By Starla Raiborn

Our humane educators provide an evidence-based program to local schoolchildren that teaches empathy and respect for all living things.  One of the activities in the “Spectrum of Caring” curriculum is an exercise in which children are given a role to play and all must decide where the actor falls on the spectrum of caring, where they personally fall on the spectrum of caring, and where the Humane Society of Charles County falls on the spectrum of caring.

An example of one role might be “I am a bird lover and I have filled my yard with bird houses, feeders and bird friendly plants, but my neighbor has outdoor cats that come over and kill my birds.  I think all outdoor cats should be rounded up and killed.”  These role-plays stimulate lots of discussion and thought about what is kind or not and help students learn to think critically about complicated issues that sometimes have no easy or clear-cut answers.

Though not a scenario presented to children in the Spectrum of Caring program, one issue faced in our shelter that has no easy answer is what to do when a homeless animal is pregnant.  On one hand, we love puppies and kittens, on the other we know that millions of unwanted homeless animals are euthanized in over-crowded shelters every year.  The question becomes, “Do we terminate the pregnancy or bring more homeless animals into the world?”

Just as people line up on both sides of the human abortion issue, so too do people line up on both sides of the animal abortion issue.  Many experts in the animal welfare industry believe it cruel and irresponsible to bring more unwanted animals into a nation with 70 million homeless animals.  They believe it more humane to terminate the pregnancy and spay the female than to let them be born into a country where only a small fraction of them will have loving forever homes and up to 3 million a year will be killed in a shelter.

Others are filled with compassion for the unborn and think it wrong to abort what will one day be adorable puppies and kittens.  They know that the litter they save or one that takes its place will die in a shelter or on the streets anyway, but they feel compelled to try to save as many as they can and wait until after babies are weaned to spay the mother.

People are passionate on both sides of this issue and only they can decide what feels right to them.  The question for us as an organization is, “Where does the HSCC fall on this spectrum of caring?”

The answer is as complicated as the topic itself.  The HSCC is made up of people.  Employees, volunteers, board members, supporters and members of our community each fall somewhere on the spectrum, sometimes on opposite sides of the issue.

How do we balance opposing ideas about what is right or wrong?  We focus on our mission, vision and values.  We strive to always be compassionate and caring; to foster respect and understanding for all life; to protect, rescue, adopt and care for animals; to create partnerships for animal welfare; and to educate the community on animal welfare issues.

What this means to us is that if we know an animal in our care is pregnant, we find a safe loving place for her to have her babies.  We spay her and her litter as soon as they are weaned and try to find them homes.

If an HSCC owned animal is on our spay schedule and we discover she is pregnant prior to surgery, our veterinarian performs an examination in place of spay and we find a safe loving place for her to have her babies.  We spay her and her litter as soon as they are weaned and try to find them homes.

It is not always possible to know before spay whether a female is pregnant.  If we discover after surgery has begun that an animal was pregnant, the pregnancy is terminated for the safety of the mother by our veterinarian.  The puppies or kittens are humanely euthanized in accordance with American Veterinarian Association standards and fetuses are cremated through a licensed crematorium.

Whenever a pregnancy is terminated, some people are heartbroken by the loss and others are relieved that fewer animals will die in a shelter because we brought another litter into the world.  We all care and we all look forward to the day where animals are cherished and there are no more homeless pets.