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Gassing as means of euthanasia will no longer be used in Bulloch
jeff akins
Jeff Akins - photo by Herald File
Gassing by carbon monoxide as a means of euthanasia will now only be used in extreme cases at the Statesboro-Bulloch County Animal Shelter, said Bulloch County staff attorney Jeff Akins.
    After a called meeting of the Bulloch County Commission Monday, county leaders decided to come into compliance with Georgia law despite having said earlier the county may fall under an exemption.
    An exemption to the law stating cats and dogs must be euthanized by injection of sodium pentobarbitol is that if animals are a danger to handlers, they may be gassed. However, an attorney representing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and others claim the county does not fall under that exemption.
    Akins said earlier the shelter would continue to use the gas chamber until the Georgia Department of Agriculture ordered otherwise.
    Walter H. Bush, with the law firm of Shiff Hardin LLP, filed an injunction against the state department of agriculture and Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin last month. A judge supported the injunction that stopped Irvin from issuing licenses to shelters using the carbon monoxide method of euthanasia.
    Bush sent a "cease and desist" letter to Akins and Bulloch County Humane Enforcement Officer Joey Sanders last week stating they would file further charges against the county unless the county switched over to euthanasia by injection.
    Akins sent Bush a letter of response Tuesday stating the shelter will make the change from using a gas chamber to injection with exception of cases where an individual animal is a danger to handlers if euthanized by injection.
    In his letter, Akins points out that the gas chamber has been ruled a humane method of euthanasia by veterinary professionals.
    "... the 2000 report of the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) Panel on Euthanasia identifies carbon monoxide as an acceptable method of euthanasia for dogs, cats and other small mammals when used in accordance with the criteria stated in the report."
    The shelter "has always used the chamber in accordance with the criteria set forth in the AVMA report."
    However, "in view of the ... order entered in the case pending in the Superior Court of Fulton County, the shelter intends to take prompt steps to transition to the use of sodium pentobarbitol or a derivative thereof for routine euthanasia of dogs and cats."
    After consulting with a local veterinarian, the shelter will complete the transition within 60 days, he said.
    The change over to euthanasia by injection will be more costly, and will require "much more supervision and involvement by a licensed veterinarian," Akins said Tuesday. "You are using a scheduled drug and ( a licensed veterinarian) has to be responsible for that."
    There will also be additional training for shelter personnel, as euthanasia has been performed by the gas chamber since 1999.
    Akins, Sanders and local veterinarians, including Dr. Stan Lee, have said that euthanasia by carbon monoxide is more humane for animals that are feral, not used to being handled, or are stressed or frightened due to having to be restrained for lethal injection.
    It is also safer and less stressful for animals that could fight and cause injury to handlers    to be euthanized by gas, Akins said.
    In a situation where there is a danger of someone being injured, the gas chamber will be used, he said.
    In his letter to Bush, Akins wrote: "... the shelter will continue to use the chamber as a humane method of euthanasia on a limited basis as authorized by O. C. G. A. (Official Code of Georgia Annotated) 4-11-5.2 (c), which as you know provides in pertinent part that 'in cases of extraordinary circumstances where the dog or cat poses an extreme danger to the veterinarian, physician, or lay person performing euthanasia, such persons 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 "the trained professional staff of the shelter will determine on a case-by-case basis whether a particular dog or cat poses an extreme risk or danger such that the exception  (to the law) is applicable."
    The Statesboro-Bulloch County Animal Shelter euthanizes several animals weekly, and a large percentage of animals taken in from humane enforcement and animal control officers are feral and not used to being handled by humans, Sanders said.
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