- This Week
DEATH ISSUE: Death is part of life at San Francisco's SPCA
10.29.13 - 4:03 pm | Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez |
Emma, who needs an amputation after a severe fracture, at the SF SPCA's "no kill" shelter.GUARDIAN PHOTO BY AMANDA RHOADES
DEATH ISSUE Like in any hospital, the doctors at the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter deal with the living and the dying on a daily basis. But in these halls, the dying often have no homes and no families — unless they're lucky enough to leave through the front door.
The SPCA is a unique safe haven for the furred, a pioneering "no-kill" shelter. The distinction doesn't mean no death, it means the staff actively avoids euthanization of animals that have a chance of being adopted, including those that are already in the process of dying.
The doctors, technicians, and support personnel have a unique challenge: While most pet owners — or pet guardians, the official replacement term San Francisco adopted in 2002 — deal with the death of a beloved pet once or twice in a lifetime, the people here learn to deal with losing the animals they love every week.
The term they use is "compassion fatigue," and the specialists here have to learn how to manage emotions surrounding death of animals that number in the hundreds every year.
Dr. Kate Kuzminski, the director of shelter medicine at the SF SPCA, gives us a tour. Our first stop is a small checkup room, where two adopted kittens, Liam and Otto, are pacing on a table.
"Here's your opportunity to see poopy kittens," their guardian, Judy, says. Though she's playful, diarrhea can be dangerous for kittens if left unchecked. Diarrhea leads to dehydration, which leads to death.
Kuzminski looks them over, pulling the unhealthily scrawny young cats by the scruff of the neck. They're a dark, dusky grey, with poofy fur, and about the length of her hand. After just a minute of looking them over, she prescribes a treatment and moves on. The brevity of her visit seems callous at first, until she tells us that she has more than 300 animals clamoring for her attention.
The most vulnerable of the animals under her care are kittens, Kuzminski explains. "We have a great foster program, but without the foster program they would likely die," she says. It costs thousands of dollars to care for one kitten for a few days.
Two kittens in beginning of life care at the SF SPCA snuggle.
Compartments along one wall hold about three kittens each, many hooked into little IVs that kept them hydrated. The kittens tumble and play with each other as she discusses their likelihood of living. The facility has an extraordinary success rate, she says, but sometimes there's a limit on what the vets can do.
The kittens mew and meow in the background as she outlines their options.
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