How is it that I can feel so much pain when a dog, a dog that I do not know, is accidentally euthanized in shelter? Why is it that my heart aches so much for that dog? Why is it that when I look at her photograph and those of her with her family, I cry uncontrollably, when I do not know any of them personally? Why is it that I can visit the last moment of that dog's life when I close my eyes, and have to shake my head like an etch-a-sketch to erase it?
As a pet owner, and as a veterinarian, I have seen many animals euthanized in my lifetime. Some were my own pets. Many were owned by others. Many were owned by no one. I am proud to say that in my current practice, euthanasia is performed for terminally ill or seriously behaviorally challenged animals only. My career choice has not always provided such a fortunate path, but it has led me to where I am today. As a result of my experiences, it is relatively easy for me to mentally visualize this dog of whom I only have seen photos, walking down a hall for the last time, wondering where she is going, and I can painfully see her taking her last breath. I grieve for her and for her family as if I knew them.
Every dog is special, but Target had a special story, a wonderful history.
Target was one of three young dogs who alerted a sleeping troop of soldiers in Afghanistan to a suicide bomber. The suicide bomber was trying to enter the barracks and detonate a bomb wrapped around his body. The attempt, had it succeeded, could have killed or wounded dozens of US soldiers while they slept. Two of the dogs attacked the bomber keeping him from entering the barracks, while Target barked to alert the sleeping US soldiers to the intruder.
The bomb detonated during the struggle outside the barracks. The suicide bomber was killed, but the dogs were also injured in the blast. While one dog did not survive the blast, the other two were saved after being provided veterinary care. The two dogs were side by side with the soldiers for the remainder of their stay in Afghanistan.
When two of the soldiers returned home, they contacted "Puppy Rescue Mission" about the dogs they were forced to leave behind. The group raised over $20,000 to bring the dogs to the States to become part of the soldiers' families. A bond had been created during wartime, between the heroes with two legs, and the heroes with four legs.
In July 2010, the dogs arrived and placed all four paws on US soil. There were TV cameras, and reporters. The dogs received a heroes welcome. They were featured on Oprah and CNN. Then they each went home with their soldier, two soldiers that had also survived the suicide bomber's attack. Target moved to Arizona to be with Army Sgt. Terry Young and his family.
Just a few months later, on Friday, August 12, 2010, Sgt. Young realized that the gate to their back yard had been left open and Target had wandered from the yard. He did not realize that she had wandered into a neighbor's yard and had already been picked up by animal control. He contacted all the local TV and radio stations, who had published reports of the hero dog's arrival in Arizona and it seemed everyone knew to keep their eyes open for Target, the Military Hero. At least, everyone that watched the news knew.
That night, Sgt. Young had found Target's photo on the Petfinder website that represented a local shelter. He was relieved that she was safe, but wanted her home. He phoned the shelter but it was after hours, and he thought they were closed until Monday.
He arrived at 9 am to retrieve Target. The shelter personnel brought Target to the soldier, but the dog on the leash was not the same dog that Sgt. Young saw in the photo on their site. It was not Target. They brought him the wrong dog. They promptly put that dog back into it's kennel, and looked for Target. The soldier waited for one hour, when a teary eyed employee came back to him, apologizing, and stating that Target had mistakenly been euthanized just minutes before the soldier's arrival.
While the world grieves the loss of a Hero, a family grieves the loss of a family member, and now the nations mourns the loss of a hero.
I hope the shelter spared the dog who was due to die that fateful morning. If they did, Target has saved one more life by sacrificing her own. I hope that dog can go on to enjoy a new adoptive family, with thanks to Target.
Sgt. Young had stated, ""I just can't believe that something like this would happen to such a good dog."
It is a tragedy, but walking a good dog to it's death in this country happens every hour of every day! That is why the person who euthanized this wonderful, calm, loving animal did not hesitate to perform the duty that they are paid to perform. Wonderful dogs like Target die not because they are not "good dogs" but because we buy the puppy that looks so cute in the pet store window, or because we fall in love with an online photo of a puppy from a commercial breeder/puppy mill, instead of adopting from our local shelter.
The dogs that die each day in shelters in our country often have unknown pasts, and once in the shelter, their future is unknown. In each of those dogs, there may be a hero. There may be a past hero, or a hero whose life has ended before being given the chance. They may not be a military hero, but there are many ways of becoming a canine hero. A dog who lies at the foot of the bed as his owner died from cancer is a hero for the comfort he gave. A dog who comforts a child who is hiding behind a sofa as his parents argue, is a hero. In each of those shelter dogs, there is a dog with the potential to become a hero. Hero or not, all of these "good dogs" deserve a chance to live, and deserve a chance to give love and get love.
Dogs are over bred in this country. There are more dogs and cats, puppies and kittens than there are homes for them. They are being euthanized annually by the MILLIONS in US shelters! If this was not a normal routine for this employee... if only the ill of health, or ill behaved animals were euthanized in shelters, perhaps something would have CLICKED that saved Target's life Monday morning as she walked to that room. But that is not the case. To that employee, this was just another good dog, going to a bad room.
Target was not the only good dog to die that morning. There were many others in shelters everywhere.
The employee made a mistake by euthanizing the wrong dog, and another dog, likely a good dog, was the one that should have been euthanized despite it's potential for loving his or her family. But this employee performed a flawed daily routine, and did not think twice about the act of euthanizing a good dog because it is part of the shelter "norm".
Perhaps Target's death can bring this issue of disposable pets to public eye:
"DON'T BREED OR BUY WHILE SHELTER PETS DIE!"
I hope that the world sees Target's story and can recognize how often we euthanize good animals in shelters. I hope that people will read Target's story and it will motivate them. If you love animals, you cannot sit idly by while they suffer. You need to do something! Please spay and neuter your pet. Please adopt from a local shelter or rescue. Please volunteer with and donate to a local shelter or rescue.
One of the saddest statistics is that there are more animal lovers than there are animal shelter volunteers. YOU can do something to help. Call your shelter and find out what it is! Sew blankets, wash dishes, write a newsletter, have a party and ask each guest to bring a donation, transport dogs to the groomer or vet. There are so many opportunities for people with limited time or limited funds to still provide their shelter with the help they require to save lives. If you love animals, you need to ACT on that and not assume that other people have that covered!
Rest in Peace, Target. You are loved by millions who never knew you but grieve your loss, and the loss of all the other furry heroes that lose their lives in shelters daily.
I will continue to shake my etch-a-sketch head to try to erase that awful image of your final moments, and try to visual you forever like this:
My prayers go out to the Young family for their loss. You have the sympathy and support of millions!
If you would like to donate to the Puppy Rescue Mission, who continues to bring back the furry comrades of our fighting soldiers, please visit their website at http://puppyrescuemission.deco-dog.com/home?ma=4 .
Tomorrow, you should call or visit your local shelter, and see how you can help...
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