In the Doghouse

An animal typically has three days before he leaves the city pound, dead or alive. What happens during that time continues to cause concern.

Wearing steel-toed, knee-high black rubber fishing boots, Graggs straps on a black back brace and claps his hands together. "Let's roll," he says.

At 10:30 a.m., before the kennel opens to the public, all the animals on one ward die. Rolling tables are set up at each end of the room, and vet techs lethally inject dogs and cats. Snakes that aren't rereleased are put in burlap sacks and placed in the freezer.

In the new pound, Nix says, there will be separate euthanasia rooms conveniently located at the end of each ward. The current kennel has a euthanasia room, but it's designed for dogs getting off the trucks en route to the freezer. Staff members say it's too far from the cages, and they don't have time to take dogs on a morning death march.

Starved strays come to the kennel ravaged by mange and maggots.
Mark Dean
Starved strays come to the kennel ravaged by mange and maggots.
Dogs that haven't been on a leash before shake and fight and bite the rope.
Mark Dean
Dogs that haven't been on a leash before shake and fight and bite the rope.

"Years ago they opened the door, stretched the dog out and gave them a heart stick. What we're doing now -- it's better than it was, and it's not what it should be," Nix says. "It's very cramped and not the most satisfactory. Now an animal will be euthanized in the sight of another animal. We try not to, but it happens."

Graggs points to a golden chow in one of two double-sized kennels that flank the end of the row. "We're starting with big boy, right?" Graggs asks vet tech Martinez. It makes sense to start with him, because he's on the end and would have to watch all the other dogs die. He could easily be killed in his cage or in front of it and be entirely out of sight. Graggs pulls on a pair of blue surgical gloves, opens the cage door and whistles. "C'mere, baby," he says. "C'mon."

Damp from the morning cage cleaning, the dog starts shaking. Graggs pulls him out of the cage. The dog squints, and his eyes slant as a rope is wrapped around his snout three times. Graggs takes the dog around the corner, directly in front of the other kennels. Standing behind the dog, Graggs lifts him onto his hind legs; Martinez swabs the animal's leg with alcohol and injects an inch-and-a-half-long needle. He draws a little blood to make sure it's in the vein, and the blue Windex-like Fatal-Plus poison solution turns purple.

The dog sags and his heavy body is dumped onto the cart. Martinez checks to make sure his heart has stopped beating, then the dog's body is placed in a trash bag.

A black dog, housed directly in front of where the chow was killed, is taken out of his cage. The dog fights as Graggs muzzles him and lifts him onto the cart by one leg and the scruff of his neck.

The dog growls and yelps, and soon the whole row begins barking. After the needle is injected, the dog's tail wags three times, then its body goes limp.

Graggs opens the next cage and whistles. A purple-tongued chow mix bares his teeth and growls. The dog pulls away, fights and wriggles out of the muzzle; standing on his hind legs, he backs to the edge of the table and almost falls off. It takes six tries before he is successfully injected.

More dogs are injected, and clean sheets of newspaper are laid on top of the bloody business page.

A brown Lab-pointer mix cowers and shakes when he's taken out of his cage. "He looks mighty good," Graggs says, and convinces Martinez to give him more time.

"See?" Graggs tells the dog. "You got saved."

The last dog on the row is a husky straight off The Call of the Wild. "This one looks good, too," Graggs says.

But he's already had extra time, Martinez says.

"Some we keep, some we can't keep," Graggs says.

Graggs rubs the dog's nose as its leg is shot. The husky lifts his head again and again, looking at Graggs with icy blue eyes. The dog wags his tail and Graggs gently pushes his head down on the cart.

Martinez injects poison into the dog's other leg.

"Sorry," Martinez says. He feels bad when he has to stick the animal more than once. The wet newspapers are tossed into the black bag with the freshly dead dog.

"That's it," Graggs says. "Put 'em in the freezer."

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