By ALEXA MILAN
SANFORD — It may be legal, but it has animal rights activists up in arms. More than 20 counties in North Carolina use gas chambers in their animal shelters as a method of euthanasia, and Lee County is one of them.
Numerous petitions to end the use of gas chambers in North Carolina shelters are circulating around the Internet, and Sanford resident Keely Wood distributed a petition from the North Carolina Coalition for Humane Euthanasia to local pet stores and feed stores.
“If you’re going to put an animal to sleep, to be sitting in somebody’s loving arms and having his final minutes go that way is better than clawing and fighting in a gas chamber,” Wood said.
The petitions are calling for North Carolina shelters to euthanize the animals they can no longer keep by injecting them with sodium pentobarbital, the method used most commonly in veterinarian offices.
Abbey Lindauer of Carolina Animal Rescue and Adoption said while it takes about 50 minutes to kill four dogs in a gas chamber, injections allow animals to die quickly and peacefully. Sometimes if multiple animals are placed in the chamber at a time, they may have to go through the chamber more than once in order to get enough gas to kill them.
“Out of all the major national animal welfare groups, none of them recommend the gas chamber,” Lindauer said.
CARA is currently working with the Lee County Health Department on the issue of humane euthanasia. Health Director Howard Surface said he sees the petition as a positive thing and that the Health Department appreciates that people want a change. He said injection is something the department is looking into, and that it’s a method the shelter does use from time to time.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of if, but a matter of when,” Surface said. “To me, the quicker the better to move to another situation.”
According to a 2009 study by the American Humane Association, it costs about $4.66 per animal to euthanize by carbon monoxide poisoning in North Carolina, while the cost of euthanasia by injection is about $2.29 per animal. But Surface said that especially in today’s economy, there just isn’t a lot of money available, and the department’s first priority has to be rabies control.
“It costs to make a change,” Surface said.
Before switching to injection, Surface said he would want to make sure that the animal shelter staff has the proper training.
“When you inject animals, there is a safety issue for the people doing the injections, not with normal animals but with feral animals, so we will have to be aware of that,” Surface said.
The gas chamber at the Lee County shelter is inspected annually, but Lindauer said gas chambers have been known to present their own safety risks.
In North Carolina, she has heard of a few cases of gas chambers exploding. But Lindauer said she sympathizes with the shelter workers who have to put the animals down.
“I don’t envy them in any way,” Lindauer said. “They do a job I wouldn’t be able to do. It’s highly emotional, and they have a lot of pressure and limited resources.”
Lindauer said that while she would like to see an end to euthanasia, it’s unfortunately a necessary evil as long as the pet population isn’t under control. She said while some nearby clinics, such as the Spay/Neuter Veterinary Clinic of the Sandhills in Vass, offer cheaper prices for spaying and neutering, affordable spay and neuter options aren’t available in Lee County.
“You’re looking at $150-$300,” Lindauer said.
Wood said raising awareness about pet overpopulation is part of the reason she distributed the petition.
“My biggest goal would be to educate the public and educate the kids,” Wood said. “You have to start somewhere.”
Wood will speak to the Board of Health on June 30 about humane euthanasia, but Lindauer said changing the law is only part of the solution to a large problem. Even with humane euthanasia, she said, overpopulation and overcrowded shelters are still an issue.
“It’s a community problem,” Lindauer said. “It’s something that the community needs to come together and say, ‘How are we going to fix this?’”