Capone, 2001-2017: RIP

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Capone’s story is a perfect example of why animal advocacy is so difficult.  

Capone was an old but content and much-loved dog. He had lived with his guardian since puppyhood. Approaching 17 years old (who knows how many dog years that is), his age was catching up with him. However, according to one account, he was a “happy dog who liked to sing to certain songs, howling to the tune.”  One recent day, he accidentally escaped from his house. A Good Samaritan took him to the Genessee County Animal Control Center. Within a few hours of arriving at the facility — and just a few minutes before his frantic guardian called GCAC, having seen a message by the rescuer on social media — Capone had been euthanized.

Animal Control officials say it was, in effect, mercy killing. They say that, shortly after his arrival, he was howling in agony, and they put Capone out of his misery.

The guardian denies that he was in dire straits and says: “‘He got taken away from us. To know he died alone, that’s the worst feeling,’ said Serafin Montoya.” The rescuer also reports that he was able to lift Capone inand out of his truck without the dog being in distress. Others have asked why the dog was not taken to a nearby emergency veterinarian to make him comfortable. It seems obvious as well that an old dog may have been reacting to the strange surroundings and confinement at the facility.

It is understandable, easy and natural to blame GCAC. It appears animal control officials aren’t helping themselves by refusing to comment to the press, and by insisting at the June 12 County Commission meeting and the June 14 Animal Control Subcommittee meeting that they would do the same thing again. The uproar and heated comments on social media are predictable.

However, what effect does a blanket condemnation of GCAC have on the animals?

Several years ago, advocates formed the Genessee Residents for Animal Control Evolution (GRACE). They have succeeded in electing pro-animal commissioners, and have been involved in improvements to the County Animal Control so that there has been a significant shift in the number of animals saved, with a save rate of 88% compared to 40%. Last year, GCAC received an award for these imporvements.

GRACE attended the recent county meetings. Their perspective is worth considering. They noted that the goal of the June 14 meeting was to better understand what happened, and try to determine how to avoid an incident like this going forward.

The group pressed for procedures to ensure that there would never again be another dog put to death like Capone. Richard Angelo, its spokesperson said: “We don’t agree with the decision as a group and we think there needs to be better medical protocols in place for the shelter to be able to make these decisions.” He urged the county to find a balance that doesn’t allow injured animals to suffer, but still gives owners time to find their pets.

Who loses? As in most situations involving people and animals, it’s the animals. Apparently, GCAC has adopted only one dog in the approximately one week since Capone’s death.

So it is complicated. Can animal advocates protest the killing of Capone and demand changes so that this never happens to another beloved animal, but in a manner that doesn’t cause people to stay away from the facility?