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Lawsuit may affect use of gas at Bulloch animal shelter

Lawsuit accuses Ag Commissioner Tommy Irvin of allowing, approving method of euthanasia

    The Statesboro-Bulloch County Animal Shelter will continue euthanizing animals by carbon monoxide gas chamber until a judgment is made regarding a lawsuit filed in protest of the practice.
    A lawsuit filed in Fulton County Monday against Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin accuses him of allowing and approving of the method of euthanasia, which the plaintiffs claim is against the law.
    Former state Rep. Chesley Morton of DeKalb County, who sponsored the Humane Euthanasia Act in 1990, said Irvin and his department  ‘‘are aware of multiple, serious, ongoing violations’’ and have inspected and renewed licenses for animal shelters still using gas chambers to put animals to death, including the Statesboro-Bulloch shelter.
    Bulloch County Staff Attorney Jeff Akins said Thursday the local shelter will continue using the gas chamber to euthanize animals until a ruling is made in the Fulton County suit.
    According to Internet web site www.animallaw.info, Georgia law states euthanasia by injection is to be the exclusive method of euthanasia unless certain exemptions exist. Akins said there are exemptions that apply to Bulloch county.
    The Official Code of Georgia Annotated 4-11-5.1 addresses euthanasia, and states:  "Except as provided in subsection (b) of this Code section, the use of sodium pentobarbital or a derivative of it shall be the exclusive method for euthanasia of dogs and cats by animal shelters or other facilities which are operated for the collection and care of stray, neglected, abandoned, or unwanted animals."
    According to the code section, a shelter is exempt from the law  "if such animal shelter or facility notifies the Commissioner of Agriculture, in writing, on or before August 1, 1990, that such a chamber was in use by such animal shelter or facility on July 1, 1990."
    Akins said the local shelter did not use carbon monoxide for euthanasia before that date, and this exemption does not apply to the Statesboro-Bulloch shelter.
    The law reads "This Code section shall not apply to any animal shelter or other facility located in a county having a population of 25,000 or less according to the most recent United States decennial census."
    Akins pointed out that Bulloch County exceeds the population limit and this exemption does not apply as well.
    However, the law does allow an exemption "in cases of extraordinary circumstance where the dog or cat poses an extreme risk or danger to the veterinarian, physician, or lay person performing euthanasia, such person shall be allowed the use of any other substance or procedure that is humane to perform euthanasia on such dangerous dog or cat."
    Akins said this is often the case at the Statesboro-Bulloch shelter, where numerous feral cats and dogs are brought in that would be very difficult to euthanize using injection methods.
    "A lot of the animals we have to euthanize probably fall into that category," he said, referring to information he said came from both a local veterinarian who works with the shelter, as well as Humane Enforcement Supervisor Joey Sanders.
    Akins said carbon monoxide euthanasia is an approved method.
    "The official report from the American Veterinary Medical Association approves carbon monoxide chambers as an 'acceptable method,'" he said. "We use (the chamber) in accordance with AVMA guidelines."
    
@Subhead:Irvin: "Operating within the law"
@Bodycopy:    Irvin told the Associated Press on that although he is responsible for regulating animal shelters, the issue of how to euthanize is a local one.
    ‘‘I’m operating within the current law,’’ Irvin said. ‘‘I’ve been advised that I cannot stop somebody from using the methods of their choice to put animals to sleep.’’
    Akins said he spoke with a representative of the Georgia Department of Agriculture regarding the issue and "my understanding at this time is that litigation is pending and until we hear something differently from the Department of Agriculture," the carbon monoxide method of euthanasia will continue.
    Sanders deferred questions to Akins Wednesday, but has spoken on the record about euthanasia before. In an interview in 2004, he said "It's not easy. But, it is something that has to be done. " He said the dogs and cats at the Statesboro-Bulloch shelter destined for euthanasia are treated with utmost respect and kindness up to their very last minutes of life.
    Euthanasia is necessary due to limited funding and an overabundance of animals that exceeds the number of people willing to adopt them, he said during that interview.
    He said the animals are placed in carriers, which are placed inside the gas chamber, and the method is low-stress and painless, as opposed to struggling to hold down a frightened feral cat while it is being injected.
    Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn, who oversees the shelter, was not immediately available for comment Thursday. However, in earlier interviews regarding shelter operations, he said the Statesboro-Bulloch County Animal Shelter receives "160 to 200 dogs a month." The shelter also takes in a large number of cats as well.
    During the week of March 5-11, the shelter reported receiving 27 dogs and 14 cats; adopting 12 dogs and one cat; and euthanizing 18 dogs and 17 cats. Seven additional dogs were taken through humane adoptions by local animal rescue groups, according to information submitted by shelter manager Wendy Joiner.

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