Remembering Animals In Shelters Who Didn't Make It


“Millions of beautiful pets are euthanized every year,” says Mike Arms, president and CEO of the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, CA. Numbers have become very important in the shelter world, as individual shelters and even municipal animal control officials keep careful track of the number of animals that go into shelters, adoption rates and kill rates.

“I understand this, but these beautiful animals aren’t just numbers; they’re all individuals,” says Arms. The first “Remember Me Thursday” (to be held annually on the fourth Thursday of September) will be held this Thursday, Sept. 26. The program was conceived by Arms as a way to remember all animals who never found new homes after landing in shelters.

“Remember Me Thursday” will be observed at the ACES International Conference for Animal Welfare, this Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 26-28, in San Diego, CA. On Thursday, attendees will light candles as workers at shelters across the country do the same thing simultaneously. The hope is that pet owners across the country will also participate in the virtual ceremony at

A coalition of animal shelters in New York City, known as the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals, will also participate, along with Tree House Humane Society (a distinguished cat-only shelter in Chicago), many other individual animal shelters and even more than two dozen organizations in Puerto Rico.

The idea of lighting candles in unison has resonated especially strongly in Puerto Rico, says Michelle Cintron, president of the Federacion Protectora de Animales de Puerto Rico, located near San Juan. “In a choir, everyone sings,” she says. “When one person sings, it’s nice, but together the voices are magical,” says Cintron. “Lighting candles all across Puerto Rico is a concrete action, and it’s a powerful message of solidarity that we must make things better (for the animals).”

Many major metropolitan areas across the U.S., particularly in New England, are experiencing impressive adoption rates at shelters and successful pet population control through spay/neuter, and as a result, euthanasia rates are way down. However, not all shelters have been so lucky. Across much of the southern U.S., shelters are overflowing with animals, and the same is true in Puerto Rico. Citron says the few shelters in Puerto Rico typically receive about 50 to 100 animals daily. In addition to these animals, many homeless dogs and cats live on the streets.

Cintron says that while adoption rates are up in Puerto Rico, still typically less than 10 percent of shelter animals are adopted. Another tiny percentage are transferred to U.S. shelters actually seeking more animals to adopt.

“I think people would be appalled if they knew how many animals (across the country) are really euthanized,” adds Gregory Castle, co-founder and CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, Konab, UT. According to a recently released survey, most people guess about 500 die daily. The number is really around 9,000. “The majority are healthy and adoptable. It’s a tragedy,” says Castle. Best Friends has launched a campaign called Save Them All.

“I think most people want to do the right thing,” adds Cintron. “The hope is that the (“Remember Me Thursday”) event will create awareness. Also, getting children involved is key because they go home and tell their parents how awful it is that so many animals are dying. Children help to drive cultural change.”

Arms, who also began an international adoption campaign called Home 4 the Holidays in 1999, which has led to the adoption of about eight million pets, says, “Listen, we’re doing much better at finding animals homes (compared to 1999). But still the light this year will be very bright. The hope is that we won’t need to light nearly as many candles next year, and even fewer the year after that. I believe as we’re more compassionate to animals, we’ll be more compassionate to one another. Right now, we are killing far too many animals.”

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services