Sunday, January 03, 2010


"There is no disease or condition of companion animals that takes more of their lives than euthanasia."
-Janet M. Scarlett, DVM, MPH, PhD, Professor of Epidemology at Cornell University, Director of Maddie's Fund Shelter Medicine Program

This quote has been floating around the 'net today, and I find it disturbing. Dr. Scarlett has a very impressive resume and seems to have spend a great and admirable portion of her career working to end the deaths of animals in shelters - certainly Maddie's Fund has been extremely important and influential in that respect. Assuming the quote is accurate, however, it's an exercise in defeatism.

Dr. Scarlett does not seem to be referring to euthanasia here, she is referring to shelter killing. Euthanasia is a term co-opted by apologists for shelter killing to make it seem more palatable to the general public - necessary and noble, even. It is language used to make the slaughter of innocents seem like a good and positive thing.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, euthanasia is defined as "the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy". Killing for space is not euthanasia. Killing because no one has adopted an animal in a predetermined length of time is not euthanasia. Killing because an animal has an easily treated disease, like kennel cough or an upper respiratory infection is not euthanasia. Killing for old age or minor behavioral issues is not euthanasia.

Dr. Scarlett has even written articles for an audience of fellow veterinarians decrying the number of animals killed in shelters and asking for their help to try to reduce it as much as possible; but isn't a good first step towards that goal to stop using a term popularized in order to make the killing of animals more acceptable to the general public and calling killing what it is?

Language is important. If you want to make the point that the needless death of animals is, in fact, a bad thing, can we all stop using language designed to make it seem like a good thing?


Blogger Kirk Longhofer said...

Absolutely Correct John!!!! Words mean things.

Vets euthanize animals every day, when they are ill, injured or at end of life. It's the least favorite part of work for those who work in vet practices.

Shelters don't euthanize dogs and cats, except in rare cases. They just kill them.

Words mean things.

9:53 PM  
Blogger YesBiscuit! said...

Euthanasia is a kindness, to end suffering when there is no reasonable hope for recovery. I hope some day it will be a legal option for ME to be euthanized if I am ever in such a state. But I never want to be killed.

6:25 AM  
Blogger Tina Clark said...

Thank you for this post. This is so true, and it is one of my missions, trying to get people to use the word "euthanasia" only in its proper context.

In fact, I started a blog recently, and my first post was on this very subject.

If you are interested

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right, John! I was bored yesterday and I watching "Keeping up the Kardashians". On the show Kim found a little Chihuahua and took it to the East Valley Animal Center. The animal officer at the front desk told Kim Kardashian that the dog would be held for 4 days and then 'euthanized'.

As a No-Kill animal advocate, I can tell instantly where other animal welfare professionals beliefs lie based on how they use that single word.

You and I had spoken about Jim Collins the other day via me using words like killing, murder, killed, and kill are 'confronting the brutal facts' essence-the truth of what is really happening.

No beating around the bush with euphemisms...I always tell it like it is.

Thanks for a great blog!

11:30 PM  
Blogger Kelly said...

Great topic and one that I have reposted the link for on my FB page. I too have never stopped to think about the word choice for what happens at many shelters. I am fortunate to be affiliated as a volunteer at the Humane Society of Pinellas County here in Florida and we do NOT KILL for space.

5:35 AM  
Blogger edward said...

Excellent post. I use "destroyed" when referring to Animal Control casualties, though I'm not sure that word carries as much conviction, disgust or guilt as I intend it to.

10:03 AM  

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