Shelters discontinue killing animals for other agencies, gassing, & drop-off cages
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2008:
TULSA, CLOVIS, MACON, LAKE CITY, HAYWARD–Beginning a
“new era” in animal care and control, according to Tulsa, Okalahoma
mayor Kathy Taylor, the Tulsa animal shelter on September 8, 2008
quit killing animals for surrounding communities’ animal control
“For at least three decades, the city has charged suburbs
$1.00 per animal destroyed at Tulsa’s shelter. Last year, an
estimated 4,000 animals from outside the city were killed in the
shelter’s gas chamber,” recalled Tulsa World staff writer P.J.
The new policy was phased in over 60 days to give the Tulsa
suburbs time to make other arrangements. Taylor may authorize
killing other communities’ animals at the Tulsa shelter, in cases of
necessity, but not for less than $15 per animal, under a new animal
control ordinance that is meant to reduce shelter killing and
expedite the transition already underway to using lethal injections
instead of gassing.
Shelter manager Jean Letcher told Lassek that lethal
injection is already used for about 75% of the dogs whom the city
kills. “The gas chamber is still used for the remaining 25% who are
deemed too aggressive to be handled, or when there is not enough
staff” to hold animals for injection, Lassek wrote.
The Clovis, New Mexico animal control task force on
September 9, 2008 voted 6-3 to recommend an end to gassing to the
city commission. The commission is to review the recommendation in
November. Task force chair Linda Cross “said the city would receive
$100,000 from Governor Bill Richardson’s office, and that Animal
Protection of New Mexico would provide free training and a year’s
supply of sodium pentobarbital, the medicine used in lethal
injections,” if the gas chamber is abolished, reported Clovis News
Journal staff writer Gabriel Monte.
The Clovis task force unanimously approved requiring that
shelter animals be sterilized before being placed for adoption.
The Tulsa and Clovis transitions mirror changes in animal
control modus operandi that have already been adopted in most of the
U.S., in some cases decades ago, and are now becoming established
in the rural areas that had been the last holdouts. California, for
example, has required municipal shelters to sterilize animals before
adoption for nearly 20 years. Gassing dogs and cats has been banned
by law in at least five states, although in some states shelters
that had gas chambers are still allowed to use them.
Killing animals for other agencies, once a significant
revenue source for agencies that had gas chambers and crematoriums,
has become much less common as agencies compete to lower their death
Since the advent of microchipping pets began to reveal that
“owner-surrendered,” “found,” and privately trapped “feral” animals
are often the pets of people other than those who bring them to
shelters, many shelters have also begun requiring proof of ownership
before agreeing that an animal will be killed.
Private exterminators have claimed some of the business from
property owners and others who just want to get rid of perceived
nuisance animals, but Alley Cat Allies in early September 2008 “put
a national pest control company on notice that trapping and killing
cats can result in criminal convictions for animal cruelty,” Alley
Cat Allies president Becky Robinson told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“Last week we sent a letter to the chief executive officer of
Critter Control,” Robinson elaborated, “alerting him that one of
his franchise owners was found guilty on three counts of animal
cruelty for killing three feral cats. We forwarded that letter to
170 Critter Control franchise owners across the country. Alley Cat
Allies also urged Critter Control to remove a page from its website
that suggested-wrongly-that unidentified cats are rarely protected
under state laws.”
Wrote Alley Cat Allies department of law and policy director
Wendy M. Anderson to Critter Control CEO Kevin Clark, of Traverse
City, Michigan, “On August 14, 2008 Keith Copi, the owner of a
Critter Control franchise in suburban Richmond, Virginia was
convicted in Henrico General District Court.” For each of the three
convictions, Anderson continued, “Copi was sentence to jail for a
period of 12 months, suspended on the condition of good behavior.
He was assessed close to $1,000 in fines and costs, and he also
incurred the cost of hiring a defense attorney.
“All cats–pet, stray, and feral– are protected under the
animal cruelty laws of the 50 states and the District of Columbia,”
Anderson reminded. “Animal cruelty laws apply regardless of whether
the cat is owned or unowned, identified or unidentified.”
Older state anti-cruelty laws often applied only to owned
animals. Such laws were typically widened to cover all dogs and cats
as part of introducing felony penalties for animal cruelty, now in
effect in nearly all states, to eliminate the defense that a
perpetrator did not know a victim animal’s status.
Gassing cost & safety
Anxiety about the cost of converting from gassing continues
to be cited most often by agencies that resist switching to lethal
injection, despite 35 years’ worth of data gathered by shelter
management consultant Doug Fakkema showing that the cost per animal
difference is negligible. Fakkema presented recent numbers in
“Comparing costs of carbon monoxide v.s. sodium pentobarbital,” in
the October 2006 edition of ANIMAL PEOPLE.
After initially resisting movement toward abolishing gassing
in Macon, Georgia because of the cost issue, mayor Robert Reichert
in June 2008 signed an ordinance authorizing the Community Foundation
of Central Georgia to bank $50,000 in donated funds that local
activists pledged to collect toward offsetting the expenses, if the
gas chamber is scrapped by July 1, 2009.
“The initial $50,000 will cover start-up costs including
$15,000 for building improvements, about $14,000 for equipment and
supplies, and about $13,000 for a year’s worth of medication,”
reported Jennifer Burk of the Macon Telegraph. “After adding
increased salaries for the officers doing the work, which private
donations cannot pay for, the total cost could run about $113,000,
animal control director Jim Johnson said.”
Macon city council subcommittee on animal control issues head
Nancy White told Burk that an anonymous donor “has offered to match
$1 for every $2 contributed to the fund, up to $12,500. To get the
full amount,” Burk wrote, “the fund would have to collect $25,000
in donations by December 31, 2008.”
Macon gassed 3,970 animals in 2007–85% of the city shelter
intake. Only 160 animals were adopted out.
Defenders of gassing contend that it is not only cheaper but
safer for workers than lethal injection. This contention is
difficult to assess. The only death by a shelter worker while using
a gas chamber of which ANIMAL PEOPLE is aware was that of Vernon
Dove, 39, at the Humane Educational Society of Chattanooga on March
28, 2000. ANIMAL PEOPLE is aware of about half a dozen suicides by
shelter workers who used pentabarbitol apparently obtained on the
job, but no fatal accidents.
In any event, the argument that gassing is safer blew up,
literally, at the Iredell County Animal Shelter in North Carolina on
July 22, 2008 when an electrical malfunction occurred inside the
shelter’s gas chamber. Ten dogs in the chamber were already
deceased, and the chamber was near the end of its 20-minute
operating cycle when the explosion occurred. No one was injured,
but three emergency vehicles responded to calls about the blast.
Of the 102 licensed public animal shelters in North Carolina,
67 reportedly use only lethal injection to kill animals, 25 use only
gas, and 10 use both.
Drop-off cage debate
Drop-off cages to allow the public to surrender animals to
shelters after hours or to avoid a long drive to a distant shelter
moved closer to abolition in March 2008 when the Lake City Animal
Shelter discontinued collecting animals from cages near the town hall
in Fort White, Florida. Fort White is about 20 miles from Lake City.
Assistant shelter director Terry Marques told High Springs
Herald correspondent Maria Fernanda Castro that the cages were in
“deplorable condition,” and demonstrated “inhumane treatment of
“Katie Rooney, president of the North Florida People for
Animal Welfare Society, has been trying to get rid of the cages for
years,” wrote Castro. “Some of the problems the animals were facing
in the cages were extreme weather conditions, biting red ants, and
the risk of being stolen for nefarious reasons, Rooney added.”
Specifically, animals taken from the drop-off cages were
allegedly used in dogfights and in training dogs to fight.
“Earlier this year,” Castro recalled, “two men were charged
with fighting or baiting animals and unlawful assembly after
attending a pit bull fight outside Fort White. Attended by dozens of
people, the event was so well organized that there were even
generators and portable lights brought to the rural area so that the
dogfighting in the woods could be better seen.”
Drop-off cages have been used by many shelters at least since
the early 20th century, and were still recommended in the 1989
edition of the National Animal Control Association training manual,
but fell into disrepute and rapidly disappeared in the 1990s.
The Hayward Animal Shelter, among the last in California
known to use drop-off cages, closed theirs in mid-2007.
Objected Hayward Friends of Animals president Steve
Sapontzis, to Hayward Daily Review staff writer Matt O’Brien, “The
Hayward Animal Shelter has, since at least 1985, had the boxes open
to provide shelter for stray animals at night, whenever. Even when
they cut back on animal control officers, they kept the boxes open,
because that’s the humane thing to do.”
Wrote O’Brien, “Sapontzis said some people are reluctant to
drop animals off during regular shelter hours because of a surrender
fee that averages $90, although shelter officials say they reduce it
on a case-by-case basis if owners face financial hardships.”
But surrender fees are another idea of the past, introduced
during the Great Depression despite warnings from the American Humane
Association that they might increase animal abandonment at large,
rather than discouraging the casual disposal of pets– including the
pets of people other than those who leave them at shelters. More
than 70 years of experience have now demonstrated that the early
misgivings were correct.
Sapontzis, an emiritus professor of philosophy at the
California State University Hayward campus, is author of Morals,
Reason & Animals (1987), and since 1984 has co-edited Between the
Species: A Journal of Ethics.