Giselle is a fluffy, dust gray cat with glowing yellow eyes and regal posture. She spent several months living in the Bulloch County Animal Shelter and could have been put down any day, or any minute.
Giselle entered the shelter July 22 and was not adopted during the standard 14 days strays have to find an adoptive home before they can be put down. She lasted well past her deadline because the shelter had the room. But that room quickly ran out, and Giselle was deemed a last-chance animal. From the moment Shelter Manager Wendy Ivey made that tough decision, Giselle became part of the next-to-be-euthanized list.
"I'm the only one who decides who's going to be placed down and who's not. It's very, very rare that I've pulled at the 14-day mark,” Ivey said. “I've got animals in there now that have been here two and three months. As long as I've got a space for them to stay in and still able to move others up in the process, then we keep them until we can adopt them out."
Cost of euthanizing
Bulloch County spent $52,878.33 of taxpayer money from Jan. 1, 2011, to Oct. 29, 2013, euthanizing 4,379 animals just like Giselle. The county provided this information in response to a request under the Open Records Act.
But Ivey said that the number of animals the shelter has had to put down wasn’t always what it is now.
“Our numbers used to be lower, but with the economy and people not being able to afford pets like they used to — and they lose their homes, and they have to move, and then they have to move into places where they can no longer have their pets — and, unfortunately, they have to be surrendered into the animal shelter,” Ivey said.
In October 2012, 13 bottles of euthanasia solution were used to put down a total of 188 animals, costing Bulloch County $2,141.49. This is the highest monthly cost of putting down animals the county had in the measured 34-month time period, according to information provided by the animal shelter.
The Humane Society of Statesboro and Bulloch County also has limited space for animals every month because its relies entirely on foster homes and a few spots at Petco. The society turns away animals when it can’t provide the space. Because of that, the Bulloch County Animal Shelter is the only facility guaranteed to take in strays.
“Our pets are not going to be put down; they’re not going to run out of time. The ones at the shelter are going to run out of time,” said Deborah Kosina, the spay and neuter coordinator for the local Humane Society.
Both groups euthanize animals that do not have a future as someone’s pet because of certain circumstances. If an animal is aggressive or has a health issue that is serious and cannot be remedied with basic treatment, then the animal is deemed not adoptable and is put down.
Putting animals down
When the Bulloch County Animal Shelter decides it needs to put down animals, it calls on Dr. Stan Lee at Westside Veterinary Hospital. He uses a barbiturate compound for the procedure, similar to what is used for lethal injections in death penalty cases, called sodium pentobarbital.
“It simultaneously paralyzes and shuts down the cardio-respiratory centers in the brain and, thus, it causes an individual to decease very, very quickly,” Lee said. “It is very fast and it is very humane. It is almost instantaneous.”
The drug is administered either by intravenous or intraperitoneal injection. IP injections are used on hard-to-handle animals that may present a risk.
"If you've got a feral animal that has never had any human hands on it, for example, then sometimes it's awful hard. You put the handler, the vet, and anybody around at risk, so those initially receive an IP injection," Lee said.
IP injections are made in the abdominal cavity with three to four times the normal dose so the internal organs will absorb the drug. Once the animal has calmed, an IV injection will be done. This is why much more of the drug is required for IP injections.
"The advantage to IV, if you can handle them, obviously, is it takes less solution.
The advantage to IP is if you've got one that's very difficult to handle, then you can do it more humanely,” Lee said. “Even though it may take a little longer, you can do it more humanely with less risk to the handler in those situations.”
For people who go into these professions to protect and help animals, having to put them down on a regular basis can take a toll.
"It's difficult to do,” Lee said. “Psychologically and emotionally, sometimes, it can be very difficult to do but ... if it must be done, which it must be, you want to be sure it's done right and you want to be sure it's done correctly.”
For Ivey, the shelter manager, it can be tough to decide what animals should be put down, but she tries to see the positive side of things.
"A lot of people don't realize how stressful it can be because I'm the sole one who makes the decision on who stays and who goes. But, I also look at it as rewarding because I keep more than I do put down, so I feel I am the one that's able to give them that chance,” Ivey said. “If someone else was in that position, it might be different.
Sometimes you do have people that feel we don't have time for this, we've got to go by policy, and I have the privilege that I get to make that decision.”
College town effects on euthanization rates
With its rural back roads, a university, two colleges and the economic strain people have been under in the past years, Bulloch County has the perfect blend of factors that can lead to animal overpopulation.
“There’s a lot of animals dumped, or we get a lot of phone calls of students who no longer want the animals at the end of the semester … that’s all university towns,” Kosina said.
Lee said the best way to reduce strays from reproducing and contributing to animal overpopulation is to spay and neuter. He illustrated how one female dog can greatly increase the population.
“She comes in heat every six months and then if she has two litters a year, and then those litters have two litters a year, and then those litters of those litters have two litters a year. You see, you are increasing exponentially,” Lee said. “So it would go without saying that spaying and neutering would control that issue better than anything else could.”
What happened to Giselle?
So what happened to Giselle, the fluffy, dust gray cat with glowing yellow eyes and regal posture?
After living on borrowed time on the shelter’s list of animals next to be euthanized, she was adopted in November.