Athens Review, Athens, Texas

August 29, 2013

Dog dispute hits a nerve

Humane Society defends putting puppies to sleep

Rich Flowers
The Athens Review

Athens — A Kemp-area resident who brought eight puppies to the Henderson County Humane Society on Saturday was disturbed to learn that they were euthanized minutes after he authorized their surrender.

Gary Yarbrough said when he surrendered the eight-week-old Labrador-mix puppies, a Humane Society employee told him the shelter would attempt to find a home for the animals.

“They said euthanization was a last resort,” Yarbrough said “She never said they were going to put them down or anything.”

Humane Society shelter advisor Norma Lambert said the decision to euthanize the puppies was made because they were covered in fleas and “not in good shape” due to the heat and other issues. Lambert said they were also not the kind of animals that were likely to be adopted.

“Sometimes the best thing the shelter can do is stop the suffering,” Lambert said.

Yarbrough said the puppies’ mother was a stray dog that had come onto his place a few months ago. One of Yarbrough’s male dogs impregnated the stray, and with six dogs already living there, he had no place for the additional pups.

On Saturday, Yarbrough loaded up the pups and took them to the Humane Society of Cedar Creek Lake in Tool, hoping they might find the animals a home. When he was told there was no room for the litter, Yarbrough headed for the shelter in Athens.

“Everybody told us to take them  to Athens because that’s the best place,” Yarbrough said.

Yarbrough entered the Henderson County shelter at about 11:30 a.m., filled out paperwork and wrote a check for $200 — $150 more than the $50 surrender fee. Yarbrough said an employee, Amy Lambert, told him the animals should be able to find good homes and instructed him to pull his pickup around to the back.

“They unloaded them and took them back through the fence,” Yarbrough said. “I had the rest of their bag of dog food and went through the fence to take it to them. A woman  immediately walked me back outside the fence.”

Yarbrough said behind the fence he could see the dogs lying on a table. It looked to him as if the puppies were being examined and were very docile. When he couldn’t get anyone to tell him what was happening to the dogs, Yarbrough got in his truck and drove around to the front and asked for his dogs back. That’s when he was told they had just been euthanized. When Yarbrough asked an employee why they had been put down he was told there wasn’t enough room for them. 

Yarbrough said he wouldn’t have left the animals if he knew they had no chance for adoption.

“If I had known that they were putting those puppies down as they took them from my truck, I would have broken their gate down,” Yarbrough said.

Lambert said the Humane Society personnel should not have allowed him back into the area where the euthanization was taking place.

“I can understand him being upset,” Lambert said. “It wasn’t something we planned to do in his presence,” Lambert said. “He put himself into that area. That’s unfortunate because it was our responsibility not to have that happen.”

Even so, Lambert believes the decision to euthanized the puppies was the right one. Lambert said for the past few months the shelter has been taking in about 600 animals a month. They can’t afford to take care of, or find homes for, that many animals, so hard decisions must be made. Lambert said animals are not normally euthanized so soon after arriving at the shelter, but it does happen sometimes depending on the condition of the dogs. They also consider the likelihood of someone adopting the animal.  

“Whoever is up front is usually a longtime employee,” Lambert said. “They look at the animals. Basically, we don’t get anything around back unless there is some kind of a problem.”

Lambert said it didn’t take Amy long to determine the puppies would go to the back.

“She already knew that we probably couldn’t keep these puppies, but she was thinking when he leaves here there is no other place for him to go,” Lambert said. “The choice for him is to either take them back home where they haven’t gotten the care they should have gotten, or to find a place that looks nice and put them out.

“We don’t want to say up front that we might have to euthanize these puppies. We can’t say that right out to them, but this might be the thing that might just kick us into saying that.”

Lambert said the Henderson County Animal Control Ordinance states that anyone who allows an animal to stay on his property for four consecutive days is considered owner of the animal and is responsible for their welfare. She also said the form that a person must fill out when leaving an animal at the shelter states, “We cannot guarantee placement of any animal that is surrendered to the shelter.”

“If they ask us ‘Are you going to have to euthanized these animals,’ we’ll tell them yes if we think so,’” Lambert said. “The way we’re looking at it is, this may be our opportunity to say, ‘Folks, this is the reality of it,’” Lambert said “Your puppies may be the ones that don’t get to stay.”