Crime & Courts

Union Co. ends use of gas chamber for animal shelter euthanasia

Union County has stopped using a gas chamber to euthanize cats and dogs at its animal shelter two months ahead of a state deadline to make the change.

It was the last county in the Charlotte area, and one of the last in the state, that was still killing the animals with carbon monoxide in a box, a state official said.

On Dec. 4, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services sent a letter to the nearly 200 registered animal shelters in North Carolina and directed them to end the use of gas chambers for routine euthanasia by Feb. 15. The groups must all use lethal injection for euthanasia. Gas chambers may still be used, the state said, in rare circumstances such as a natural disaster or a large-scale disease outbreak.

Union County ended its use of the chamber soon after receiving the letter, county Sheriff Eddie Cathey said. The sheriff’s office runs the shelter.

“There was no need for us to wait until February,” Cathey said. “All of our employees were trained (for injections), and it seems to be going pretty smoothly.”

Patricia Norris, the state animal welfare section director, sent out the letter.

At the time, she said, Union was one of four shelters still using gas, along with Randolph, Wilkes and Beaufort counties. Davidson County was in the final stages of ending its use of gas when her letter came out, Norris said.

The state ordered the move after the third of three national groups changed its guidelines to exclude gas chambers, Norris said. The state’s policies reflect the groups’ recommendations.

Local and national animal rights groups had decried the use of gas chambers as inhumane.

Union County’s continued use of that method had upset some people in the area. Cathey said that after the department switched methods, “We’ve had a lot of positive response from the community.”

Barbara Blair, the incoming president of the Humane Society of Union County, said Cathey called the group in early December to inform them the transition of methods had been completed.

“The humane society is very, very excited that that battle is over with,” Blair said.

She said she hoped efforts in the new year could now be focused on continuing to educate the public about the importance of spaying and neutering their pets.

The method of euthanasia does not impact the number of animals euthanized each year, Norris said. That is dependent on the number of animals coming into a shelter and the number adopted or reclaimed by their owners.