Animal shelter, vet sever ties

Veterinarian: Use of gas chamber at heart of dispute

The Jefferson City Animal Shelter veterinarian resigned from her position June 14 and was released early from her month’s notice Thursday.

“She was never asked to leave or resign,” Jefferson City Police Chief Roger Schroeder said of Dr. Amanda Dykstra. “I had heard and she confirmed that she would like to leave before the four-week notice that she is required to give.

“We accommodated that, and she appeared happy, pleased and satisfied when she left.”

But according to Dykstra, an email she sent to Karen Jennings, the animal shelter’s director, led to her early departure. Dykstra said she had emailed Jennings a couple of questions regarding euthanasia and the use of a gas chamber at the shelter.

“Forty-five minutes later, a police officer comes in and pulls me out of the class in front of everyone,” Dykstra said. “They pull me into the chief of police’s office, who tells me that I need to leave and that I cannot come back.”

Dykstra said she was escorted by police to the shelter where she cleaned out her office and locker.

Schroeder confirmed that Dykstra was escorted to the shelter by police, but he said the implication is darker than it really is.

“It’s not to imply any kind of misdeeds on her part,” he said. “Those things happen periodically given the type of job that we do. Everything was voluntary, and she wasn’t suspected of anything irregular.

“It was to ensure a smooth transition.”

In the email that spurred Dykstra’s early departure, the veterinarian asked the shelter’s director, “Which veterinarian is euthanizing wildlife and ferals when I’m not there?” and “Was the gas chamber destroyed or is it being stored somewhere?”

Karen Jennings declined comment, so it couldn’t be confirmed when the shelter began euthanizing wildlife and feral cats in a gas chamber. Under Missouri statute, the euthanasia method is legal.

State law defines humane killing as “the destruction of an animal accomplished by a method approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Panel on Euthanasia.” The American Veterinary Medical Association defines three mechanisms for euthanasia — direct depression of neurons necessary for life function, hypoxia and physical disruption of brain activity. The gas chamber includes hypoxia, which is exposing animals to high concentrations of gases that displace oxygen.

The veterinarian sent a proposal to Lt. Randy Dampf, interim support services commander with the Jefferson City Police Department, and to shelter director Karen Jennings on June 5. The proposal was a cost analysis of everything regarding the use of the shelter gas chamber on wildlife and feral cats.

The shelter is under the police department’s administration.

“I think it’s important to note that we do use it (gas chamber) for wild animals because otherwise we’d endanger our staff trying to give the animal a shot or euthanize it,” Schroeder said. “That’s just too dangerous.”

Dykstra said that in her proposal, she figured how much it would cost for the shelter to stop taking in wildlife and to spay, neuter and find homes for feral cats when they are brought into the shelter.

She said she found that the change would be more cost effective for the city.

Dykstra said Jennings called her yelling and screaming over the proposal and the director proceeded to hang up on her.

“I ended up submitting my resignation, and it became a whole ordeal,” Dykstra said. “So, she (Jennings) then told me she got rid of the gas chamber. She did it on a Sunday when no one was there.”

“She just emailed me and said that she would euthanize wildlife now. When I wasn’t there, she said it would be taken on a case by case basis, but never really said what would happen.”

Dykstra said it’s part of her job legally to know what happens to every single animal that comes into the shelter, whether she sees every animal or not.

“She (Jennings) told me she was taking them over to Weathered Rock Vet Clinic to Dr. Popp,” Dykstra said. “I called Dr. Popp, and he said he had not euthanized any wildlife.”

Dykstra said she had heard rumors that Jennings still had the gas chamber. That’s when she decided to send the email to Jennings on Thursday morning.

“When this whole gas chamber thing happened, her (Jennings’) answer was that the only way they could get rid of the gas chamber is if I would give animal control officers access to the euthanasia solution, which is a Class 2 controlled substance,” Dykstra said. “I told her that animal control officers absolutely could not use the euthanasia solution unless they were under immediate supervision, meaning I would be standing right there.

“If I’m standing right there, I might as well do it myself.”

Dykstra said she went to do a surgery the next day and one of the veterinarian assistants refused to help her. When the veterinarian performs surgeries, the assistants use the controlled drugs under the doctor’s supervision.

“She (the assistant) said that Karen (Jennings) told her they couldn’t be around controlled substances at all, so they weren’t allowed to assist me with surgery,” Dykstra said. “Basically, she (Jennings) wanted me to do it all by myself. I told her that was fine, that I could probably do three or four a day like that, but not the 40 or so that we had been doing.”

Dykstra said the shelter got behind on surgeries and behind on moving animals out of the shelter.

“They were basically stuck there,” she said. “Finally, she (Jennings) started letting them get adopted out with what’s called ‘intent,’ so they could be adopted but they would have to get them spayed or neutered within two weeks and the shelter would pay the local vet for it.”

Dykstra said the ‘intent’ method costs the city a ton of money and it’s a lot cheaper for the shelter to perform the surgeries in-house.

The veterinarian’s employment at the shelter would have ended mid-July. In a letter to the editor announcing her resignation June 15, Dykstra said that over the past four years, she has fought for the animals of Jefferson City and Cole County and has protected their health and well-being to the best of her abilities.

She’s proud of the changes that have taken place at the shelter, such as getting rid of breed-specific euthanasia, starting an effective and efficient surgery program, and improving cat housing.

“I could not have done this without all of you,” she said. “Thank you for helping to make JCAS (Jefferson City Animal Shelter) what it is today.”

Schroeder said the use of the gas chamber for euthanizations is currently under assessment.

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