So Quiet

10 Aug



Originally published in 2010 on Daily Kos, by yours truly.

We spent ten thousand years domesticating these animals, and we throw them away like toilet paper.” – Bill Anderson


When I was but a young twenty-something, I lived in Santa Cruz for a few years. And I volunteered in their SPCA-run animal shelter for some months of my stay there. This is a story about that.

I haven’t been back to Santa Cruz since I left in 1988. Living there left a legacy in my mind and emotions, though. I’ve blogged here before about my experiences with street people there.

This one is about homeless people of other species than the human.


The Santa Cruz animal shelter wasn’t a huge shelter. It comprised a number of dog runs, some cat cages.

It wasn’t real fancy, but it was functional. My jobs as a volunteer included hosing the poop into the drains, feeding, and working to help adopt out dogs.

The dogs had to be tough to survive, because of the space constrictions and high turnover. If they had diarrhea, they were tagged to go. Just that was enough.

I remember one dog that I personally got adopted out. Big tall dog, like a cross between an Afghan and a wolfhound.

A guy came in one day, wanted an Afghan. I was there and was asked to help, and I thought; “Have I got the dog for you!”

So I went and got the gangly, awkward, big blond dog, and spent some time with her new owner in the socializing area. Told him what a great dog she was, etc. She really was a sweetie.

It was such a rush to hear, a few days later, that he’d come back and adopted her.

Then there was this other dog, a husky-like dog, who was there for much longer than usual before euthanasia. Great dog. Nice dog. Really well socialized, and strong.

The whole place just about broke out into a party when that dog got adopted.


The staffers were very positive about my being there, very appreciative. But so stressed out. More and more all the time. Because of having to do so much killing. I watched it happen to more than one of them.

Animal shelters that have too much intake and not enough adoption rates have poor choices, other than humane euthanasia. It sounds so soft when one puts it that way.

In other words, people who work these gigs have to kill dogs and cats every week, sometimes dozens of them per human pet-killer.

It’s hard on them. The employee turnover is high. People get angry.

The staff told me stories, like about the woman who brought her cat back because she’d changed her interior decorating and the cat didn’t match any more.

And these human people (I don’t consider all humans to be people) do this in full knowledge that this is the best possible outcome for the dog and cat people who have come into their care.

To do the best to get them adopted, but when space runs out, to gently put them down…er, kill them, as kindly as possible.


I wanted that animal shelter to hire me. Ultimately, they didn’t; and it pissed me off a lot at the time.

In retrospect, I think they were right, though. I believe they may well have seen me better than I saw myself..that I would not have been able to handle it.

But I wanted to, so much. I wanted to be able to be part of this noble thing these people I admired so much, were dealing with. This business of gently sending off the unwanted, because there was no better choice. Because so many humans are so cruel about abandoning their pets, including the ones they breed.

One week I found out that the staff was required to attend a euthanasia seminar in, I think Santa Rosa? A bit up north, anyway. I asked if I could come too; I wanted to show solidarity.

I hated it that they had to deal with this terrible thing in the back room, while I got to wash dog poop down drains (no biggie) and talk people into adopting dogs that were close enough to what they thought they were looking for.

They said okay; they let me go. In retrospect I imagine they may well have paid for me to go, but that didn’t occur to me at the time.

This was all a very long time ago, so my memory only holds certain facets of the experience. I remember that it was a decent looking animal shelter, outside. Nicely kept up.

Inside, I remember being somewhat overwhelmed by the size, all the cages. They gave us a tour.

And then they collected all the dogs that were to be killed today, in a big room with a high ceiling, like a gymnasium.

This was the daily lot. These were just the dogs that had to be killed today. They’d saved them for the seminar.

The next surprise was how many of them looked like purebred dogs.

Well, in all fairness, they probably cherrypicked them for the nice dogs. I expect they did the really poorly socialized ones elsewhere. It wasn’t like the people from the Santa Cruz animal shelter didn’t already know how to euthanize dogs, including difficult dogs.

Because what we were looking at here was maybe thirty really nice dogs, all upbeat, looking pleased that something different was happening; “Hey, got out of the cage, these people seem nice, how about that? What’s next?”

Then the seminar vet trainers came out with the needles. The staff from the Santa Cruz shelter were all taught how to insert the IV, to give their assigned patient the pentobarbital.

One dog at a time.

As the dogs were killed, they were gradually, gently, piled in a heap near where the killing was going on.

At the end, what I remember strongly was the smell of urine and feces.

But even more, I remember how quiet it was. So, so quiet, in that high-ceilinged, echoing room.


Then it was my turn. They took me seriously, those people at the Santa Cruz animal shelter.

I got to kill a puppy.

They directed me back to the puppy room, and taught me about peritoneal injections. They do cats that way, too.

I killed the puppy. I tried to be careful.

It wasn’t really all that hard.

When I occasionally question myself, try to remember what or whom I’ve killed, or what or whom I’ve seen dead in my life, I tend to forget that puppy (though it was important, that killing of that puppy).

I never forget the quiet pile of dogs, though. They haunt me.

So quiet.

2 Responses to “So Quiet”

  1. Derrick Jensen 2015/08/10 at 10:23 pm #

    This breaks my heart.


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