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Editorial: Don’t shelter public view

As the Rowan County Board of Health considers imposing broad restrictions on the public viewing of euthanizations at the Animal Shelter, it might want to consider an old adage: Let sleeping dogs lie.
Or, to put it another way, don’t create a larger controversy in an attempt to head off a smaller one. Most people aren’t interested in watching animals die in the gas chamber. Mass animal euthanasia is not a pleasant prospect, whatever the manner of execution. Most people don’t need or want to witness the process to appreciate the fact that this country has a huge problem with irresponsible pet owners. Whether those unwanted animals are killed with carbon monoxide or lethal injection, that problem will still be there, staring us in the face.
However, the fact that few will ever want to view the euthanasia process isn’t justification for making it off limits to any except the owners of the pets being euthanized. It may be the case, as has been suggested, that some who ask to view the euthanasia could have a particular agenda in mind ó that is, stirring up opposition to the use of carbon monoxide rather than lethal injection. However, is a rule conceived to thwart the actions of a few the best basis for a policy governing the many? What about citizens who, after hearing both sides in the gas vs. injection debate, want to see the process themselves to have a more informed viewpoint? Or what about those who are concerned about the working conditions and safety of shelter employees? Those are legitimate reasons for the public to have controlled access.
The county needs to have viewing regulations in place that protect shelter workers from harassment. It also has every right to prevent individuals from disrupting the euthanasia process. But adopting an overly broad non-public viewing policy not only raises sticky questions about taxpayers’ right to see how their money is used; it also may undermine county officials’ defense of the euthanasia process by implicitly and unfairly suggesting that it is, in fact, too gruesome for the public to witness.
It’s unfortunate that some seek to portray shelter workers and county officials as villains in the euthanasia debate. The true villains are irresponsible pet owners. The county is left to deal as best it can with the sad consequences of that irresponsible behavior. However, in considering an outright prohibition against public viewing of the euthanasia process, officials may be inviting unwarranted suspicions against themselves ó or potential legal suits. As a Board of Health committee looks further into the viewing question, it should seek a middle ground that allows reasonable public access without exposing shelter staff to harassment or cynical exploitation of a situation they didn’t create. Transparency in government is always the preferable course ó even regarding a process that most citizens will never want to see.

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