animal shelter

Clinical actions and ethical decisions in an animal shelter

The problem of the overpopulation of dogs and cats is a fact that we face daily, the attitude of the human being towards animals has determined an irresponsible possession that leads many animals to Shelter Centers, whether private or public. .

The Reception Centers, a merely palliative resource, are found on numerous occasions overwhelmed by an incessant flow of entry, with insufficient means and space to meet so much demand, and lack of suitable adopters, among other problems.

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This determines that some of these Centers consider the sacrifice of animals as a necessary resource for proper management as well as to prevent situations of animal abuse. The moral, ethical and technical controversy in this regard is considerable and especially passionate among technical professionals, assistants, etc. who work at these facilities.

These decisions have to be adopted, based on always subjective criteria, and subordinated to the particular ethical conditions of each professional, which can lead to important ethical and personal conflicts when establishing and unifying criteria in the choice of animals that should be being sacrificed, as well as in the fact of proceeding to carry out the act of euthanasia itself.

The purpose is to make considerations that can help to deal with this circumstance in a systematic way. Determine when euthanasia is such “euthanasia” or mere sacrifice, suggest possible means to minimize the use of this resource and how to resolve this apparent paradox, that as veterinarians we have to kill animals to promote their welfare.

What is a Welcome Center?

Shelter Centers are the current response to the need for immediate intervention in relation to abandoned, stray or lost animals.

Historically they arise from the confluence of two tendencies:

The Administrative Centers, essentially municipal, whose mission was to ensure Public Health in relation to the presence of stray animals (due to their intervention as reservoirs or vectors in the spread/transmission of different pathologies, or due to the risk of aggression or accidents that their presence entailed) and especially the surveillance of Rabies. These institutions, often called kennels, have been reproached, on many occasions, for massively slaughtering animals and not ensuring their rights, even with accusations of cruelty in some cases.

The Animal Defense and Protection Societies, in response to this situation, developed their own shelters, called shelters, opting for the promotion of adoption, as a solution to the problem generated. Although it is a model that has worked adequately in most cases, on occasions there have been shelters that have become accumulation centers for animals, generating serious health problems for animals, people and the environment, and triggering situations of very serious abuse. far from its theoretical objective.

Within the public realm, the model that is currently sought is a new paradigm that allows the transition from the old concept of “Kennel” to that of “Reception Center”, where technically, following scientific criteria extracted from the incipient base of evidence in this regard, simultaneously pursue the achievement of the objectives of safeguarding Public Health and safety, entrusted to the different competent administrations, while serving as a basis for collateral educational actions. In these centers, the collected animals are valued, treated appropriately and, if possible, given up for adoption in order to create a stable bond with humans.

The fact that this step does not remain a mere euphemism and is a reality depends on the agents involved, whether public or private, and that each center, with its own peculiarities, responds realistically to the problems that arise.

Obviously, each center will present its own peculiarities, mainly due to the different criteria existing between the different entities that support them, based on a basic difference in the admission criteria.

Thus, a public Center of an open nature must absorb a greater entry of animals, which is determined directly by the demand that the volume of abandonments defines, and with respect to which no restriction can be established. On the contrary, a private Center, as long as it functions as such, can restrict said entry of animals based on the criteria that it freely establishes, being able to adopt more or less strict protocols for assessing animals for slaughter.

For all these reasons, it is necessary to remember that, within its framework of activity, the euthanasia of some of the housed animals is constituted as one more clinical act, which on the other hand, is frequently carried out in veterinary clinical practice. As such an act is affected by the same ethical principles that affect the generality of them: non-maleficence, beneficence, justice and autonomy.

Through them, it is pursued, cause a benefit, minimizing possible damage caused or future, from criteria of equity and responsibility.

For this, it is necessary to establish objective criteria for the assessment of animals that allow decisions to be made regarding their adoptability, always respecting the ethical principles indicated above.

The ethical and technical importance of the matter has led a group of veterinarians to review the criteria and principles indicated above, preparing a reflection document in which they dwell on the different aspects of this delicate and serious problem, of which this first part is just progress.