NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - If an animal is deemed "unadoptable" because it is aged, unwell, wild, feral or aggressive it must be put down.
"All of us are animal lovers and not one of us on this staff wants to euthanize an animal, and it's a really tough thing, and it's prayerfully done," said Officer Stephen Watson.
Many "no-kill" shelters have the luxury of only taking in animals of their choosing. The New Hanover County Animal Shelter must take in almost every creature, in every condition.
"People want to criticize full-service shelters around the nation that we euthanize," said Watson. "They never want to look at the real problem. The real problem is people who don't spay and neuter their animals."
A casual attitude towards spaying and neutering is the main driver of high euthanasia rates. The shelter is faced with limited space and resources to house animals and no resources to house animals that can't be adopted.
"We do everything not to have to," affirmed shelter manager Nancy Biszick Ryan. "We do everything not to have to but the bottom line is, you didn't do YOUR part because the dog is here. They're so quick to push blame off on the staff in this building when ultimately it was their lack of responsibility that brought the animal to us."
Euthanasia at the NHC shelter is not a thoughtless process. Each animal is petted, talked to, and held during the process.
"We are all pet owners, we all love animals," said Watson. " People will yell at us and say 'You obviously don't own an animal" or 'You hate animals,' and that just blows my mind.'"
"There is no other job in the world where you get something that you love, and you bring it in, and you care for it and you feed it, and you sit with it, and you talk to it and you walk it, and you form a bond and a relationship with it and then you have to kill it. No other job in the world where that exists," Ryan said.
As an unavoidable part of the job, the impact of euthanasia has been recognized as a possible cause of PTSD among animal caregivers.
Animal rescue workers have a suicide rate of 5.3 in 1 million worker - the same as police and firefighters. The rate for the average worker is 1.5 per 1 million, according to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine.