JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - "For every 100,000 dogs that are put down up north, down south 1 million are put down," said Sergeant Larry Rodgers, director of the Jonesboro Animal Control.
That is the shocking statistic Rogers cited from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He said that is a number that will always be in the back of his mind when euthanasia has to take place.
"Every 5 minutes, 40 dogs are put down in shelters nationwide," said Rogers.
The only time JAC puts an animal down is when to the pound is completely full with 140 dogs, or if a dog is too unhealthy to live.
"Whatever the case may be, that dog belonged to someone, and that someone failed to be responsible," said Rogers. "We are the sin bearers for someone else's sin. Because someone failed to take care of their animals, we are the ones that have to do the deed and unfortunately, the animal is the one that has to suffer for it."
Glenn McGinnis is a Jonesboro animal control officer who also credits this procedure to bad pet owners.
"Dogs are being dumped on a daily basis," said McGinnis. "We would get several calls from people saying, 'I'll just take my dog to the pound and they can just kill it,' or 'My dog is sick or his leg is broken, can you just kill it.' That is why we are going to get you for animal cruelty because we are not here to do that. If you had to come in here and watch your dog being put to sleep, you would have to change your whole attitude."
Rogers took over the pound in 2007 when he said they had veterinarians come in to put animals down.
"Pickup at that time was about 1,400-1,500 a year and they were putting down well over 1,000," said Rogers. "When I took over, I looked at it like I am responsible for every animal that walks through that door so I went to classes and now me and my staff are certified to euthanize the animals."
Rogers said because of this burden and because it is such a painful process to do, they have worked hard to get animals in homes.
"We are constantly pushing for adoptions," said Rogers. "We even work with several rescues to send the dogs up north but we do all that we can so that we do not have to kill this innocent animal."
Killing an animal is a deed the entire staff hates to do.
"It is like putting your own dog down," said Rogers. "It is really hard. Even county inmates who come out here for community service. They will usually take the dogs in their body bags and put them in the freezers out back when the deed has been done. The hardest men would tell me, 'Take us back, Sergeant. We can't do this anymore.' They still have a soft heart for that puppy."
Beth Grant is also an animal control officer who normally answers the calls of stray dogs running loose in the streets.
"I've picked up dogs who were thrown in dumpsters," said Grant. "Dragged behind cars, set on fire. I have even picked up a dog who possibly had battery acid poured down its back and I had to pick maggots out of it literally for hours. You always wonder, is this one going to make it? Is this one going to get adopted?"
She said they have even picked up cats and even though they can be overrun with cats at the shelter, they do not put down nearly as cats as canines.
"We typically only put down cats that are very sick but usually we are able to get them out into homes," said Grant.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for dogs.
"We are almost always full of them," said Grant. "During the springtime especially because it is puppy season but we want to pick up as little dogs as possible."
Rogers said the most painful experience he had involved a pit bull puppy that had been chained to a car and dragged down the road.
"His paws were gone, his stomach was severely lacerated, his little genitals were torn off," said Rogers. "We tried to save him but we couldn't, he was suffering so bad. It was such an emotional experience because when we had it on the table to put it down, that little puppy still was trying to lick us and love on us even though it could barely move. Glenn and I had to step out because if we were in there we would have cried and we could not have been there for the dog the way we needed to be."
Rogers said the forgiveness the puppy had for a human's sin touched him and McGinnis deeply.
McGinnis said the most painful part is getting ready for the procedure.
"First, we will do it early in the morning when the dogs have rested all night," said McGinnis. "Then we will take it to the room where it would normally get a bath and set it on the table. We make sure we give that dog as much love as possible during that process. We have music playing in the background and everything but we try to comfort it as much as we can during its last moments of life. Then we would shave its little leg and the injection goes straight through the vein. We would sedate them first and then when the Euthasol comes into the picture, they would slowly drift off into a permanent sleep."
"It thinks you are taking it for a walk because it is happy," said Rogers. "When they have to take that final walk down the hallway that is the hardest part because you know exactly what is about to happen."
"It's kissing on you and loving on you and then you do the deed and it goes to sleep and it knows nothing else," said McGinnis.
"You ask yourself, 'Does this make me a murderer?' Nobody wants to do it, but it has to be done," said Grant.
By law, the Jonesboro Animal Control has to utilize the taxpayer money by doing their jobs such as answering calls, picking up stray animals, and putting them down if they are at capacity or pose a danger to the community. McGinnis said because of this, they have been labeled as something that they are not.
"We are not here to kill an animal just because it doesn't have a home and nobody wants to take care of it," said McGinnis. "We are here to find these dogs homes."
She said her worst experience putting dogs down deals with puppies.
"Puppies get to me because they have never had a chance to have a life," said McGinnis. "They have never had this little boy as its best friend. They just get thrown on the street and now it has mange and can't walk and it can barely eat. It is heartbreaking."
Rogers said because of their push for adoption, they have been fortunate to lower the number of dogs being killed in their shelter.
"Last year we picked up over 2,000 dogs but put down only 600," said Rogers. "That is still too many wasted lives and I think some of it deals with lack of education on the owner's part about spaying and neutering your animals. The other part is the mindset people have that dogs are just property and nothing more. No, they are a living creature that has rights."
According to the ASPCA, 2.6 million animals were euthanized in 2011. That number has since decreased to 1.5 million animals, of those 670,000 are dogs.
The 62% decreased euthanasia rate is the result of nationwide adoption.
With that fact in mind, McGinnis and the Jonesboro Animal Control staff are constantly working to adopt out dogs like Sadie.
"It is harder to get larger dogs adopted because everyone wants a puppy," said McGinnis. "We have been with Sadie for 6 months now and because we have gotten attached, I don't think I can do it if I have to put her down."
Sadie is a chocolate lab mix who was dumped with her 9 puppies in June. The puppies were all adopted into homes but Sadie was left behind.
"She is an excellent dog," said McGinnis. "She likes to play, she is very obedient. She is around 2 years old and we have pushed her several times on Facebook but nobody is interested in her. I have to put a block up because if the time comes, I would have to put this poor dog down and it would not be her fault. It is heartbreaking."
Because of adoption, there's hope for Sadie.
"The more we can get adopted out, the better it is for everyone especially the dogs. They are so happy once they get adopted it is incredible," said Grant. "That is why we are always holding shot clinics, adoption clinics and everything we can to get these animals a home."
According to Rogers, for every dog in the country to have a home, each household would have to own 4 to 5 dogs.
"In a perfect world, these animals would all be spayed and neutered, they would all have a home. A perfect euthanasia rate is zero but until a lot of things change, that is not going to happen."
More than anything Rogers, McGinnis, and Grant stress the importance of being responsible pet owners.
"Take care of your animal," said McGinnis. "If you need help we are here to help you. Don't just throw it on the street because you have to move, or you don't want it anymore. Find it another home."
"I firmly believe that the people who let this predicament happen, the ones that are supposed to be responsible, they are going to have to answer to God because just like I am a child of God, they are a creature of God," Rogers said.
If you would like to adopt a dog like Sadie, join us Saturday, Nov. 4, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Jonesboro Animal Control, 6119 E. Highland Dr., for a special adoption event.
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