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BOC considers gassing vs. lethal injection for Animal Control

July 18, 2013

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners at their regular work session Monday considered possible changes to euthanasia methods used by Ashe County Animal Control.


Ashe County Animal Control Director Joe Testerman reported to the board on the current euthanasia policy, and on what changes might mean for funding and operation of his department in the future.


At issue was a $7,000 Human Society grant available to counties that switch their official method of euthanasia from carbon monoxide (CO) gas chambers to lethal injection (LI), which is widely considered more humane.


The funds are given to counties within six months of phasing out gas chamber equipment, and can be used for shelter improvements and other expenses, according to an email from Humane Society N.C. State Director Kimberly Alboum.


Ashe County has $16,000 invested in its CO gas chamber equipment.


Currently, 22 states have banned the use of gas chambers, including Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia, according to the Humane Society. This year, Texas became the most recent state to ban gas chambers.


While there is currently no CO ban in N.C., only 14 of the state’s 100 counties still have gas chambers. In four of those counties, gas chambers either see limited use, or are slated for phase-out.


Testerman said that gas chambers are increasingly falling out of favor with the American public, and it is only a matter of time before they are banned in N.C..


“The big decision is do we try to jump on board this progressive idea of getting away from gas chambers…accept this grant and get something…(or) they pass legislation tomorrow banning CO euthanasia, and we’ve lost that opportunity,” Testerman said.


Asked by Commissioner William Sands which method is least expensive, Testerman said the gas chamber is cheaper by far. A cylinder of CO costs $75 and lasts a month or more, and the gas chamber is automated, allowing staff to complete other work while it runs.


The chemicals used in LI are expensive, with larger doses needed for larger animals. The process is also completely hands-on, and some counties that have switched to LI exclusively have to keep “massive staffs,” he said.


Animal Control currently uses both methods, with approximately 60 percent of animals “dispatched’ with CO, he said.


The number of animals euthanize by ACAC weekly varies widely. “It could be anywhere from 10 to 100,” Testerman said.


But euthanasia has slowed down, he said, largely due to decreased intake as a result shortened business hours, and pet adoption efforts by the Humane Society and Second Chance Dogs of Ashe.


Asked by Commissioner Gary Roark which method was most humane, Testerman said, “In my professional opinion, with what I’ve experienced, there’s no good way to die. Both procedures can be performed the right way, or they can be performed poorly.”


“A lot of these people jumping on the (LI) bandwagon have never experienced either type of euthanasia,” he said.


Commissoner Gerald Price commented that LI was said to be more dangerous to staff, as animals are apt to have seizures and convulsions when injected. Testerman confirmed the physical danger, adding that psychological trauma, or ‘burnout,’ experienced by staff performing LI is also an occupation hazard.


Citing elevated danger to staff, increased expenses associated with LI, and significant investment in a gas chamber now only a few years old, the BOC opted to keep current euthanisia policies until other developments compell a vote.