native in her 30s who has run the place for the last eight years, that I wanted to see everything — and I wanted her to explain why so many of the animals have to die.
She began by showing me photographs of some of the animals they couldn't save, victims of accidents, unspeakable cruelty and neglect. You don't want to see those pictures. Ever. Though perhaps you should be made to see the dog left impaled on a fence.
None of those animals could have been saved. The Humane Society, and its famous animal cops, responds to any emergency and turns no animal away, no matter what its shape or how full they are.
Stop by and they'll show you rooms full of puppies and kittens and healthy, friendly adult dogs and cats, all of whom will find homes.
I saw them, but I also saw the rest of the facility. There was the dog that someone brought in with a giant tumor that had burst through her body. They were keeping her for a few days, as their rules require, heavily medicated for pain, just in case an owner shows up.
They showed me puppies and kittens that had been abandoned and were too young or sick to eat. I saw adult dogs that had never known a human's warm touch, that arrived too late to be socialized.
And then I saw Lady, a black and white pit bull mix that was in the most terrible condition you can imagine. She had been kept in a basement without food; there was nothing but skin and bones and a collar embedded in her flesh that had to be surgically removed.
Lady couldn't even walk when the animal cops found her a week ago. They didn't think she had a chance. But, incredibly, she might survive, and even more incredibly, she was enormously sweet.
While she licked my hands and weakly wagged her tail, I enthusiastically wanted to kill the people who had done this to her. Rowell lost her own chum, an ancient pug, a few months ago. She hates putting any animal to sleep. But for many, there is no better alternative.
Our unwanted animals won't be saved by people posturing in the media, but by people who are better educated, have more money, take care of their pets and who stop letting them breed.
Jack Kevorkian at his best helped end needless suffering. The Michigan Humane Society does that too, when there is no alternative. They also provide pet food and reduced cost medical care to people who intensely love their animals but simply have no money.
And they do it all without a penny of government help. If you have any money to send Jennifer Rowell, it would be well spent.
Wiener dog tales: Nobody doubts that U.S. Rep. Anthony Wiener is a pathetic mess. When a fairly powerful congressman feels the need to send cell phone pictures of his schwanz to women he's never met, you don't have to be a psychiatrist to know his bizarre needs are out of the realm of normal, whatever that may be.
Yet there is a smug, hypocritical sanctimoniousness about all this that is beyond annoying. Virtually everyone has done something sexually that they are ashamed of, or at the very least don't want everyone to know. Supposedly, we are a liberated, taboo-free society.
Yet every time someone gets caught with their trousers down, everybody from the media to the politicians who haven't been caught yet becomes all pompously moral. Mitt Romney, who seems to be made out of the same plastic they use for Ken dolls, was there with his standard-issue blond Mormon wife on a CNN interview show.
> Email Jack Lessenberry