June 25, 2016

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Advocates: Don’t gas animals in Medina County

Some pet lovers want Medina County to stop gassing cats.

Medina is one of only five Ohio counties that use a gas chamber to euthanize animals.

A cat awaits adoption Monday at the Medina County Animal Shelter. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DAN POMPILI)

Medina officials say they only use it for cats, but opponents call gas cruel regardless.

“I personally do not feel it is a way to humanely euthanize animals,” said Medina County SPCA director Stephanie Moore. “In my opinion, the state should outlaw gas chambers altogether.

“They’re putting a live conscious animal into a chamber and many times death is not instantaneous.”

County Commissioner Stephen D. Hambley defended using gas to euthanize cats, citing the safety of employees who must handle the feral cats that frequently are trapped and brought into the shelter.

“They’re very difficult to handle,” he said. “The problem we face is it’s either this or we end up like the 62 other counties that won’t take in cats at all.”

Hambley added: “I know there’s a lot of people that are emotional and have strong opinions that we shouldn’t do this. If SPCA wants to come in and do this, we would be fine with making the transition and letting them take this over.”

Medina County Dog Warden Del Saffle said the county’s animal shelter stopped using the chamber for dogs in 2011, but carbon-monoxide gas is still used to kill as many as four cats at a time, in separate boxes.

Last year, the shelter took in 455 cats and euthanized 248. The rest were placed in no-kill shelters or adopted out.

Saffle said kittens, injured cats, and those with respiratory problems — who may not inhale the gas completely — are euthanized by needle with sodium pentobarbital. Lethal injection is also used for dogs. Last year, the shelter put down 43 dogs out of the 525 it took in.

Saffle said gas is approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association. But that agency’s 2013 Guidelines on Euthanasia says carbon monoxide gas should only be used when “required conditions can be met.”

The report calls the method challenging and costly and possibly dangerous to employees. The report says gas “is not recommended for routine euthanasia of cats and dogs … alternate methods with fewer conditions and disadvantages are recommended for companion animals where feasible.”

The other Ohio counties that still use gas to euthanize strays are Knox, Hocking, Erie and Carroll counties, according to the Animal Law Coalition.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also decries the practice as cruel.

Their website says “old, young, and sick animals are particularly susceptible to gas-related trauma and will die slow and highly stressful deaths.”

Both agencies recommend lethal injection, specifically sodium pentobarbital.

The AVMA says “desirable barbiturates are those that are potent, nonirritating, long acting, stable in solution, and inexpensive. Sodium pentobarbital best fits these criteria and is most widely used.”

Medina officials said part of the problem is that the shelter is funded entirely by dog-related money and by law, the shelter may not use any of that money for cats.

All cats come with a $15 adoption fee or a $10 impound fee to keep the cat program self-sustaining.

Saffle said the county does not have a breakdown of euthanasia costs.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.