Viewing euthanasia process not an option at moment
By Kathy Chaffin
In his 13 years as Rowan County Animal Control Supervisor, Clai Martin said he can only remember three requests from the public to view the euthanasia process, and all of those were received this year.
Leonard Wood, director of the Rowan County Health Department, said that number does not include the Board of Health members who indicated at a March 10 meeting they would like to view how it’s done to better understand the issues.
None of them have yet witnessed euthanasia, and a moratorium was put into effect at the board’s April 14 meeting to give a committee of members time to consider adopting a non-public viewing policy.
The Salisbury Post was one of the three requests to view the process for this series, and that was allowed, though photographs were restricted to the carbon monoxide gas chamber itself. Wood issued the following condition to photographer Jon Lakey: “No animals, no people.”
And if he wanted to view the process, Wood told Lakey, he would have to first lock his camera in his car. Lakey opted to leave.
The other two requests were been made by private citizens, one who lives in Rowan County and one who does not.
Brenda Kirby of China Grove confirmed that she had requested to see the carbon monoxide chamber but said she is not interested in viewing the end result. “I don’t want to see any animal put to death,” she said. “I just want to see what kind of space is in it.
“I want them to show me and tell me about it.”
Kirby said she is not a member of any animal advocate/welfare/rescue/activist group. “I just love animals and want them to be treated in the most humane way possible,” she said.
Michelle King, a board member for the N.C. Council for Humane Euthanasia, said she made the other request. King, who lives in western North Carolina, said she also requested to view carbon monoxide gas chamber operations in Gaston, Iredell and Stokes counties.
“I asked four different counties on the same day,” she said. “Gaston and Stokes told me absolutely not.”
King said Iredell has not yet given her an answer.
The N.C. Coalition for Humane Euthanasia is opposed to using carbon monoxide gas chambers and is actively campaigning for House Bill 6, also known as Davie’s Law, which would ban the method.
King discussed Senate Bill 199, the Senate version of the bill, with N.C. Sen. Andrew Brock at a Jan. 15 meeting on animal legislation at Rowan Public Library.
About 20 people turned out for the meeting.
King said she believes interested citizens have the right to see how animal shelters kill animals. “I think if taxpayers are paying for it, then anyone should be able to see it,” she said.
On Wednesday of this week, the Board of Health committee assigned to make a recommendation on a non-public viewing policy met with County Attorney Jay Dees, who advised them on legal issues.
Dees said he thought the Board of Health could “just let them come in, film it, view it, do whatever,” he said, or adopt a policy “and don’t provide for any exceptions at all.”
A draft/worksheet distributed by Board Chairwoman Barbara Andrews stated the purpose of a non-public viewing policy would be “to protect the public health’s safety and welfare from exposure to toxic carbon monoxide gases used during the process of euthanizing animals” and “to protect employees or contractors of Rowan County Animal Control.”
“If it’s a liability issue,” Dees said, “then it’s a liability issue.”
As part of the proposed policy, the health department would define the areas used for the euthanasia process as “non-public forums.” What this would mean, he said, is if you work in a non-public forum area, “I don’t have the right to walk into your office uninvited.”
Dees said the problem with a non-public viewing policy is that it would not “make government transparent,” which has been the practice of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
During the course of the discussion, however, he said, “I think the policy is defendable. You decide whether it’s appropriate or not.”
Committee member Dan Mikkelson said the county commissioners are a political body while the staff “is clearly a technical and professional body.”
As Board of Health members, he said they need to have more more political sensitivity than the technical and professional staff. “I think it’s appropriate for us to try to come up with a good balance.”
Committee member Rick Parker said later in the discussion he wasn’t elected to the Board of Health and felt more swayed by concern for the staff than the political appropriateness of a non-public viewing policy.
Mikkelson suggested that any policy should ensure that viewers and staff are safe and that any viewing would not obstruct staff from doing their jobs. Other provisions, he said, could include, for example, requiring people interested in viewing to fill out an application; allowing viewings on a schedule; and limiting the number allowed at one time.
“That’s when you start getting into a lot of frivolous requests,” Andrews said.
From a policy standpoint, Dees said an open government has to be open to all people.
Mikkelson suggested only allowing Rowan County residents over the age of 18 to apply to view the euthanizing.
Viewings could also be limited to one time per person, he said.
By not allowing viewings, Mikkelson said people opposed to using carbon monoxide could turn the non-public viewing policy into an opportunity to draw attention to their cause.
Dees said the board either allows public viewing or denies it without exception. As the draft policy is proposed, he said, “someone needs to determine it’s a public health and safety issue.”
Andrews also distributed copies of a March 2009 draft non-public euthanasia viewing policy being considered in Iredell County.
As proposed, the policy establishes euthanasia as a non-public forum and states the public shall be excluded from viewing. The only exclusion, the draft says, would be if the owner or individual requesting to view has a relationship with the animal; the owner/individual’s viewpoint is neutral plus rational; special permission must be given by Animal Services Manager and documented; and all precautions regarding safety must be implemented.
Tracy Jackson, deputy county manager for Iredell, said the non-public viewing policy has been considered, but has not been put into place.
“Sometimes we get requests,” he said, “and it was just one of those issues that needed to be clarified.
“There are some safety issues in terms of being in that area of the shelter. It’s not a public access area to begin with.”
Members of the Rowan Board of Health committee looking at a policy decided to hold their next meeting at the Rowan Animal Shelter so they could see the carbon monoxide chamber area to determine whether it’s safe for public viewing.
Webb said that the crux of the issue is whether the shelter could provide a safe and controlled environment for euthanasia viewing.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.