City Of Gatesville Puts Cats And Dogs To Sleep With Car Fumes.
Some call method cruel, but Gatesville says it's all it can afford 02/25/2002
By KELLIE B. GORMLY / Special Contributor to The Dallas Morning News GATESVILLE, Texas
The rusted police car in a woodsy area just outside of this small Central Texas community no longer drives, but its engine has been tapped for one of Gatesville's most solemn chores. The car's exhaust pipe is hooked up to a cinder block structure, where unwanted dogs and cats from the city shelter await their deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning each week.
The gas passes through a cooling and filtering tower that removes smoke and heat before it enters the death chamber ? all that is required to make this method of animal euthanasia legal in Texas. But animal-rights activists from across the country and some residents have condemned Gatesville's gas chamber method as cruel and inhumane.
"It was sickening," said Matti Chandler, a resident who toured the shelter a few months ago. "The thought that any companion animal would be put to death like that was just appalling to me." But with an annual animal shelter budget of $1,500 ? not including salaries for one full-time and one part-time animal-control officer ? Gatesville officials say they have no other option to manage a growing problem of stray cats and dogs.
"We're doing the best we can with what we've got," said James Erwin, Gatesville's mayor since 1997. He said that despite recent publicity, concern about the animal shelter does not appear to be a major issue among residents ? and he doesn't think it will be.
"It's sad that we have to put those animals to death, but we can't keep them," he said. "People need to take care of their animals at home and not turn them loose."
Late last year, photos of the Gatesville shelter were posted on the Internet. With wire fencing walls and concrete floors, the 12-year-old, 840-square-foot shelter looks like a shed. The rusty patrol car used to provide carbon monoxide to kill four of five animals each week is only a short distance away. The photos fueled an online petition that has accumulated more than 500 signatures and spurred hundreds of e-mails, phone calls and letters to the city manager's office.
They urge city officials to switch their euthanasia method to sodium pentobarbital injections, the euthanasia method endorsed by the American Humane Society, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States. "If you've got to take the life of an animal, then you want to do it in the most humane way possible," said Warren Cox, president of the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas. "Right now, the best we know of is injection with trained personnel." But residents of this community of about 15,000, located 36 miles west of Waco, have not been enthusiastic about paying more money to upgrade their system, officials said. A recent solicitation for donations to change the method brought in one check for $200 ? and Brandon Emmons, Gatesville's city manager, said only one of the e-mails that poured into his office was from an area resident. "I'm not proud that I have to euthanize animals," Mr. Emmons said.
Shelter is simple. At the shelter, cats are kept in rabbit cages, and dogs are kept in larger, built-in chambers with wire-fence walls. The shelter has no electricity and is not staffed round the clock. "This is essentially a way station on the way to the gas chamber," said Stewart Dienst, Ms. Chandler's husband. Mr. Emmons said that many of the shelter's animals are wild and are used to an outdoor atmosphere without electricity. He said the shelter's misting pipe ? along with hay-filled metal barrels laid on their sides to use as dog houses?No adequately control the shelter's temperature.(This goes for Gatesville inmates also)
Mr. Emmons and other city officials defended the euthanasia system as not only legal and safe but also humane. Mr. Emmons said the animal simply drifts off rather than suffering first. He also said carbon monoxide poisoning is safer for his animal control officers, who could be bitten or scratched when administering a lethal injection. "It's not just a money issue," he said.
Warren Cox, president of the Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Texas, said carbon monoxide is risky because of potential poison leaking to the officers who administer it. Mr. Cox and John Snyder, director of programs for the companion animal section of the Humane Society, said that although carbon monoxide poisoning is not inhumane, it is not the best method. Mr. Snyder criticized Gatesville's inexpensive method of using car exhaust fumes instead of compressed gas, which typically costs about $75 per cylinder. Using gasoline can be dangerous because it is unknown what the concentration of carbon monoxide is, Mr. Snyder said. Although the Gatesville case has attracted attention, carbon monoxide poisoning is not uncommon in the United States. Although the Humane Society has no figures on how many of the country's estimated 3,500 animal shelters use this method, Mr. Snyder said about one third of the states ? including Florida, California, New Jersey and Maryland ? have outlawed it.
In the Dallas area, at least a handful of city animal-control departments ? including Garland, Irving and Plano ? use carbon monoxide in at least some cases, such as those involving violent animals. What makes Gatesville unusual is its car-exhaust operation, which Jerry Layne ? the Waco animal-rights advocate who spearheaded the petition ? had never seen anywhere else. Typically, shelters use bottled carbon monoxide.
"This is the worst one I've ever seen," Mr. Layne said. "It's pretty tough to take." Alternatives discussed
A handful of animal-loving Gatesville residents led by Ms. Chandler and Mr. Dienst propose an ambitious private, no-kill shelter funded by donations. Mr. Emmons said that would be a wonderful solution but might not be realistic. About two years ago, the city considered building a new $240,000 shelter. None of the organizations that were solicited contributed money, he said, and the proposal died. Until a no-kill shelter is realized, Ms. Chandler and Mr. Dienst have established the Forgotten Angels Animal Foundation to provide supplies and services for the shelter. The fund has raised about $1,300. "We're just trying to do what's best for the animals," Ms. Chandler said.
Kellie B. Gormly is a Dallas-based freelance writer.
Gatesville City Texas Houses Womens Death Row (conditions and treatment of their inmates are about the same..excluding using car fumes to administer death)