What is unethical behaviour at animal shelters?

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What is unethical behaviour at animal shelters? It’s probably a philosophical question but I’ll try and stick to real situations. And I’m not sure that there are any absolute wrongs and rights in this discussion. How pragmatic must managers at animal shelters be? We live in the real world and you can’t make decisions on principle every time especially under the pressure of managing an oversubscribed animal shelter.

Cats at an animal shelter. Photo in public domain.

However, the purpose of an animal shelter is to take in unwanted animals and try and find them homes so that they are wanted again. If an animal’s behaviour is such that they cannot be successfully homed then there is an argument to decently and peacefully end that animal’s life in a proper way.

Another reason would be if the animal suffers from a serious or a highly contagious illness. The third reason would be that there are not enough places at the shelter and not enough homes to go to and therefore on a practical level, even after trying every other avenue, the animal has to be put down.

However, there are many avenues that management can take to minimise the killing of animals in their care. These should be pursued vigorously first.

There is a hidden issue though, which is that shelter management is sitting on a commercial asset in living and dead animals.

You can kill them ethically but in some instances, animal shelters send them to veterinary schools where they are euthanised and dissected to train veterinary students. In other instances, the animals are euthanised at the shelter and then the carcasses are sent off to factories to be rendered down for pet food.

If there is a commercial outlet for shelter animals this must have a negative impact upon the commitment to find new homes for them. It must fundamentally undermine the raison d’ĂȘtre, the very purpose, of the shelter. And you cannot undermine the commitment to save the lives of unwanted companion animals because it is challenging enough already. If you weaken your resolve through using the animals as a commercial asset you are at the thin end of a wedge.

It is worse than that. If management have a commercial outlet for their animals they are indirectly encouraging more animal abandonments because there is more room at the shelter to take the animals.

This sort of behaviour, in my view, is unethical. The lack of ethics can be compounded when the shelter massages their records to hide the fact that they are shipping animals to veterinary schools and charging for expenses. I have written about such a shelter and it is unethical behavior.

The question of ethics and morality at shelters is a very important one in guiding management and staff as to how to behave. There will be plenty of rules to comply with but rules alone aren’t enough. Staff have to behave ethically as well because this is about lives.