Tough Decisions

How the FKSPCA handles euthanasia

Tough Decisions - An orange and white cat with its mouth open - Cat

To kill or not to kill: it’s the toughest decision the Florida Keys Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (FKSPCA) has to make. The two shelters in Marathon and Key West admit about 2,000 animals a year and, unfortunately, not every one can be saved.

Some animals have to be put down because of untreatable illness, aggression or a feral beginning — they are not safe to be readopted into the community.

“We look for manageable behaviors and the possibility of certain kinds of homes for certain animals,” said Tammy Fox, FKSPCA executive director. “We can’t put the community at risk or keep them forever in a cage; it’s inhumane.”

The decision to terminate an animal’s life is a complex and arduous task, one that the FKSPCA is completely transparent about. There is the assumption that the agency is a “kill-free shelter,” which the FKSPCA dispels on its website. Kill-free shelters are often limited admission, meaning they only accept animals with a better chance of adoptability, thus spiking their success rate. The FKSPCA is open admission, meaning they take all animals no matter what physical or mental condition. But with that comes the responsibility and hard choices of what is the most humane outcome for an animal that is not treatable.

The benchmark for a kill-free shelter, according to Best Friends Animal Society, is a roughly 90 percent live release rate. FKSPCA records indicate they mostly achieve this standard. For example, in March of 2018 the FKSPCA successfully rehabilitated 88 percent of the animals and 87 percent in April.

“We cannot guarantee the animal can be rehabilitated and it is our responsibility not to place animals in homes without reasonable assurance everyone is safe,” said Jeff Johnson, FKSPCA president-elect. “We have to work with all animals; no matter how big the problem or tough the solution, we can’t ignore it.”

The FKSPCA uses a national database called Pet Point which compiles euthanasia statistics, and those numbers are then sent to Monroe County, which oversees the agency’s contract and animal control in general. According to shelter records from February 2016 to February 2018, there were 844 animals euthanized. Using Pet Point’s classifications, many of those euthanizations are grouped under the vague “policy decision” category and include such animals as iguanas, rats, raccoons, bufo toads — essentially invasive animals. Of the 844, more than 300 animals were euthanized for medical reasons, 171 were requested by owners and about 50 were for irreversible behavioral disorders.

“We make every attempt to help an animal, we look at the history of their behaviors and keep them at the shelter to evaluate and observe. On the records it shows when we took the animal in to when we decided to euthanize and that it can be quite a long time,” said Fox. It should be noted the shelter spent over $100,000 in animal medical expenses last year treating illnesses in order to make every effort at rehabilitation.

Shelter officials said it is a group decision to euthanize. Any staff member who has come in contact with the animal is a part of the agreement and veterinarians are involved for medical decisions. “It’s never one person making the decision,” said Fox.

By far, cats create the most consistent challenge for the shelter. The Keys have many outdoor, free-roaming cat communities located near homes and businesses. Many of these are feral cats which often breed and create cat communities and should not be confused with furry, purry Mr. Skittles next door.

“It’s always a group decision; everyone in contact with the animal comes to an agreement, and it is made in the most caring way, ”Jeff Johnson, president-elect of FKSPCA.

“Some cats are just truly wild, aggressive and antisocial. Some business owners and residents consider these cats to be invasive and destructive,” said Fox. The rehabilitation success rate is low and just putting them in a room at the shelter can cause mental, emotional and physical stress leading to suffering, not to mention fighting among the cats, according to Matt Royer, the Key West shelter’s director of operations. Fox and Royer, both experienced in animal training and welfare, maintain it’s difficult to domesticate a feral cat and, again, it would go against the responsibility of the shelter to have potentially dangerous animals up for adoption. Another misconception of the statistics is kitten euthanasia, said Fox, which most likely occurs due to fading kitten syndrome, in which young cats simply have no medical chance.

“We encourage trap, neuter and release allowing the cats to live in their colonies without being able to breed,” said Fox “But we can’t just trap, neuter and release them onto the streets without being under the care of someone managing the colony. And under county ordinance, we can’t release them without property owner consent.” However, they will adopt a feral cat or community cats to an individual expressing interest in having a “working” cat on their property, as was the case recently at a local restaurant wishing to have working cats to keep pests at bay.

While there were more than 100 feral cats euthanized over two years, on any given day the shelters in Key West and Marathon also have about 100 cats to be adopted.

“I became a euthanasia technician to know that it’s being done with compassion,” said Royer. “It’s the hardest decision to make but we have to make it. It’s a service for the community as a whole and for the animal.”

For further transparency, the FKSPCA has joined the national database which will have the next publish date in October of all data reports, or log in for monthly reports.

FKSPCA will be creating new programs and classes with Alley Cat Allies to work with the public to find better solutions to the community cat problems. Visit for more information and look for the new shelter opening up this summer.

844 Euthanized Animals
All Species

3/1/16 – 2/18/ 18
Aggression: 33
Behavior: 8
Cat Aggression: 2
Dog Aggression: 5
Fearful: 1
Feluk (Feline Leukemia)/FIV + : 24
Feral: 137
Kennel Stress: 4
Medical: 302
Owned Request: 171
Pain Agression: 1
Policy Decision: 154
Separation Anxiety: 1
Temperament: 1

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  1. Last I checked, releasing unowned cats to the outdoors is illegal in Monroe County. The illegal TNR programs in Key Largo have been 100% unopposed by law enforcement agencies nevertheless. Colony “managers” have never come close to maintaining a sufficient sterilization rate to prevent population growth or reverse it. I have followed the Civil process for dealing with nuisance animals, and these Colony managers were able to call the sheriff’s office and make trouble for me like they were ordering a pizza. Take them out of the driver seat of calling the shots on Animal Control policy and enforcement.

  2. I am sorry euthanasia is not a furkids parent decision to make their are always options…if this is the case then lets euthanize people too that are aggressive sick or just unloved
    I can not support this organization…save them all is Best friends motto
    I support them as they wouldn’t think of having some one walk in with a puppy and say my sally or timmy got this as a present and now they don’t want it anymore so kill it….

  3. Last I checked, releasing cats to the wild in Monroe county is still considered abandonment. There was an illegal TNR program that was boasted about on the front page of newspapers for years. This “program” was unopposed by law enforcement, so we have all been acquainted with exactly how well “TNr works.” If you define “works” as obstructing euthanasia, oh yeah it’s great. But no one has ever succeeded in sterilizing enough of the cats to reduce the population this way.

  4. No TNR. It’s cruel and spreads disease.
    Rabies is on the rise from non reinoculated cats.
    One rabies shot does not cut it.
    Humane euthanasia is best – unless it’s a clearly tame cat ( or kitten ) that deserves a real home.

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