Task force members discuss animal euthanization methods

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

A subcommittee of Clovis’ Animal Control Task Force resisted pressure from visiting animal rights proponents Wednesday, deciding not to formulate recommendations until members have more time to research euthanization methods.

Heather Ferguson, legislative director of Animal Protection of New Mexico and APNM member Claudia Roll pressed the committee to make a recommendation that the task force move forward with lethal injection, in exchange for promises of financial help from APNM.

After about two hours of discussion, committee members said they were still unprepared to vote on a recommendation.

City Commissioners Len Vohs and Juan Garza vocalized concerns regarding the change, including staffing issues at the animal shelter that might be strained by the requirements of lethal injection and the expense of starting and maintaining the program.

“I just don’t have enough information at the end of this meeting to vote,” Vohs said.

“We have to think about all of this. The legislature is not going to help us — we’ve been there before,” Garza added, explaining he was not prepared to burden taxpayers with the cost of switching to a new euthanization system without more research into funding and logistics.

The committee, which consists of city officials, animal control, concerned residents and veterinarians, agreed to meet again Tuesday in anticipation of the next task force meeting July 24.

Roll and Ferguson told the committee legislation prohibiting the use of carbon monoxide chambers is inevitable and said Clovis needs to accept their offer of support before time and funding becomes stretched and possibly unavailable.

“The law is changing. The gas chamber is going to be outlawed this year,” Ferguson said, explaining some animals process gas differently than others and death is prolonged.

Ferguson said the state’s Animal Sheltering Services Board has promised to prohibit the gas chamber and will likely present the matter for public hearings in the fall.

Lethal injection for animals requires two trained personnel to handle the animal and the use of controlled substances requires oversight by a veterinarian in addition to modified facilities other than what Clovis currently has.

Ferguson said APNM is prepared to pay estimated start-up costs for Clovis, which would be between $10,000 and $15,000 and assist financially for one year.

Facilities across the state contracting with veterinarians pay an average of $5 to $18 per animal euthanized.

Shelter Supervisor Louisa Maestas said gas chamber euthanization — from prep to cleanup — takes staff approximately two hours, twice a week with anywhere from 25 to 40 animals killed in a session.

Committee members were unconvinced that lethal injections are more humane, suggesting being held down, shaved and receiving two injections is more traumatic than going into a closed-door chamber and falling asleep.

“I realize that it might happen and be forced on us, (but) I am not convinced that (gas) is as bad as it’s being portrayed,” Vohs said.

Dr. Glenn Keim, a Clovis Veterinarian, agreed, interjecting that he doubts a veterinarian can be found locally who will be willing to oversee the program.

“I wouldn’t be interested. That’s the depressing end of the business. Who wants to do that?” he said.

“Carbon monoxide is carbon monoxide. I can’t breath it, none of them can breath it either. I just don’t buy (the lethal injection).”

• In 2007 the shelter, staffed by four persons, received 3,543 cats and dogs, and euthanized 2,457 of them, according to the Clovis Police Department’s annual report.