Responsible Ownership and Behavioral Euthanasia

This is a long post, reproduced from Facebook.  We’re re-sharing it here on our blog because it is so important.  We want to save all animals from suffering, and that can be a difficult decision when a dog proves to be dangerous to other animals and humans.

Justice for Bullies (original Facebook poster)

March 13 at 11:33 PM  · 

We can’t talk about responsible ownership without addressing a difficult topic. It’s a conversation enjoyed by no one, but it’s one that needs to be had. The topic is behavioral euthanasia. 

Unfortunately, when this has come up in the past, we have experienced shaming and abuse; even personal harassment. We have no doubt this will happen on this post, but we are here to educate, even when that isn’t pleasant. 

In the last decade, we have made a lot of progress in reducing pet euthanasia rates. This is a really good thing. We all want a world where no animals are euthanized for lack of space or inconvenience. However, the reality is that tough decisions need to be made about the dogs who present risks to society. 

Some people have wonderful intentions, believing that all dogs should have a chance and we can truly save every one. But if you have experienced first-hand the dangers and heartache of trying to save a dangerous dog, you realize that there is much more to consider. Any rescue will tell you how often they receive appeals for rehabilitation homes: no animals/no kids/rural living requirements/high management/bite history/etc. To the few people who can provide safe, humane homes for behaviourally challenged dogs, we salute you. But there are very few of you out there. Most people have lives, and it is reasonable to want a life where you can enjoy your dog, participate in your community, and go on vacation without worrying that your dog could seriously hurt someone or something.

Furthermore, there’s a saying that “management always fails”. This means that despite best efforts, life happens and your safety measures will probably be insufficient at some point. If you are housing a dog who is capable of hurting a person or animal, you may work very hard to keep them safe, but one day a hole may appear in the fence or you may have to leave the dog in the care of a pet-sitter who puts on the muzzle incorrectly. If saving a truly dangerous dog results in someone’s innocent pet dying, or a serious injury or fatality to a human, you have simply traded one life for another. 

Sometimes humane euthanasia is the most responsible and kindest choice we can make for everyone. 

As advocates for breed-neutral legislation, it is imperative that we acknowledge this. Some dogs are dangerous. Some dogs cannot be saved and shouldn’t be saved. We cannot predict this from visual appearance (which is what BSL targets), but we can often predict it based on past behaviour, bite history, and other factors. This is where we can find common ground with lawmakers and advocate for evidence-based animal control laws.

Failure to be realistic about behavioural euthanasia will harm animal welfare efforts in the long run. When owners, shelter workers, adopters, fosters, veterinary professionals, and trainers try to open up this conversation, we face abuse by Facebook warriors who have no idea what rescue truly looks like. The stress and liability are reasons people leave these fields. 

When very difficult dogs are placed with families (especially when they don’t provide adequate disclosure or support), how does that reflect on rescue as a whole? Will they ever rescue again? Will their neighbours? Are we just passing the buck to people with good intentions to keep shelter and rescue euthanasia numbers low? 

Be honest. When you hear about a dog who has killed another pet or sent a child to the hospital – would you want that dog living next door? Would you trust the average pet owner to make sure there was never a slip-up?

If you have been in the situation where you have had to consider or recommend behavioural euthanasia, our hearts go out to you, and we will not allow you to be shamed on this page.

If you are struggling with this decision, please do not hesitate to reach out. If you have a dog with a bite history or significant behavioural needs, and you wish to work with them, we are happy to have a non-judgemental conversation about what a safe plan might look like. If behavioural euthanasia is on the table, we can provide a non-judgemental ear about that too. We also suggest joining the Facebook Group Losing Lulu for compassionate support on this topic.