Web Site Saves Death Row Dogs

Dogs slated for euthanasia get last reprieve on adoption Web site.

Oct. 16, 2007— -- Maxwell wasn't all bad; he just had a lot of energy. And that hangdog face? Well, it didn't mean he was guilty, he just couldn't help it.

But his number was up. And at 9 months old, he had been sentenced to death by lethal injection.

Fortunately for the lab-whippet mix, help was on the way.

"Within a day or two of posting on dogsindanger.com, we found him a great owner," said Paula Werner, program manager at Lake County Animal Care and Control in California.

Dogsindanger.com is a new Web site, which like other similar sites, posts photos and descriptions of dogs in shelters around the country in need of adoption. What sets the site apart, however, is it includes only dogs that are expected to be euthanized and includes a countdown clock that estimates when the animal will be put to death.

As of Monday, the site featured an abandoned 8-year-old border collie from Brooklyn named Pete with 24 hours to live, and a female Rottweiler with less than a week before she is scheduled to be put down.

Started three weeks ago by Alex Aliksanyan, the site includes some 400 dogs from 140 shelters nationwide, about 50 of which have found homes. Another dozen, those who weren't adopted, are remembered on a memorial page.

"About a year ago I started to research ways to inform people about these animals' suffering. I knew if people knew of the suffering they would want to do something. … If we show them the eyes of these dogs that are going to be killed for no reason people will act. It all snowballed from there," he said.

Clock Is Ticking

Just how long a dog has before it's euthanized depends largely on the city or state in which the animal is being held. Despite the site's timer that counts down the number of days and hours a dog has left before it's put down, many shelters say that time is subject to change and depends largely on how much room the shelter has at any one time.

"If we bring in a stray, we will give it five days for an owner to reclaim it. After five days we put it up for adoption," said Carl Shooter, animal services manager at the Carrolltown Animal Shelter in Texas. "If there's no interest, we give a week before it's scheduled to be euthanized."

Through dogsindanger.com, Carrolltown recently found a home for a male Chihuahua-mix with less than two days before scheduled euthanization.

Like many other shelters, Shooter said, Carrolltown posts animals fit for adoption on other sites including Craigslist and PetFinder.com.

In Lake County, Calif., shelter authorities start the countdown clock at one week when posting on the site, Werner said. Of the 1,500 dogs that came through her shelter last year, about 50 percent were adopted, 25 percent redeemed by their owners and the rest euthanized.

The ASPCA estimates that between 5 million and 8 million dogs and cats enter animal shelters every year. Approximately 3 million to 4 million of those are euthanized due to a lack of space or adequate resources.

The Guilt Factor

Despite the site's early record of saving animal lives, some animal humane groups worry about encouraging people to adopt through scare tactics.

"My visceral reaction to the site is not very positive," said Julie Morris, vice president of national outreach for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"Obviously, anything that promotes adoption is good. But I don't like the idea of inducing people to adopt out of guilt and on the spur of the moment. No one should adopt hastily. They should take the time to make sure they can properly care for an animal and that they've found an animal that is right for them or their family."

Aliksanyan, who invested $500,000 of his own money to start the site's parent charity, the Buddy Fund Inc., said he knew the countdown clocks may offend some people, but it was important they understood the reality of dogs being killed for lack of space at shelters.

"It's reality and sometimes reality is not pretty. It's the same question about showing dying babies in Darfur on CNN. Should people just be told about that or should they see it for themselves with their own eyes? Just putting them on the screen forces people to look into their own conscience."

Werner said that many shelters had a mechanism for filtering out adopters who were not capable of caring for a dog, even if they were moved to save an animal scheduled for death.

"At our shelter, there is a three-page application that begins our screening process. We want to see that people have had pets before, kept them for a lifetime and spayed and neutered them. At some point there is a conversation required to make sure a pet is a good match for someone."