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At 2:00 a.m. on August 26, Donna Liebrich left San Diego and headed east on I-8 for the Mexican border. Mexicali, her destination, is a good two-hour drive, depending on the Border Patrol checkpoint and other unknowns. As she drove into the mountains, Liebrich focused on the mission. Officials estimated it would take 26 bottles of Zoletil and 26 bottles of xylazine each month to humanely dispatch 3000 dogs, the number impounded by Mexicali’s federal perrera in July. As the sky lightened, she picked up the pace in order to make it by 5:00 a.m., when the daily execution of dogs begins.

For Liebrich, the sun rose over a far brighter “sacrifice day,” as the daily euthanasia of dogs is termed in Mexico, where the method used almost everywhere is electrocution. One week earlier, Mexicali — Baja’s capital — joined Tijuana, Tecate, Ensenada, and Rosarito, as well as Saltillo, in the state of Coahuila, in trading that practice for lethal injection, which animal advocates refer to as “humane euthanasia.” That puts much of northern Baja ahead of the pack in this country of over 100 million people — where dogs outnumber humans in some regions, according to the 2007 documentary Companions to None. The film took three years to complete, including the year it took filmmaker Bill Buchanan to obtain permission in Mexico to show scenes of electrocution.

For years, animal advocates on both sides of the border have decried Mexico’s use of electrocution to euthanize unwanted animals. But most efforts to better the lives of dogs have focused on how those lives begin, not end. U.S.- and Mexico-based groups have put their resources mainly into population control.

One San Diego rescue group, however, was founded solely to improve end-of-life conditions. The nonprofit Animal Advocates of the United States was launched in January 2009 by Marlene Revelan, Donna Liebrich, Erica Reynolds, and Laura Sandoval. “Only six locations in Mexico use lethal injection,” Revelan says. “Our purpose is to go back and forth to Mexico six days a week to make sure the dogs have humane euthanasia.” Also on the itinerary: making sure dogs have food and water in their final days. Tijuana’s perrera holds dogs for three days in case owners show up, which Revelan says happens “hardly ever.”

United Hope for Animals, a nonprofit organization, has been funding Animal Advocates with three-month grants, which cover the cost of the euthanasia drugs ($3000 per month) and the $80-a-week salary of a full-time worker in Tijuana. Mexican vets are working on a plan to purchase the drugs in Mexico, where they are less expensive. “There is no need to have someone on site in Rosarito,” Revelan says, “because those kennels have been compared to the Hilton.” But Revelan wishes the grant afforded them help in Ensenada and Tecate. “We know they use humane euthanasia,” she says, “but we don’t know what the other conditions are like.

“Every month, thousands of dogs are killed,” Revelan says. “The numbers are staggering.” The estimated monthly average: Tijuana, 1000; Rosarito, 200; Ensenada, 1000; Tecate, 100; Saltillo, 1000; and Mexicali, as the group just learned, 3000. (San Diego’s three county-run shelters — in Carlsbad, Bonita, and Mission Valley — combined killed 2205 stray dogs in fiscal year 2008–2009, according to county statistics.)

Although United Hope helped Tijuana switch to using humane euthanasia about three years ago, Rosarito, Ensenada, and Tecate started only this year. Animal Advocates and other Mexican and American groups, hopeful that euthanasia drugs could be provided to more locations in Mexico, met at the university in Mexicali in early August to discuss strategy.

Then on August 18, Revelan received a call from Dr. Joaquín Villaseñor, the director of Rosarito’s perrera, who told her that the director of the perrera in Mexicali, Dr. David Ibarra Ojeda, “had called him to set up a meeting to discuss humane euthanasia.” The meeting was set for the following morning at 8:00.

To reach Mexicali in time for the meeting, Revelan and Liebrich left San Diego at 5:00 the next morning. They found the federal perrera “clean and under control,” as Revelan describes it. “There were hardly any dogs even barking.” The two women were joined in Ibarra’s office by Dr. Villaseñor; Dr. Marco Antonio Tapia Miranda, the director of Tijuana’s perrera; and Craig Neilson of the spay-neuter group Give Some Life Foundation. (Dr. Villaseñor is a cofounder of Give Some Life.)

“Dr. Ibarra walked into the room, handed out his business card, and said, ‘I run this place,’ ” Revelan relates. Villaseñor and Tapia described to Ibarra how their perreras had transitioned to euthanasia by injection, explaining that, thanks to funding from United Hope for Animals and implementation by Animal Advocates, there are no electrocutions in Tijuana, Rosarito, Tecate, or Ensenada. Ibarra spoke mostly in Spanish, with Villaseñor translating his words for the English-only speakers. “But we could tell that things were going well,” Revelan says, “because everyone was agreeing and shaking their heads yes as they spoke Spanish.

“After what seemed like hours, Dr. Ibarra said that he would have no problem having his employees perform the procedure and, in fact, two already know how to do it.” Liebrich requested that someone from Animal Advocates be there to make sure the drugs were used properly on the dogs. Ibarra replied that they could be there anytime to supervise his workers.

Mexicali’s federal perrera employs 18 workers, but Revelan says the perrera would like twice as many “and more trucks.” Currently, six trucks scour the streets from morning to closing time, picking up strays. Each has room for 20 dogs. If only five of the trucks bring back 20 dogs each day, Revelan says, “They have their daily quota. I truly believe they pick up at least 100 dogs a day. Tijuana has only two trucks,” she says, “and one is usually not working.” But Tijuana “puts down over 100 dogs a day with far less staff and one-third of the trucks.”

Tijuana humanely euthanizes well over ten dogs each hour, Revelan says. “It’s just a tiny needle in the back leg, and within minutes the dog is completely out. Then a second needle that takes probably a minute or two.”

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Comments

screwdaUT Oct. 14, 2009 @ 7:58 a.m.

the local Chinese eating establishments will gladly take those poor animals and give them a dignified death.

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SurfPuppy619 Oct. 14, 2009 @ 9:15 a.m.

the local Chinese eating establishments will gladly take those poor animals and give them a dignified death.

By screwdaUT

I would like you to meet my close friend, Hanibal Lector, for "dinner" screwdaUT.

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GentePorLosAnimales Oct. 17, 2009 @ 3:02 p.m.

First of all, Congratulations to all people who made this possible!

I work with Gente por los Animales a young group of volunteers (2006) who work for the animals thru three programs: Adoptions, by which we find responsible owners for homeless or unwanted dog or cats, after they are healed, desparasitated, vaccinated and spayed or neutered; low cost spay and neuter program achieving more than 1,000 surgeries; and education, when we go to places or schools to talk about companion animals care and responsible owners.

We have been in touch with Dr. Ibarra since our new “animal control” law was being analyzed, and changed later, for good in a way, and not so good in other subjects, for example, establishing that anybody who doesn’t work at the “perrera” is authorized to be there when animals are killed.

Many times we have talked with local (Mexicali) and state (Baja California) authorities to change their minds about population control. It seems they think the solution is to capture and kill dogs and that’s why this year they hired more people to do this job and bought more cars; right now, they are 26 people working at the center, only 4 are vets and just 2 of them so spay or neuter. Authorities don’t want to invest in a real spay and neuter campaign or low cost clinics.

From March ‘06 to 14th February ‘08, local authorities just spayed or neutered 155 animals; from January to June of this year, state authorities have just done in Mexicali 63 surgeries. This, compared to the amount of animals that have been killed, is nothing.

We really hope all this encourage our authorities to take the lead in really attending our dogs and cats overpopulation, by implementing a strong spay and neuter strategy to avoid the birth of thousands of animals who will be killed. And of course we will be happy when they budget the humane euthanasia.

For more information yo may access to www.genteporlosanimales.org or contact us by e-mail to genteporlosanimales@gmail.com. Follow us at facebook too.

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CuddleFish Oct. 17, 2009 @ 3:30 p.m.

Thank you for that information, Gente, and thank you for caring and doing this hard and heartbreaking work.

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