Letter: What’s at stake with Utah’s “Animal Shelter Revisions” bill

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Adult cats for adoption at the North Utah Valley Animal Shelter, Aug. 23, 2022.

Regarding SB108 “Animal Shelter Revisions”:

As a veterinarian, of course I am concerned with animal welfare. That said, there are a few issues that need to be considered with regard to this bill.

First off, we are not talking Hitler-style “gas chambers.” The chambers used are specially-designed and calibrated, and use either carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide, either of which can cause a humane death when used appropriately. The American Veterinary Medical Association Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals: 2020 Edition states that CO2 and CO chambers are “acceptable with conditions for use in institutional situations where appropriately designed and maintained equipment and trained and monitored personnel are available to administer it.”

The Utah Animal Control Officers Association already requires biennial training for its members in euthanasia procedures, which I have taught. Most shelters in Utah do not currently use CO2 or CO chambers, having already switched to injection. Some shelters may still have the chamber on-site but do not use it.

The preferred euthanasia technique is injection of an overdose of a barbiturate (typically pentobarbital). All injection techniques require training and practice. Typically, two staffers will need to be involved: one to restrain the animal and the other to perform the injection. Commercially available euthanasia solutions are DEA Schedule III drugs. Use of a DEA-scheduled drug requires licensing, logging, careful inventory and documentation. The barbiturate remains in the body after death and poses a toxic environmental risk to wildlife so the body must be either buried deeply or cremated.

For an animal shelter to switch over from gas to injection will require more staff, more staff training (especially in the safe handling and restraint of feral or aggressive animals), more supplies (syringes and needles), a DEA license, paperwork for ordering and logging drugs, and subsequent deep burial or cremation of the bodies. This bill does not address the staffing and financial obligations for shelters. Perhaps the Legislature could offer a grant to shelters that are still using gas to facilitate the transition.

Laura McLain, Cottonwood Heights

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