Rowan Health Board votes to let public view animal euthanasia
By Kathy Chaffin
The Rowan County Board of Health has decided to allow public viewing of animal euthanasia at the county animal shelter.
After imposing a moratorium on public viewing at its April meeting, the board approved a policy last week allowing it as long as six guidelines for ensuring “that appropriate public and staff safety issues are enforced.”
The policy calls for anyone wanting to view the carbon monoxide chamber euthanasia process to submit a request in writing to be approved by the Health Department director. Adequate scheduling time must be allowed to prevent disruption of normal shelter activities.
The purpose of the policy recommended by a subcommittee appointed at the board’s April meeting is “to remain transparent with this process.” The board approved appointing Vice Chairman Rick Parker and members Dan Mikkelson and Dr. Billy Webb to the subcommittee and imposing a temporary moratorium on public viewing until they came back with a recommendation.
Guidelines adopted as part of the policy are:
– Only one member of the public will be allowed to view the euthanasia at any given viewing.
– The individual must adhere to safety instructions provided by the staff.
– No video cameras, still pictures or audio recording devices will be allowed during the process.
– If the individual viewing the process becomes disruptive, he or she will be asked to leave immediately.
– The individual may observe the cycle of the euthanasia and then shall be escorted out of the building.
Mikkelson said in a telephone interview Monday that he and Parker and Webb were in agreement on the recommended policy.
Though Barbara Andrews, as chairwoman of the Board of Health, presided over the subcommittee meetings, she was not a voting member and was not at the last meeting when the recommended policy was approved.
Mikkelson said the question facing subcommittee members was: “How do you balance out the issue of government transparency with the ability of staff to conduct their business in a safe and efficient manner? … The more that we allow the public in, the more it disrupts the staff, but the more we keep the public out, the more it makes government look nontransparent.”
The subcommittee met three times, one of which consisted of a visit to the Rowan County Animal Shelter to view the carbon monoxide chamber and talk with staff about the euthanasia process.
Mikkelson said the visit was valuable to members because they could see the space and hear from staff on how they handle specific situations, including the euthanasia of very large animals.
One of the things subcommittee members discussed, he said, is what would happen if people come in and start abusing the policy due to their own personal agendas and the viewing becomes disruptive to staff. In the event that happens, Mikkelson said, the staff will be instructed to notify the board, which reserves the right to amend the policy.
“Given the few number of people who have had a lot of interest in this over the last 15 years,” he said, “we don’t think there’s going to be a large workload put on the staff by accommodating one person at a time. If we turn out to be wrong, then we’ll amend the policy.
“But we’d rather start with a position of allowing the public to view and then if that becomes problematic and we have to change it, it’s probably because somebody with an extremist position has abused that privilege.”
Rowan County Animal Control Supervisor Clai Martin has said previously he can only remember three requests from people wanting to view the euthanasia process in his 13 years in the job, and all of those were received this year.
One was from the Post and was granted for the purpose of a series comparing the carbon monoxide and lethal injection methods of euthanasia.
Of the other two, one was from a Rowan County woman who said she is not a member of any animal advocacy or rights group and the other was from a member of an organization advocating for banning carbon monoxide chambers in North Carolina.