Part 2 in Animal Law Coalition’s series on use of carbon monoxide gas chambers in North Carolina. For a look at Part 1….
In September, 2010, the National Animal Control Association (NACA) adopted a policy: "NACA considers lethal injection of sodium pentobarbital, administered by competent, trained personnel, to be the only method of choice utilized for humane euthanasia of animal shelter dogs and cats."
The Association of Shelter Veterinarians agrees, stating flatly that "the use of carbon monoxide for individual or mass companion animal euthanasia in shelters is unacceptable due to significant humane, operational and safety concerns…[C]arbon monoxide euthanasia should be banned in shelters."
No word about whether the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) will abandon its support for carbon monoxide gas chambers. Basically, the AVMA’s 2007 Policy on Euthanasia states use of carbon monoxide gas chambers is an "acceptable" method of "euthanasia". The AVMA’s stance is seen as a green light for shelters to continue to use this outmoded, barbaric means of killing animals.
Many don’t read the AVMA’s fine print.
The AVMA finds CO gas chambers "acceptable" as a means of killing as long as the proverbial camel fits through the eye of a needle. The AVMA envisions a laboratory setting rather than the reality, which is untrained shelter staff shoving animals into a gas chamber, turning it on and leaving the room. The AVMA report states:
"commercially compressed CO [gas must be] used and the following precautions …taken: (1) personnel using CO must be instructed thoroughly in its use and must understand its hazards and limitations; (2) the CO chamber must be of the highest quality construction and should allow for separation of individual animals; (3) the CO source and chamber must be located in a well-ventilated environment, preferably out of doors; (4) the chamber must be well lit and have view ports that allow personnel direct observation of animals; (5) the CO flow rate should be adequate to rapidly achieve a uniform CO concentration of at least 6% after animals are placed in the chamber …; and (6) if the chamber is inside a room, CO monitors must be placed in the room to warn personnel of hazardous concentrations. It is essential that CO use be in compliance with state and federal occupational health and safety regulations."
On top of that, AVMA recommends the CO gas chamber should be regularly cleaned, maintained and inspected, flow rates monitored, animals separated by species and restrained and noise that may frighten animals is to be reduced or controlled. The AVMA does not recommend use of the CO gas chamber for animals under 16 weeks of age or which might have difficulty breathing like pregnant, old, ill, or injured animals.
Then there is the endless list of safety requirements because CO gas is dangerous, and shelter staff are at risk from CO poisoning when they load and unload or clean the gas chamber, breathing in low levels of the gas on a regular basis. Not to mention the risk of explosions such as occurred at the Iredell County and Lincoln County, North Carolina public shelters just in the past 2 years.
See what we mean about the fine print? But there’s more.
Buried in AVMA’s 2007 Euthanasia Report is the admission: "Reptiles, amphibians, and diving birds and mammals have a great capacity for holding their breath and anaerobic metabolism. Therefore, induction of anesthesia and time to loss of consciousness when using inhalants may be greatly prolonged. Other techniques may be more appropriate for these species."
Translation: Most animals including mammals like dogs and cats, can hold their breath and it may take a long time before they actually inhale enough CO gas to lose consciousness and they will suffer terribly in the meantime. For more on the 2007 AVMA Policy on Euthanasia….
This past summer Animal Law Coalition began a look at the continuing use of CO gas chambers in some of North Carolina’s shelters.
By way of update, Lee County recently announced it has not used CO gas to kill shelter animals since June and that the county commission has actually approved funds to dismantle and remove the gas chamber. Craven-Pamlico County continues to hold onto its CO gas chamber. For ALC’s look at Craven-Pamlico County’s use of the CO gas chamber….Curiously, the county shelter has 8 employees certified to perform euthanasia by injection. So, why isn’t the shelter using lethal injection instead of a CO gas chamber?
Brunswick County Commissioners refused even to consider a petition in September from residents to stop the use of the CO gas chamber. But there may be hope. Rescue Animals Community Effort (RACE), a non-profit animal rescue organization, may take over shelter operations and that could mean an end to use of the CO gas chamber.
There is other good news. In a surprise move in September, 2010, Gaston County Commissioners unanimously adopted a resolution stating that lethal injection will be the primary or preferred means of euthanasia for shelter animals. The resolution also states "animals… deemed wild dangerous or otherwise unmanageable through designated safe handling practices, would be exempt from the lethal injection process."
The county will continue to use CO gas chambers for these animals, but Gaston County Commissioner Allan Fraley has said if he doesn’t see an increase in the numbers of animals euthanized by lethal injection, he will ask the commission to prohibit use of the CO gas chamber altogether. The county currently uses lethal injection about 65% of the time compared to 71% statewide.
A big move considering just last year Gaston County Animal Control Administrator Reggie Horton vehemently opposed Davie’s Law, a bill which would have prohibited use of CO gas chambers throughout the state. After last month’s decision to limit use of the CO gas chamber in Gaston County, Horton noted, "I …have heard the public’s concerns."
Indeed. Davie’s Law, a bill introduced in 2009, would have mandated use of lethal intravenous or intraperitoneal injection of sodium pentobarbital or similar substance. The bill was named for Davie, a dog that survived gassing by carbon monoxide in a North Carolina shelter. It is likely to be re-introduced in 2011, and we look forward to Mr. Horton’s support.
In North Carolina the battle to stop the cruelty in shelters from the use of CO gas chambers is one step forward and two steps back.
In Nash County where a billboard calls for a prohibition on CO gas chambers, the county government has persisted in use of the CO gas chamber. And, the county has had help from none other than Lee Hunter, DVM, Director of the Animal Welfare Section of the Dept. of Agriculture (the same Lee Hunter who approved the use of a basically homemade device by Craven-Pamlico County Animal Services). Nash County uses the CO gas chamber for killing shelter animals about 75% of the time, substantially above the state average of approximately 29%.
Dr. Hunter told Nash County Dept. of Health this past summer that the AVMA approves the use of CO gas chambers as "humane". Not exactly what AVMA says and he didn’t read them the fine print.
Dr. Hunter told the Board that CO gas causes the animals to "go to sleep and not wake up in a painless manner" and that most citizens opposing use of the CO gas chamber have only watched "bad examples" on youtube.com.
It is Dr. Hunter who does not seem to have viewed a CO gas chamber in operation in a public shelter. For more on North Carolina’s current regulations that permit CO gas chambers for which Hunter is largely responsible and statements from veterinarians, shelter staff and others who have witnessed CO gas chambers in operation……
Also, Nash County has contracted with a veterinary clinic, Full Circle Mobile Veterinary Clinic, to perform lethal injections for animals that are pregnant, geriatric, near death, significantly injured, moderately to significantly ill, or appear to be under 16 weeks of age. It’s not clear why the county would not simply train staff to perform euthanasia. In fact, the county points to the veterinary costs for lethal injection as a reason to use CO gas chambers! We have sent them the state regulations pointing out a veterinarian is not required and information that lethal injection is actually much more cost effective.
More steps back: Wilson County recently bought a new CO gas chamber at a cost of nearly $20,000.
Here is the list of the 23 North Carolina counties that still use CO gas chambers to kill shelter animals.