Recently I transported a whole bunch of kittens out of the New York City shelters in two trips. Doing so means spending and killing time in the lobbies of the shelters, which is always interesting. On this trip I had an experience I’m still thinking about.
I was waiting in the lobby of the Brooklyn shelter for the final “tech check” on the kittens I was taking. Interestingly, ACC shelters don’t test for FIV/FeLV until just before the cat is due to leave. FIV is transmitted for the most part through deep bite wounds, so because cats are generally housed singly that’s not a problem… but FeLV certainly could be. The feline leukemia virus is transmitted through litter boxes, saliva, nasal secretions, and bites. If all kennels are thoroughly cleaned between residents and everyone washes thoroughly between handling cats and/or food dishes and litter boxes I suppose it might be manageable. However, I doubt that happens. But I digress.
A woman came in wheeling her 14 year old dog in a shopping cart. Her dog, who was very sweet, was in trouble – bleeding heavily from the vagina, lethargic, wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t drink. The woman was unemployed and could not care for her dog. I understand that they couldn’t provide free vet care. I wouldn’t expect that, they need those resources for their own animals, but they had no referrals other than a mobile low-cost clinic which would show up in front of the building… in 5 days. Instead, they had her call the “Pets For Life” hotline, an program of the Humane Society of the United States in New York City that focuses on pet retention assistance. I heard her side of the call; I was very interested as I had never seen the hotline used in the shelters before, though there’s a phone dedicated to it in the lobby. When the person on the other end heard her story, he recommended euthanasia instead of treatment for a dog that no medical professional had looked at or evaluated. When she asked at the desk about euthanasia, they told her it was $125 and she would not be able to be with her animal when they went. She broke down and sobbed in the middle of the lobby – she’d raised the dog from infancy, bottle fed her, but was now unemployed and broke and didn’t know what to do. I asked her to join me outside and offered to take the dog if she wanted to surrender her, and I could promise her that her dog would get the medical care she needed. She couldn’t do it, and I understand. I’m not sure that I would be able to either. I took a look at her dog since it was clear that no one else would. No obvious outward signs of cancer, no wasting, no bulges, no white gums. I told her it could be something as simple as an infection but only a vet could tell her for sure, and that I thought it would be worth at least a professional evaluation for something that might be cleared up with a handful of cheap antibiotics, but only a vet would be able to tell her for sure. She left to take her dog home.
I don’t know what else I or anyone could have done, but I found the dismissal of the value of the life of this dog by a person on a hotline supposedly in the shelters for cases just like this one to be cruel to both animal and owner. I wish I could have done more. I wonder what happened.