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Friday, July 07, 2006

Animal Services Responds to Outrage About a Euthanized Dog

Anguish and anger beset the South Florida rescue community in the past few days concerning a dog named Highway at the county shelter. Than anger quickly spread to rescuers across the country, who bombarded Miami-Dade Animal Services and the media with e-mails, at first pleading to spare the dog's life, then lamenting and lambasting the decision to euthanize her, despite offers of behavioral evaulation and rescue.

Typical messages - I got a couple of dozen - were like the following, from Danny Reid in Dallas, TX:

I just read of the plan to euthanize the dog Highway, who was found alongside I-95 with another dog named Liberty, because she has been deemed “aggressive” and, therefore, unadoptable.

Has anyone considered that the dog’s “aggressive” behavior is actually protective behavior? It sounds to me like Highway was protecting the other dog because the dog had a deformed foot and couldn’t get around as easily as she did. Pretty heroic behavior in humans, and it should be recognized as such in animals as well.

Yes, the behavior is challenging for animal control workers, but it’s not unusual behavior. The dog was simply acting like a dog. At the very least, even if she wasn’t being protective, she may have just been reacting out of fear. Who wouldn’t be afraid if they had someone strange trying to wrangle them into a cage and carted off to some unknown place?

Please don’t use normal animal behavior as an excuse to euthanize an animal that might require just a little more effort than the average animal. Please don’t euthanize Highway.

And this, from Lynn Westlake of Pensacola, FL:

I am writing to ask you to spare the life of Highway. I understand there are many legal reasons the dog cannot be adopted out to "just anyone", but if there is someone who is willing to work with her and waive any legal action, I just don't understand why you won't accomodate that and give this animal a chance at a good life.

Highway and a dog now called Liberty were picked up on I-95 by Animal Services officers, and brought to the shelter. According to several e-mails, Highway had been protecting the disabled Liberty and should have been treated like a hero.

Five days later, ASU director, Dr. Sara Pizano - after consulting with vet techs and other shelter workers who'd handled the dog - decided Highway was too aggressive to be adopted out, and Highway was euthanized. Liberty was sent to a vet to have a paw-less leg amputated.

Earlier today, ASU issued the following statement to all those who had e-mailed about the case. (Assistant director Robert Santos said shelter administrators also were calling many of those who'd complained).

Thank you for inquiring about the dogs recently rescued from Interstate 95, named “Liberty” and “Highway”. Unfortunately, neither animal had any signs of ownership such as microchip, tags, or collars.

“Liberty” is in good physical health despite needing her rear leg amputated. "Liberty” has a good temperament and is available for adoption at Imperial Point Animal Hospital. If you are interested in adopting "Liberty" or assisting with her medical care, please contact Imperial at 954-771-0156.

Unfortunately, “Highway” displayed signs of aggression. Upon further evaluation and several periodic checks by various clinical staff members, including the Department Director who is a Shelter Veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience, “Highway” continued displaying outward signs of aggression. For this reason, "Highway" was considered a public safety risk.

Miami-Dade’s Animal Services has a strict policy against allowing adoption of aggressive animals as the public’s safety is our priority. For this reason, “Highway” was euthanized.

Sadly each year, more than 30,000 animals are brought to Miami-Dade County’s Animal Services. The majority are strays or have been abandoned by their owners. It is incredibly heartbreaking that almost two-thirds of these animals must be euthanized because nobody wants them and shelters lack the space to keep so many stray and abandoned animals.

It’s important to note that according to the American Humane Society: People-aggressive dogs are a liability both morally and legally. In most cases these dogs must be euthanized. If adopted, aggressive dogs, many times, end up in situations that are a danger to the public.

According to the Humane Society, millions of stray and unwanted animals that must be euthanized each year deserve a peaceful death, and shelter workers deserve access to a means to end animals’ lives compassionately and with dignity.

We thank the public for its interest in these two dogs. Every day, the staff at Animal Services must make difficult decisions. Animals brought to the shelter are claimed by their owners, adopted by the public or rescue groups, and many are euthanized because nobody wants them.

For information about adopting or spaying/neutering pets, please visit us at or (305) 884-1101.

I spoke to Dr. Pizano, who said that the shelter always needs caring people - the kind who feel so deeply for a stray like Highway - to volunteer at the shelter.

"Please come and help," she said.


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