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Vet defends Jefferson City shelter's methods

Gas chamber deemed less stressful, quicker for some animals July 21, 2013 at 6:00 a.m. | Updated July 21, 2013 at 6:00 a.m.

The three veterinarians who serve on the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee that advises the Jefferson City Animal Shelter (JCAS) have been asked by clients and other individuals about their views on the use of the gas chamber at the shelter.

The gas chamber has been used for wildlife and feral cat euthanasia at JCAS since December 2008. Carbon dioxide is used to euthanize the animals in the homemade chamber, which is a chest-freezer similar to one that could be found in one's home.

At the committee's Monday meeting, all three veterinarians endorsed the use of the chamber for wildlife and feral cat euthanasia. Dr. Jim Crago, vice chairman of the advisory committee, stated the method was "quick, effective and safe."

"Dr. Boyer, Dr. Popp and myself are the members of the Shelter Advisory Board and have all agreed that its (gas chamber's) use for wild animals and some feral cats is an appropriate and effective method of handling this difficult situation," Crago said in a letter to the News Tribune.

Management at JCAS

The city hired Dr. Corey McCann on June 9 as interim veterinarian at JCAS. He fills the shelter veterinarian position left vacant by Dr. Amanda Dykstra, who resigned from her position June 14 and was released early from her month's notice on June 27. Her resignation was due in part to her concern regarding the shelter's use of a gas chamber to kill wildlife and feral cats and regarding disagreements between Dykstra and the animal control supervisor.

McCann also assumed the role of Animal Control director at the shelter, giving him overall authority over JCAS. Previously, Animal Control Supervisor Karen Jennings oversaw the shelter. Although she now reports to McCann, the Animal Control officers report to Jennings. With the announcement, the Jefferson City Police Department, which oversees JCAS and Animal Control, said the gas chamber will only be used at the shelter to euthanize wildlife and feral cats when McCann is not readily available for euthanasia by injection. The use of the chamber will only occur at the direction and with the authority of McCann.

Veterinarian's facts

Crago said in an interview that the gas chamber should be referred to as a carbon dioxide chamber.

"Gas chamber gives it the connotation of a human gas chamber, and that's not what it is," he said.

He said in his letter to the News Tribune that there are a few simple facts that don't seem to be understood by many individuals.

First, he said that animal control is routinely asked to trap and remove wild animals from residential and commercial properties because of concerns of property damage, nuisance and potential disease.

Crago said the Department of Conservation advises the animal control officers to euthanize the wild animals rather than release them into the wild at another location, because of concerns that the animals will not adjust to their new environment or will not be accepted by other wildlife in the environment.

"Many of these animals will die due to this stress imposed upon them," Crago said. "It also moves a local problem to another location where the farmers or landowners will need to deal with it again."

Rex Martensen, supervisor of the Missouri Department of Conservation's wildlife damage control program, said removal of wildlife and wildlife euthanasia are the last resort.

He said conservation officers first try to frighten the animals to discourage them from becoming more of a problem for a property owner, hopefully scaring them away from the property.

Stress by euthanasia

Crago said that when animal control brings wildlife into his veterinary clinic, the veterinarian must euthanize the animals by injection.

"Anyone who believes that injecting these animals through a cage and watching them struggle is less stressful than the use of the gas chamber should witness what I have had to do during the last month for the shelter," Crago said in the letter.

He said that on one occasion he had to give a groundhog three injections before it was sedated enough to handle. The process took nearly 20 minutes of struggle. A raccoon the veterinarian injected bled profusely before becoming sedated, he said.

"It is not uncommon that multiple injections are needed due to the valiant efforts they (wildlife) make to avoid getting injected," Crago said in the letter.

He said that on that particular day, two raccoons, two groundhogs and a cat were euthanized.

"A total of 10 injections were used to sedate them," he said. "It is not a stress-free method whatsoever."

He said the use of the gas chamber is less stressful for the animals and is quick and effective. It usually takes two to four minutes to sedate them.

"There is less handling of the animal and it removes the safety issue for the staff and the veterinarian involved," Crago said.

He said in an interview that when euthanizing with the gas chamber, the cage that trapped the wildlife is placed inside the chamber, so animals are separated during the process. Occasionally when two animals are trapped in one cage, they are both euthanized in that cage. He said it cannot be avoided in those instances.

"Ideally, they should be separated, but I'm not going to suggest someone open that cage and try to separate them," Crago said. "There's too much risk. You've got to be looking at the safety of the people handling these animals, too."

He said wildlife can harbor diseases that no one wants to expose themselves, such as rabies.

Feral cats

One of the concerns skeptics of JCAS's gas chamber have is that sometimes domestic cats are trapped, deemed feral and euthanized in the chamber.

That very situation happened to Linda Laucks' cat Stella in December.

When asked if there is a way to tell if an animal is feral, Crago said, "No."

"That's where the microchip comes in," he said. "If people would microchip their animals, they would be checked before they are euthanized. They always are."

He said the animals could then be identified as domestic.

"Unfortunately, cats can be very kind and nice at home, warm and fuzzy," Crago said. "Then when you trap them by accident, or otherwise, or put them in an enclosed area, they become very vicious and you can't tell the difference between that vicious and a feral animal that is vicious just because it's a wild cat."

He said microchipping animals is the best solution.

"You can then identify what they (the animals) are and be able to find the owner and have them come in and claim them," Crago said. "I think that would be a good alternative for all animals that are domestic."

He said it's important to remember that Jefferson City has a leash law that requires dogs and cats to be on a leash if they are not on their owners' property.

Group against gas chamber

A group of nearly 15 residents met Wednesday evening to discuss concerns they have regarding the operation of JCAS, specifically concerns regarding the use of the gas chamber.

"I know we feel things need to be improved in many areas of operation (at JCAS)," said Ed Storey, one of the residents who has taken charge of the group. "Working as a group, hopefully we can make some changes for the better."

The group outlined three goals they want to accomplish regarding euthanasia at the shelter. They want to get the gas chamber removed, identify acceptable means of euthanasia and meet with the City Council to discuss their concerns.

The group views the chamber as a inhumane euthanasia alternative to injection. But, under Missouri law, the gas chamber is legal.

Crago said he sees the chamber as a viable alternative for the unmanageable wild animals and feral cats.

He said in his letter that, "In a perfect world, all animals would be allowed to live peacefully without human involvement ... but there are situations when there has to be control of the damage and threats imposed by our animal kingdom.

"None of us take pleasure in disposing of these beautiful creatures, but when it comes to that unpleasant task, using the least stressful and effective methods should be followed. The use of the CO2 chamber is by far one of the better alternatives available.

"It would be wonderful if we never had to deal with it, but the fact is, we do."


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