We’re drawn to animal rescue because we want to save them. We want to see them end up in the perfect home and be doted on like our own animals. We want the senseless killing of animals in shelters to stop. We want every single one of them to have the best life.
On the best days this is what animal rescue is. Over the past three days at Brother Wolf, we’ve seen almost twenty animals be adopted. Some of these dogs we took in just this week and were able to find a home for in less than two days. The joy that we experience when we see incredible outcomes like that is what keeps us in this work. That joy is what keeps us holding on even when things get really tough.
One of the toughest decisions that we have to make is to end an animal’s life. Euthanasia is a reality in animal rescue work. No-kill does not mean that you never euthanize an animal. It means that you do your absolute best to ensure a live outcome, considering the animal’s quality of life, community safety, and whether it’s realistic or not to manage aggressive or difficult behaviors or health conditions in a home without risk to people or other animals.
There has recently been public outcry over two euthanasia decisions that were made by Brother Wolf. These two dogs, Rhubarb and Ferguson, have both been with us for over a year and during that time we have explored all avenues available to us in order to best serve them. Both have had foster home placement, they have worked with our behavior team and volunteers, we’ve tried prescription drugs to help them with their anxieties, and we set up a special housing area for Rhubarb who was adopted out but returned. None of it made them better and we watched them continue to decline.
Both of these dogs have a history of aggression and reactivity with people and other animals, which makes them very difficult placements. Rhubarb spent some time in a home but came back to us after she broke out of the house, attacking and severely biting her then owner in the leg. This is a physical and emotional scar that the adopter will have with her for the rest of her life. We, as an animal rescue organization that places these animals into homes, must consider the safety of the members of our community. A very small percentage of people are able to take on and adequately manage these behavior issues.
A team of employees discussed both Rhubarb and Ferguson at length. We also consulted with an animal behavior expert who works with shelters worldwide. Both dogs have been displaying compulsive behaviors that are considered indicative of poor welfare and chronic stress including pacing, circling, tail biting/chasing, reactivity and chronic anxiety. Both dogs have been on heavy anxiety medication for an extended amount of time but are not improving. After much discussion we made the incredibly hard decision to euthanize them. The mental health of these animals had deteriorated to a point where they were suffering. And though beyond heartbreaking for us, our team firmly believes this is the most humane option for them.
We knew that there would be backlash over this decision. We have experienced this before as there are always volunteers and staff who are very connected to these animals and who may not always agree with the decision. This work is emotional and at times heartbreaking. We make these decisions based on compassion for the animals we care about, and not fear over what we might have to endure from the public because of it. We always keep the best interest of the animals as our focus.
We’re grateful to the staff and volunteers who brought joy to these dogs’ lives. They got to experience so many moments of happiness during their time with us. Over the last few months it has been clear to us that most of their moments are not happy; most of their moments are full of mental anguish. We can not let them live this way just so that we can hang on to them and there is no mythical farm, rehab center, or other shelter to send them to.
Public outcry over this decision led to some people wanting to adopt them. Though a handful of people did step forward, none of them would have been appropriate homes for these dogs as they can not go to a home with children, other pets, or with people who aren’t able to handle their specific needs due to their history of aggression. The one suitable application, which we pursued, ended up to be full of false information and would have been a terrible placement for any animal.
So together we surrounded them with their favorite things and people they loved and we said goodbye because it was the best thing for them.
There are hundreds of dogs like them in shelters across the country. We have many dogs at Brother Wolf with a history of aggression and we continue to have to weigh the animal’s welfare with the safety of our community. When you adopt a dog you not only affect your own household but also your neighborhood and the other people and animals who your animal will come into contact with.
Brother Wolf is not a long-term care facility and we are not a sanctuary. Brother Wolf is here to save animals in western NC and thousands of animals are dying each month right around us. We must work with a limited building and budget to do the best we can for the greatest number of animals. Every day we receive emails from shelters in WNC asking us to take healthy, adoptable animals whose time is up. These are animals who will be euthanized simply because there isn’t enough room or resources for them where they are. We are a resource and we should be working to save the greatest number of lives in order to have the biggest impact on shelter animals.
We appreciate the passion for animals from our community and hope it is directed towards getting animals out of shelters before they deteriorate to the point where euthanasia is considered. We hope people will step up to adopt other animals in our care who have been waiting years for their homes.
These have been really tough days for our staff. Imagine being in that space where you’ve made the compassionate decision to euthanize your animal and then having the internet attack you. I ask for kindness, understanding, trust, and support for our staff during this incredibly difficult time.
Today we grieve for Rhubarb and Ferguson. Today we look to the thousands of animals who we will help find homes this year and we cling on to the joy that they afford us.
Leah Craig Fieser