An Atlanta law firm sent a "cease and desist" letter to Bulloch County officials last week demanding the Statesboro-Bulloch County Animal Shelter immediately stop using carbon monoxide as a method of euthanasia.
Copies of the letter were sent to Bulloch County staff attorney Jeff Akins and to Bulloch County Humane Enforcement Officer Joey Sanders, who oversees the shelter operations.
A March 26 injunction against the Georgia Department of Agriculture and Commissioner Tommy Irvin restricts Irvin from issuing licenses to shelters using the carbon monoxide gas chamber method of euthanasia.
In earlier interviews, Akins and Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn said the local shelter would operate as it has been doing until state officials tell them differently.
Walter H. Bush, representative of Shiff Hardin LLP, stated in the letter the local shelter is not exempt from the Humane Euthanasia Act of 1990, authored by Former state Rep. Chesley Morton of DeKalb County, whom the law firm represents as well as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
The law states animals shelters must use injection of sodium pentobarbitol as the sole means of euthanasia unless the shelter was using a gas chamber before 1990; the county which the shelter serves is less than 25,000 in population; or an animal being euthanized is a danger to handlers.
However, Bush said "the limited exceptions to that rule are inapplicable here - despite your disingenuous efforts to claim the shelter's practices fall within the exceptions."
In his letter, Bush cited several comments from Akins published in earlier articles in the Statesboro Herald, as well as excerpts from a letter Akins sent to the Animal Protection Section of the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
In that letter, Akins wrote "Bulloch County does not have any documentation that supports either of the two exemptions for utilizing a carbon monoxide gas chamber that you cite in your letter (from the Department of Agriculture asking for such documentation, issued after the injunction).
"However, we believe Bulloch County's use of a carbon monoxide gas chamber may be authorized under one of both of the two additional exemptions set forth ..." allowing the use of gas chambers in cases where animals could be difficult or dangerous to inject.
Bush said " The exception cannot be asserted as a general rule where, as here, an animal shelter routinely gasses all dogs and cats irrespective of circumstance or risk."
Akins said Thursday he could not comment on the "cease and desist" letter at the time.
Bush said routine gassing of animals is unlawful and that "veterinary and animal sheltering communities unanimously agree that sodium pentobarbitol administered by competent individuals is the most humane method for euthanasia of dogs and cats."
However, local veterinarians, including Dr. Stan Lee, said carbon monoxide gas is also a humane method in cases of animals who would be distressed by being handled and held down to be injected. Lee said use of the gas chamber would be less stressful for animals that are feral or vicious and are not comfortable being handled.
In his letter, Bush also commented on a Statesboro Herald file photograph used in a March 16 article regarding the euthanasia issue. The photo, originally published a couple years ago, showed Bulloch County Humane Enforcement Officer Christopher Ivey removing a dog from a truck.
Bush stated "notably, a photo accompanying the March 16 article depicts an animal control officer lifting an injured dog out of the animal control truck. Since the officer was able to remove the dog from the truck with his bare hands, the dog clearly did not represent an "extraordinary circumstance" or pose an extreme risk or danger to the officer.
The March 16 article did not state the file photo showed a dangerous dog. Sanders, Akins and Wynn have all said that many, but not all, animals euthanized at the shelter are feral or dangerous to handle during euthanasia by injection.
"This letter is being sent to urge you to immediately cease routine use of the gas chamber to kill dogs and cats," Bush wrote. "Unless the facts differ from what is stated in this letter, please be advised that if we do not receive written assurance by April 10 ... that the shelter intends to immediately come into compliance ... our clients intend to pursue all available legal remedies to compel you to do so in order to ensure that dogs and cats are not suffering and dying in a manner that defies both the letter and the spirit of Georgia's humane euthanasia mandate."
Sanders declined to comment, referring questions to Akins. Wynn said he and others involved, including a veterinarian, would meet Monday to review the issue.