Everyone who was old enough to comprehend it remembers 9/11. You can’t not remember it. Such a momentous event in our country’s history would be impossible to forget, even if assholes everywhere weren’t visually forcing us to remember by commercializing the event and memorializing it forever in such dignified mediums as buttons, t-shirts, and that all-American favorite, the bumper sticker.
I’m certainly not trying to say that it wasn’t a tragedy. An attack on that scale hadn’t been seen on our own soil since before we entered WWII, and at that time it was an event that pretty much made it impossible for our country to remain on the outskirts of battle. So it’s no surprise that the events that unfolded ten years ago today really made an impact on our country and the rest of the world, as well.
What bothers me about the whole 9/11 thing, quite apart from the merchandising, is that this is the only time we make it a point to remember. And we have quite the selective memory, at that. Perhaps it’s a kind of post-traumatic amnesia, or a coping mechanism that helps us justify the shitstorm we’ve gotten ourselves into since that fateful morning, but whatever the case, the fact is that we don’t remember a lot of really important things.
First, there are the casualties that have occurred in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. In the attacks, a total of 2,977 victims were confirmed dead. Add to that the firefighters, police officers, and other first responders who bravely gave their lives, and the total comes to 3,388.
Since the start of the so-called “War on Terror,” we have lost 4,792 troops in Iraq and 2,691 in Afghanistan. That brings the total casualties on our end to 7,483 just in those countries alone—more than twice the number of victims and first responders killed in the initial attack. Military and civilian deaths in general since 9/11 are estimated to top 8,800. This isn’t even counting the non-death casualties. Wounded US soldiers and civilians number nearly 46,000 since 2001.
Then there are the casualties that many Americans don’t think about: the innocent civilians killed in indiscriminate attacks in Middle Eastern countries, which number well into the hundreds of thousands and may top 1,000,000 before the fighting ends. And at this point, I’m questioning whether it ever will.
And then there are the non-physical casualties. Countless Americans—citizens by birth or by law who love their country just as much as you or I—have been persecuted since 9/11 because their skin was just a little too brown. Since when do we have the right to deem a whole country, a whole race, or a whole religion evil? Since when is it okay to humiliate or hurt someone based on the color of their skin or the garments they wear on their head or the religious texts they choose to read? And at least half of the time, people are way off the mark, anyway. I have friends who are Indian, Mexican, and even of Spanish descent who have been called horrible names and even physically assaulted because of American ignorance and intolerance. Had they been Muslims from Afghanistan or Iraq, the things that were said and done to them would be no less wrong or detestable, but we let our hate blind us to the point that those things don’t even seem to matter anymore. We just want someone to blame, and anyone different enough from who we perceive to be a “real American” is fine for that purpose.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the monetary cost of all this fighting. Freedom isn’t free, as people are so quick to remind us, and this particular war has a hefty price tag: from 2001 through fiscal year 2011, the cost is a whopping $1.283 trillion, spent on military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care. Anyone who claims to want to reign in our spending and doesn’t bother to consider the astronomical military expense associated with the “War on Terror” in their calculations clearly isn’t really all that serious about lowering our deficit.
I won’t even get into the cost to our civil liberties associated with such blatant invasions of privacy as the so-called “Patriot Act” and other unconstitutional nonsense. As Ben Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
The bottom line is, I won’t ever forget what happened on September 11th, 2001. Nor will I forget what happened afterward, and the men, women, and children who have died and will continue to die as a result. I don’t need your jingoism or your bumper stickers to remind me once a year to be a patriot, because I love my country every minute of every day, even if I don’t always love what we do.
This isn’t Christina the Pacifist talking, or Christina the Liberal, or Christina the Whatever-Other-Label-You-Feel-Like-Assigning-To-My-Beliefs. This is Christina the American speaking, and you better believe I remember.
I remember all of it. Do you?
One of the most common questions I’m asked, both by people coming in to drop off animals and by friends of mine who ask about my job, is whether the shelter where I work is a “no-kill” shelter. When I reply that we’re not, nearly everyone seems surprised and disappointed. For some reason, people who know me seem to assume that, as the consummate animal lover, I’d never work in a facility that wasn’t “no-kill.” As for the public when they come in to bring me animals, it’s easy to see why they dislike hearing that I can’t guarantee that their beloved family pet or the stray they just found won’t humanely be put to death if we determine that this is the best course of action. The bottom line is that nobody likes euthanasia, and least of all those of us who deal with it on a daily basis. However, there is something to be said for those of us who recognize it as a necessary evil and aren’t hiding behind euphemisms to appease the public about what we have to do.
I disagree with the idea of “no-kill” shelters for two reasons. They either imply that euthanasia is never a correct choice, vilifying it in the public eye, or they do employ euthanasia—for the same stated reasons as the open admissions shelter where I work—and use the term falsely to make them look better and bring in more donor dollars.
First, there are the shelters and sanctuaries who truly are “no-kill” facilities. I only know of one organization in my area that actually refuses to utilize euthanasia, even in extreme cases, and I cannot tell you how much this mode of operation disgusts me. Having worked in many different facets of veterinary medicine over the last eleven years, I have seen just about every kind of suffering an animal can endure, and I have never seen a case where I disagreed with the veterinarian that euthanasia was the most humane option. I’ve spoken to a veterinarian who was employed by the organization in question, which allows its animals to languish with injuries and terminal illnesses, refusing to end animals’ pain because they can’t bring themselves to make that call. In my mind, that’s blatant cowardice. No creature should suffer misery and pain because their guardian doesn’t have the guts to decide to end it for them.
Then, more commonly, you get shelters who are “no-kill” in name only, still employing euthanasia for animals they deem unadoptable for health or behavior issues. They also utilize a practice known in the industry as “cherry-picking,” meaning they select on intake only those animals they believe will end up being healthy, behaviorally-sound pets. The leftover animals who don’t fit their standards are then most often shuffled to the nearest municipal shelter, where they have an even smaller chance at getting adopted due to overpopulation, low resources, and an already monstrous euthanasia rate. Obviously, the easiest way to decrease your euthanasia numbers is to take on only those animals you think you’ll have a pretty foolproof chance of adopting. But is that the right course of action to take when there are animals in the community who still need to be cared for, regardless of how sick or injured or aggressive they are?
The shelter where I work is an open-admissions shelter. If an animal walks through our door, we take it. Even if it’s attacking the person dropping it off right on our doorstep, or half-dead from injury when it’s carried into the building, we will accept it and do what we need to do for the animal. Because of this policy, we do sometimes run into times when space is tight, but we do everything in our power to try to make it so that few healthy, adoptable animals have to be put to sleep. Most of our adoptable dogs and cats have “roommates,” allowing us to free up more cages for incoming animals. We will set up temporary kennels on the floor to house animals until cage space is freed up. We frequently reach out to fosters for animals who may need time before they are adoptable and ask rescue organizations to take some of our cats and dogs into their systems, allowing us to take on more. And we run periodic promotions on our adoptable animals to try to get them into homes as quickly as we can.
We base our euthanasia decisions on an animal’s health, temperament, and overall adoptability to ensure that the animals we can save have the opportunities to find their forever homes, and it is never a decision that is taken lightly.
Of course, most of the animals who are euthanized for behavior problems—even the ones in so-called “no-kill” facilities—are animals who, in the right situation, probably could be worked with. I have seen miraculous turnarounds in animals’ behavior. Take, for instance, the dogs who were confiscated from Michael Vick’s property in Virginia four years ago. Here was a group of dogs that was, without a doubt, trained to engage in fights to the death. Out of fifty dogs, all but a handful were able to be adopted out. Most of the rest are still undergoing rehabilitation, in the hope that they will someday be able to go into a home and live the rest of their lives like normal dogs. Only three were deemed unable to be rehabilitated, and of the forty-seven dogs that were sent to be worked with, only one had to be euthanized. It was a flagship case for giving fighting pits a second chance, even motivating the Humane Society of the United States to change its official stance on the adoptability of these animals.
Unfortunately, though, most shelters and other organizations simply do not have the resources to undergo this kind of rehabilitation with every animal they have who is unadoptable for behavior issues, and the same can be said for animals with injuries or illnesses that require long-term and expensive medical care. Our shelter operates mainly on private donations, and we have to be very careful about where we spend that money in order to provide as many animals as we can with compassionate care and the best opportunity we can to get them adopted. This means we face difficult decisions about who we can work with and who we can’t, based on what is available to us and what we can afford.
In the end, the fault lies not at the feet of the people who utilize and perform shelter euthanasia on animals who would, in an ideal world, have a better chance. The fault lies with the people who neglect to spay and neuter their animals, who choose a purebred from a breeder over a lovable mutt in a shelter, and who mistreat and abandon the pets they made a commitment to when they took them on. We are simply the ones left to clean up the mess, and euthanasia remains an unfortunate necessity in that process.
"No-kill" facilities, by name and by action, seek to make the choice to euthanize look reprehensible in the public eye, and by doing so they do the rest of the shelter community a disservice.