The vet picked up the dog's white left leg and injected the shot, sliding his thumb over the spot after he was done. He avoided the dog's anxious gaze.
"You'll be in a far better place than you ever were here," Dr. Matthew Souza told the animal.
With that, the light brown canine went limp and slid from life to death.
Euthanasia is a fact of life at the Buffalo Animal Shelter. The cramped facility is a round-the-clock animal enforcement agency first and foremost. But every year, animal lovers fight to make sure that's not all it is. If it weren't for public outcry, the city would have ended the shelter's adoption program last summer.
More recently, a city audit noted the shelter still kills some dogs to make room for confiscated fighting dogs. Earlier this year, for instance, 11 pit bulls being trained for fighting were seized from four vacant houses, taking up one-fifth of the facility's kennels.
The audit prompted the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to come to an agreement with the city to step up efforts to transfer treatable and adoptable city shelter animals to the SPCA's adoption facility in the Town of Tonawanda.
"The government's job is to protect people from animals, and the Humane Society's job is to protect animals from people," said SPCA Executive Director Barbara Carr. Still, many agree that the shelter's treatment of animals is far more humane than it was a decade ago, despite the explosive growth in dog fighting.
Of the 3,278 dogs and cats the animal shelter handled last year, more than half were either adopted into new homes or returned to their owners, despite serious and ongoing challenges with inadequate space and resources.
Since 2001, the shelter has seen a 38 percent drop in animal killings.
The pit bull that was euthanized by Souza had been surrendered by its owner after the animal mauled a neighbor's dog. Healthy and friendly animals aren't killed in this place, said director Kelly McCartney.
The shelter runs a streamlined adoption program, screens prospective owners, offers extended weekend and evening hours, provides daily vet care and works closely with animal volunteers and rescue organizations as far away as Rochester.
Such initiatives weren't always welcome. There was a time when most animals that entered the old pound on Niagara Street didn't come out alive unless an owner claimed them.
Even after the shelter was relocated to Oak Street 10 years ago, the renovated kennels couldn't stand up to the abuse they got from the animals and the constant cage cleanings. Before long, the shelter showcased crumbling drywall, rusting kennel gutters, and bad drainage and ventilation.
Improvements have been made, but other problems remain.
On the road
Labor turnover is high, leaving few people to clean the shelter's 57 kennels. Many dog control officers drive beat-up vans from the early 1980s and receive cast-off bulletproof vests from the Police Department.
In addition, staff and volunteers wrestle with inadequate security and often face ugly confrontations with the public, some demanding the return of their money-winning dog fighters.
The dog control officers that patrol the city streets know all about the fighting. They routinely collect the dead fighting dogs from vacant lots, as well as mauled and injured dogs abandoned in vacant properties or left outside to die.
They chase down strays, follow-up on bite cases and check out animal cruelty complaints.
They also back up the police in drug raids where dogs are present and get assistance from police when arrests need to be made.
"We do a lot of stuff that other people won't do," Dog Control Officer Andrew Kleinfelder said.
Though these officers have virtually unchecked authority to seize any unlicensed dog in the city, they have no ability to issue warrants in animal cruelty cases, limiting their effectiveness.
Kleinfelder pointed to a sad, bony Rottweiler mix in one kennel. Someone had let this dog starve until it weighed roughly 60 pounds, half its normal weight. At the shelter, it's now gaining back pounds and has a prospective owner lined up.
Another set of officers recently found a dog with a bloody right paw tied up against a light pole near a vacant lot used as a dump for old tires.
A vet examined the dog and found the bleeding was the result of a tumor in its paw, the originating point for cancer that had spread up its leg.
The old dog had probably been a loyal family pet for nine years before it was abandoned on the street. It was euthanized.
Cases like these compound the animal shelter's problems every day, staffers say.
"You could never build large enough to accommodate all the animals out there," Souza said.
That doesn't mean shelter advocates don't dream about it. Director McCartney said she'd love more space, more green area and a higher visibility location.
Those changes would result in better animal housing, more adoptions and outdoor runs for the big dogs. It would mean not having to euthanize animals with borderline behavioral and health problems to make room for Cujo.
A dog by that name was a recent resident of the shelter. He broke a child's rib before dog control got to him.
Kleinfelder, also a dog agility trainer and certified evaluator for therapy dogs, assesses most of the shelter's strays for adoptability.
He approached an unkempt, black chow chow - a breed prone to aggression. He pet it lightly, then picked up its paw and pulled its tail. He shoved it, tried to startle it and tested it for food aggression. The dog was unfazed. It was later adopted.
McCartney said that's what really matters - not that the shelter still must kill more than a thousand animals each year. It's trying harder than ever to save the animals it can.
The shelter has stepped up its owner and animal-screening processes and extended night and weekend hours since McCartney took over. A storage room has been converted into a "Meet & Greet" lounge where prospective owners can freely interact with adoptable dogs and cats.
It may not be enough, she said, but it's something.