AVMA to retreat on killing methods?

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, January/February 2001:

SCHAUMBERG, Illinois–The overdue 2000 edition of the American Veterinary Medical Association Report of the Panel on Euthanasia may undermine shelter killing standards and anti-cruelty laws, warned Humane Society of the U.S. director of sheltering issues Kate Pullen in the November/December edition of the HSUS magazine Animal Sheltering. “Issued in June 2000,” Animal Sheltering warned, “the report is already in the final stages [of preparation for publication] despite unanimous rejection by the AVMA’s own House of Delegates.”

Nearly three months after the Animal Sheltering account went to press, the AVMA web page still lists the 1993 edition as current, and makes no reference to the 2000 update. And the faults Pullen noted in the draft report she saw remain troubling.

Retreating from the 1993 AVMA standards to positions traditionally favored by the fur and livestock industries, the draft
Report of the Panel on Euthanasia would allegedly have permitted shooting dogs and cats to death as a matter of animal control routine, not just in emergencies; would have eased restrictions on the use of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide gas chambers; would have conditionally allowed the electrocution of cats and dogs as well as foxes, mink, sheep, and swine; called manual suffocation by such means as standing on a trapped coyote’s chest “apparently
painless”; and accepted the use of body-crushing traps as an allegedly humane method of killing small mammals.

The draft Report of the Panel on Euthanasia was prepared at a time when pentaphenobarbital, the lethal injection drug of choice in U.S. animal shelters, had been in short supply for six months. The scarcity resulted from a shutdown of the only U.S. factory that makes the drug, for antipollution repairs ordered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Because of the shortage, some shelter directors agitated for permission to return to some of the killing methods of the
past–especially gassing, still used by many high-intake shelters because it allows staff to kill more animals, faster, with less personal involvement. The Animal Humane Society of Hennepin Valley, for instance, serving the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, annually gases 10,000 to 12,000 dogs and cats.

The 1993 Report of the Panel on Euthanasia approved of gassing under stringent conditions which are often not met. In Louisiana, for instance, the League In Support of Animals recently found that Vermillion Parish was killing animals
with water-cooled fumes from an automobile engine, a method deemed unacceptable for decades. The Vermillion Parish Police Jury in early December agreed to begin using a gas chamber that meets the 1993 AVMA standards. Even in the South, where shelter norms tend to lag, most shelters have quit gassing.

Jim Larmer, former animal control director in Augusta, Georgia, used a gas chamber until September 1998, when TV footage of asphixiating dogs caused former mayor Larry Sconyers to order an immediate end to gassing. Larmer continued to defend gassing, and after repeated clashes with Sconyers and his successor Bob Young over a variety of issues, finished his time to retirement on a forced long vacation.

Gassing went on at the Humane Educa-tional Society of Chattanooga until March 28, 2000, when shelter worker Vernon Dove Jr., 39, accidentally gassed himself. The gas chamber was then dismantled and the Humane Educational Society was fined $22,800 by the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

But many animal control shelters still use killing methods from the 19th century–with impunity. Animal control staff in
Rogers, Arkansas, for instance, on January 4 escaped charges for drowning cats in a 55-gallon drum between June 1996 and August 1998, when Washington County deputy prosecutor Matt Durrett ruled that they did not intend cruelty. The drownings were reportedly instigated by Rogers code enforcement chief Matt Matthews.

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