The story behind the numbers: animal shelter explains high kill rates

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 5:24 PM EDT
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TOWN OF OSWEGATCHIE, New York (WWNY) - A north country animal shelter has one of the highest kill rates in New York state. Nearly 90 percent of the cats and dogs taken in by the St. Lawrence Valley SPCA wind up being euthanized.

A national animal welfare group called Best Friends Animal Society checked data from shelters around the state. The group says the St. Lawrence Valley SPCA is responsible for 20 percent of the unnecessary shelter deaths in New York.

However, officials at the Ogdensburg-area shelter say there’s a story of compassion behind the numbers.

“It’s because we don’t turn people away. We’ll take the dog at risk. We’ll take the cat at risk,” said Karen Cunningham, St. Lawrence Valley SPCA’s board president.

She says everyone at the shelter loves animals and will take in cats and dogs whether they’re feral or tame, sick or healthy, young or old, injured or fit.

“We can’t save them all, but we do the best we can when we can,” said Cunningham.

According to St. Lawrence Valley SPCA’s most recent available data, the shelter took in 1,210 animals in 2019. It euthanized 1,072. In other words, nearly nine out of ten animals were put down.

Cunningham says the difficult decision to euthanize is made after careful consideration.

“The animal does not respond to shelter life, begins to injure themselves and we do our best to try to modify that with a lot of love and care and a lot of attention, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen,” she said.

Other animals are severely injured or have potentially deadly illnesses. The shelter puts those animals down.

And, yes, healthy animals are also euthanized.

“There are times when there’s just so many and sometimes they’ve been here for a very extended period of time,” said Cunningham. “That isn’t the life that they were meant to live.

Best Friends Animal Society wants to end the killing of pets in shelters. When it uncovered the shelter’s high kill rate, it reached out to help.

“We do that by providing funding, programmatic support. We have lots of experts in lots of different areas and we interact with shelters all over the country every day and generally, that is well received,” said Audrey Lodato, senior strategist, East Region, Best Friends Animal Society.

St. Lawrence Valley SPCA declined the offer.

“We just feel the organizations we’re working with right now are meeting our needs and we want to be awfully sure where the animals go and when you spread yourself too thin, we sometimes make bad decisions,” said Cunningham.

SPCA officials say Best Friends began a “pattern of harassment” by reaching out to board members, supporters, veterinarians, local officials and news media.

The SPCA responded by having a lawyer send Best Friends a letter to cease and desist.

“Their attorney responded, saying they didn’t do anything wrong. Well, it is kind of a form of harassment when you can’t take no for an answer,” said Cunningham.

Best Friends says it never harassed anyone. It simply wants to save healthy animals’ lives.

“Professionally we do life-saving work at animal shelters across the country. We’re professionals at this and we would really like to provide that same help to this shelter,” said Lodato.

You might be wondering how the St. Lawrence Valley SPCA compares to other shelters in the north country. The Jefferson County SPCA and Lewis County Humane Society are no-kill shelters. They also don’t take in every animal brought to them, while the one near Ogdensburg does.