Cleveland County to end use of gas to kill shelter animals

Cleveland County’s animal shelter will remove the gas chamber it uses to euthanize unwanted animals by the end of June, county commissioners board Chairman Jason Falls said this week.

The decision echoes those in several area counties that still routinely used chambers. Rowan County commissioners announced in March they would end the use of carbon monoxide for nonaggressive animals April 1, and all use by May 1. Iredell and Cabarrus counties ceased using gas in 2013.

The decision leaves Union County alone in the area in using carbon monoxide to kill a significant portion of the animals it euthanizes. Gaston County retains a chamber, but a supervisor estimated it’s used less than 1 percent of the time – only for animals that pose a significant safety risk.

The new plan means Cleveland – like Mecklenburg and all but a handful of counties in the state – will use only lethal injection, in which an animal typically is held by one person while a second injects it with sodium pentobarbital. That method is already mandated by the state for some animals – those near to death, pregnant or younger than 4 months.

“The board of health, county commissioners, police and our staff have done a great job of pulling together to reduce the number of animals being euthanized,” said Sam Lockridge, who oversees Cleveland County’s shelter operations. Reducing that number, with the help of rescue groups and volunteers, made the switch possible now, he said.

Both the Humane Society of the United States and the American Humane Association deem gas “unacceptable,” and the American Veterinary Medical Association calls injection “preferable” for shelter animals.

So why would gas still be used?

“When you’re euthanizing large numbers of animals, (using gas means) you’re not having to hold that animal and feel that animal’s life go out of it,” says Dr. Lee Hunter of the N.C. Dept. of Agriculture. “There is a toll that doing this takes on people having to euthanize animals day after day. ... It’s awfully difficult to keep doing that.”

Hunter noted the state began regulating gas chambers with extensive measurements and guidelines in the mid-2000s, eliminating many of the conditions that created horror stories such as animals fighting within the chamber, or having to be gassed more than once.

Animal advocates held rallies and submitted petitions in Rowan and Cleveland counties. But Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey said he had not gotten a petition and doesn’t intend to stop using gas. “We work for the public,” he said. “If it comes to a point that the public wants it changed, certainly, we can change. I have not seen an outcry from the general public in Union County.”

Laura Sur, spokesperson for the Humane Society of Union County, said in an email: “We are against the use of the gas chamber and have objected to its use at the county shelter since they put it in, and they are aware of that. We think it is sad that a ‘public outcry’ is necessary in order to do the right thing.”