“Death comes softly to the tan dog with the liquid brown eyes.
The needle goes in.
The injection is made.
And the dog, his muzzle wrapped with a leash to prevent a final bite, slumps over dead.
Animal care workers pull his corpse five feet across the concrete floor into a small pile of other dead dogs.”
– James Burger,
“Kern’s euthanasia rates rise again,”
Bakersfield.com, March 6, 2008
After writing several chapters for “Jasmine’s Tails” about Rocket Dog Rescue’s efforts to save San Francisco’s throwaway dogs, I began receiving e-mails from shelters and rescue groups all over California with pleas for help. The first one came from the Kern County shelter in Bakersfield, and it changed my life forever.
The e-mail featured a long list of dogs – every size, shape, breed, and age – all slated for euthanasia within 48 hours. I was copied on a succession of notes between the shelter coordinator and various rescue groups: “We can take the two labs, the sheltie and the Pomeranian,” one said. “We can take the four Chihuahuas, the Pekinese and the golden retriever,” said another.
As the e-mails darted back and forth, dozens of independent rescues stepped forward – most admitted to being overwhelmed, but were still willing to take as many dogs as possible. A woman named Janice offered transport to the Bay Area, and several rescue groups, including Rocket Dog, offered to take some of the dogs. Toward the end of the day, the shelter coordinator sent out one final plea: “Can anyone take three four-month-old female pit bull-mix puppies? They are incredibly sweet, and I really want to get them out of here.” She included their identification numbers, and I found myself scrolling down the long list of hopeful faces to find them – two black and one grey, their eyes closed in fear as one person held them while another snapped a grainy photo in a stark shelter room.
I quickly typed, “I’ll take them!” and hit “send.” Janice said she wasn’t sure that she could fit them in the van she and her husband had rented, but she would do her best. Then came a twist of fate – the van they ordered wasn’t available, so they were bumped up to the next size. “I got your puppies,” she said in a Saturday morning phone call. Later that afternoon, I met Janice in a parking lot and picked them up.
When I arrived home, Steve was waiting in the backyard. It was a warm June evening, and we decided to make martinis and watch the puppies play. Jasmine wasn’t thrilled – she had just managed to get rid of Cooper the week before when he went to live with his new family. Eventually all four bounced through the garden, playing tug-o-war, rolling in the grass and chomping on bully sticks. Occasionally Jazzy would put the pups in their place like a mama bear with her cubs, but for the most part her patience was astounding. The little gray girl with light golden eyes took a particular shine to Steve, and the feeling was mutual. Two cocktails later, he went home with a puppy.
A few days later, friends of Pali’s came to look at the other two sisters – Steve had named them Marlena and Maxine after two of his drag queen friends – and they decided to foster both. As quickly as they had arrived, all three puppies were gone.
I felt amazing about saving them – until I opened my e-mail and found another long list of dogs with less than 48 hours to live. Each day more e-mails arrived, and I began to realize there was a crisis in Kern County. As I did some research, the statistics were staggering: in 2008, the average number of dogs impounded per week at the Kern shelter was 337, but some weeks it was as many as 500. Of those impounds, 58 percent of the dogs were euthanized. Cats fared even worse – 77 percent were killed.
With the third highest euthanasia rate in the nation, the Central Valley puts down more than 40,000 animals annually. Despite these shocking facts, the killing fields show no signs of change. A small but vocal group of breeders noisily oppose any attempt to enact a mandatory spay and neuter law. While voluntary spaying and neutering is optimal, it’s not likely to happen in Kern County, where uneducated backyard breeders allow their unaltered pets to roam free. When the animals become pregnant, they dump them at the shelter. Still, the vocal minority pushes against mandatory spay and neuter laws, preferring to allow thousands of needless deaths.
My three puppies made it out safely, but as Jazzy and I settled in for our first quiet night in a week, I couldn’t help but think about the many not-so-lucky animals in Bakersfield – abandoned and betrayed by their humans; shivering and alone in dark cement kennels on what will be the last night of their short, sad lives. Perhaps it’s a godsend that they don’t know what’s coming. They will look into the eyes of their executioner, tail wagging, grateful for the slightest human touch – even if it comes at the end of a needle. At least their deaths will be peaceful, unlike the animals in some parts of Texas where they still gas unwanted pets, an excruciating death that takes up to 20 minutes.
I have just one question for the vocal minority who oppose a mandatory spay and neuter law in Kern County: how is this better than never being born at all?
As I toss and turn at night, I wish the humans who failed the animals of Kern County by not spaying and neutering and dumping them at the shelter cared; but I know in my heart that they don’t. Unlike me, the backyard breeders are sleeping soundly, blissfully ignorant, not a care in the world.
Marlena has been adopted, but her sister, Maxine, is still looking for her forever home. If you are interested in adopting Maxine, please call Rocket Dog Rescue at 415-756-8188.