No plans to remove gas chamber for animals Rowan among counties maintaining it’s safer for those performing euthanasia
SALISBURY — Several neighboring counties have removed their animal shelter gas chambers in recent months, but emails show Rowan doesn’t look primed to join them.
On Nov. 13, Animal Control Director Clai Martin sent commissioners an email he wrote to state representatives in 2008 defending the gas chamber’s use. Martin said the email pointed out some of his arguments for gassing animals.
Chairman Jim Sides replied that the safety of animal control employees would always come first and asked Martin to respond to complaints with the 2008 email. In a separate email, Sides said he would continue to support using the gas chamber in Rowan.
The email exchange came about a week before protesters turned out in front of the county’s administration building to oppose Rowan’s use of the gas chamber to euthanize animals.
Demonstrators told the Post that animals are typically alive for up to a minute in the gas chamber and that gassing them is nearly twice as expensive as lethal injection. Some animals, they said, have to be gassed several times.
But county officials say lethal injection puts county staffers at more of a safety risk.
In the 2008 letter, Martin said one method wouldn’t work for all animals and could endanger employees.
“Shelters must be afforded the flexibility to employ the best method of euthanasia given the circumstances. I have noticed over the years there is no one best method for all situations,” Martin said. “To limit animal euthanasia to a single method ignores professional, veterinary medical fact and would contribute negatively to employee safety, as well as creating unnecessary trauma for the animals we are all trying so hard to help. Those of us directly involved in animal euthanasia want to continue the enhancement of staff safety and the reduction of trauma for the unfortunate animals involved.”
Martin could not be reached for comment for this story.
Shelters across the nation have trended away from the gas chamber in favor of lethal injection in recent years.
More than 20 states continue to use gas chambers for animal euthanasia. Demonstrators said about 12 of North Carolina’s 100 counties still use gas chambers.
Cabarrus and Iredell counties removed their gas chambers earlier this year.
Iredell County Animal Control Director Brad Gates said the department had already stopped using the gas chamber, but removed the equipment to improve public perception.
“The general consensus: everybody that works here is an animal lover first and animal care provider second,” Gates said. “I think everybody here was pretty much in tune with the fact that the chamber wasn’t the best way for the animals.”
Gates said the injection first puts the animal to sleep, which, combined with the presence of two or more staff members, keeps the animals calm.
“If you put yourself in the animals’ shoes, getting put into a cage and put into the metal box,” Gates said. “It’s not the best way to go.”
Removing the chamber was one of the first things the department did after Gates took over in early September, but the transition was years in the making, he said.
“We had a huge outpouring of public support when we removed it,” he said. “To have the community’s faith and support in it, it made all the difference. It was worth more than any of the minor convenience the gas chamber was providing us.”
Gates said tools and training prevent safety issues for employees involved in lethal injection.
“If there’s any danger — you might have to sedate a dangerous dog before you put it down,” Gates said. “For the most part, though, you’re looking at the same exposure that you’re looking at if you’re doing any (method).”
Some agencies, like the Concord and Greater Cabarrus Humane Society, are eligible for grant money to help with training for employees.
Judy Sims, executive director for the Cabarrus area organization, said the county had discussed removing the gas chamber for four or five years leading up to its July transition.
Sims’ organization received $10,000 in grant funding to help with the move.
“That grant was used to purchase literature and do training and purchase things for the shelter itself,” Sims said.
Sims said her agency has seen a spike in adoptions and positive feedback since the chamber’s removal. She said some pet owners didn’t want to visit the shelter because of the euthanasia method.
“It’s a good thing for Cabarrus County,” she said. “I haven’t heard anything negative at all since we started.”
Iredell County didn’t apply for a grant from the Humane Society, Gates said.
“It was more important for us to get this done as quick as possible, rather than wait for the grant money,” Gates said.
Jane Hartness, executive director of Rowan County’s humane society, said the chapter remains opposed to gassing animals.
Animal shelters will continue to exist, she said, until pet owners become more responsible, but she hopes to one day see the shelter not perform euthanasia on animals.
“I can’t imagine injecting an animal that is not suffering. Its only fault is that it’s alive and nobody wants it,” Hartness said. “I cannot imagine that — but on the other hand, I cannot imagine putting them into the gas chamber and hearing, knowing what’s going on in there.”
Martin forwarded his 2008 email to commissioners on Nov. 13 and said he still worries about employee safety in regard to euthanasia.
“Thanks for sending me the e-mails you all are receiving. I am very sorry you, Mr. Page and the other Commissioners are being bothered with this. I’m sending you this e-mail I sent out to all House members back in 2008 regarding the use of the carbon monoxide chamber,” Martin wrote. “This is back when the animal rights groups were trying to have the chambers banned in NC. I just felt like the members deserved to hear from someone who actually works in a shelter setting.”
“As you know, I will do anything you and Mr. Page ask regarding the chamber. I do not want you all continually harassed from these people. You have more things to worry about besides us using a carbon monoxide chamber. I do worry about employee safety down here when it comes to euthanasia, but unfortunately, these e-mail writers don’t seem too concerned about it.”
Sides praised Martin for his work and asked him to forward the message to residents’ complaints.
“This response is what I would want you to email to every citizen complaint we receive. Send the same message over and over and over again. This message covers all the bases and is the message we need to deliver to the public again and again,” Sides wrote. “We are not being inhumane to the animals; however, the safety of our employees will always come first, regardless of the final outcome for the animals. It would be great if the newspaper would print your letter as a response to the continual complaints received.
“Thanks to you and staff for the hard work you do under these circumstances.”
Following the Nov. 18 rally, Sides replied by email to a resident’s concern about the gas chamber.
“Possibly, we can do a better job in the future of reducing the number of animals to be gassed,” he wrote. “However, due to the safety factor of handling certain animals, I still believe the gas chamber is necessary in Rowan County and will not be voting to dismantle and remove.”
Sides, who has not returned phone calls from the Post since April, did not return a call seeking comment.
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.
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