FAIRBANKS — The borough animal shelter is taking heat from local animal lovers for its refusal to join Just One Day, a nationwide program in which shelters sign a pledge agreeing not to euthanize any savable animals on June 11.
Many animal rescue groups have signed the pledge on the program’s website, which defines savable animals as “those that have not been diagnosed with a terminal, incurable condition, or dogs that have been determined by a credentialed behaviorist to be unmanageably aggressive, and beyond hope of rehabilitation.”
The Just One Day pledge definition of a savable animal is too narrow, according to Fairbanks North Star Borough Animal Shelter Manager Sandy Besser
“The issue is that there are a whole lot of other circumstances that might apply where we would need to euthanize an animal that are outside of that,” Besser said. “It could prohibit us from humanely taking care of animals that need to be taken care of.”
Besser cited a recent case of an older dog that had accidentally been run over by one of its owners.
“It was still alive. It had some injuries, some broken bones. Could the dog be saved? Probably. They decided to have the dog euthanized — it was 12 years old and they just felt it would be better for the dog, rather than going through this. That is not a terminal condition. I could not have euthanized that animal for them because of this pledge,” Besser said.
Local musher and animal advocate Lynn Orbison first approached the borough about signing the pledge in January, according to veterinarian and Just One Day supporter Jeanne Olson. Orbison met with Besser, then presented the idea to the Animal Control Commission, who thought it was “a grand idea,” according to Olson.
The commission failed to make a decision on the issue because they were focused on budgeting concerns so Orbison asked Mayor Luke Hopkins — who has the ultimate say in the matter — to issue a proclamation in support of the program.
“I think it is a reasonable request of borough citizens to ask this mayor to endorse Just One Day. In my wildest dreams, he would also waive the adoption fees for animals on June 11. Bottom line, they can figure out a way to endorse this, rather than excuse themselves with reasons why they cannot,” Olson said.
Hopkins did ultimately sign a proclamation but it wasn’t quite what the program’s supporters were hoping for.
Friday afternoon Hopkins proclaimed June 11, 2012, as Not Just One Day, praising animal shelter workers and “their dedicated service to provide humane care for all animals and to preserve lives by facilitating their adoption not just on one day but throughout the year.”
The animal shelter has not performed any euthanasias on June 11 for the last three years and there were 214 days in the last fiscal year in which no shelter animals were euthanized, according to the proclamation.
Olson said she managed the shelter for several years and understands both sides of the issue.
“I think there are times when they probably euthanize animals too quickly. I think all of us are not critical of animal control because it’s a tough job. You have to constantly check yourself and ask if what you are doing is the right thing for the animal,” Olson said. “If they say they are doing everything they can they should really be signing off on the pledge.”
The shelter had a 25 percent euthanasia rate when Olson was the manager but that rate is now 10 percent, according to Besser .
“My message is that we have a very low euthanasia rate — we work very hard all the time to make sure that no animals are euthanized needlessly,” Besser said. “We do support animals living, we support getting them out there into homes in the best way we can. I’m not against that. I just can’t sign that pledge.”
Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7590.