With the proper drugs now received to administer to animals for humane euthanasia, the long-operated gas chamber at the Sampson County Animal Shelter is on its last legs.
Following the county’s Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) licensing at the beginning of February to bury the gas chamber, shelter director Alan Canady said receiving the drugs was the last piece of the puzzle to dismantle the chamber. He confirmed their receipt Thursday.
“We just got the drugs in today (Thursday),” Canady said “That was the last step. We expect to start administering (the drugs) immediately, hopefully next week.”
Initial strides were made last year toward DEA licensing for lethal injection, however earnest efforts came to fruition at the beginning of this year when the county received, and accepted, a $7,000 grant from the Humane Society of the United States in January to phase out the use of the gas chamber.
Canady said Sampson County Public Works would be dismantling the chamber in the near future. County maintenance workers will have to unhook the gas lines and take apart the equipment before transporting it to the landfill. The process is not expected to take long and, even if it is not dismantled and removed right away, its use will be discontinued, shelter officials said.
“Even though the gas chamber is technically going to be here, we would still be able to do the lethal injection,” said Canady.
The existence and use of the gas chamber in recent years has been a pressing issue for animal welfare groups. The state inspector said Sampson is one of the only counties in the region still using such means to put animals to sleep.
County manager Ed Causey said the shelter’s personnel was bumped up by one part-time position in order to facilitate a move away from the chamber. He said, had the county’s shelter not undergone a change in directors — Canady started at the position in January — the chamber would have been gone months ago.
“The state has done a lot of encouraging to get shelters to transition on their own without a mandate,” Causey stated recently, explaining the earnest effort to get rid of the gassing practice. “We felt this was something that would put us in a more favorable light with the state and all the people who are interested in the humane treatment of the animals.”
County officials said, from solely a cost-standpoint, the cost of the drugs to be administered would be offset by the savings in maintaining and operating the chamber.
“The money we used to maintain the gas chamber and purchase gas is what we will use to buy drugs in the future,” Canady said. “It’s actually going to be less money in the long run.”
And while a move to lethal injection is considered a positive one, it will be one that, coupled with a growing animal population and state mandates on cleaning procedures and disease control, requires extra personnel. Canady has previously proposed the addition of one full-time and one part-time shelter attendant in the 2013-14 budget, as well as recommend facility improvements to further prevent disease outbreaks.
“Since we will be moving to strictly using lethal injection, we will be in a labor dilemma,” Canady told commissioners earlier this year. “To safely and successfully perform lethal injection you must use two staff members. One staff member performs the injection while the other holds and moves the animals. One staff member must be present at all time for drug control.”
Canady said it is “impossible” to perform lethal injection with one person. It takes two people about 5 to 10 minutes per animal to safely and successfully perform the task, requiring “up close and personal” contact with the animals.”
“Where, with the gas chamber, you can put two animals in there and walk away, now you have to take 5 to 10 minutes per animal and those two people are wrapped up for that time,” he said.
That personnel pinch will still be present, Canady said Thursday, but it is simply something the shelter will have to surmount.
“Until we get the personnel we need, it is a hurdle we’re going to have to overcome,” said Canady. “We’ll find ways to do it, because it’s something we can do now, whether it means coming in earlier or moving around other duties. We’re going to make it work.”
He said a more humane form of euthanasia for the animals is worth the extra time and effort.
“It takes a little more effort and manpower to do it this way than it does with the gas chamber,” said Canady, “but I’d rather do it this way.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.