Another one down: Iredell County removes gas chamber from pound

Iredell County officials announced Friday that they have removed the gas chamber from the county pound. Animal Services Director Brad Gates, former director of the Alexander County gas chamber pound, said the Iredell County gas chamber will be dismantled and its metal recycled.

Iredell county killed 72.57% of the dog and cats who entered their pound in 2012.

It’s becoming obvious that the people of North Carolina want to see a quick end to the use of  gas chambers in our state. Iredell County is the seventh North Carolina county to get rid of its gas chamber in less than a year. Gas chambers are still in existence in the following counties: Alexander, Beaufort, Cleveland, Davidson, Gaston (reportedly used only for certain animals), Granville, Martin, Nash (reportedly used only for certain animals), Randolph, Rowan, Union, Vance (gas not in use, but may be put back into use at any time), Wilkes and Wilson. Animal advocates in those counties may contact their county officials using the contact information here and urge them to implement civilized and humane treatment of the pets in their shelters, including (and in some cases starting with) the demolition of the barbaric gas chambers.

A CONCERT FOR SHELTER ANIMALS ~ To Raise Awareness about Inhumane Euthanasia in NCNext Friday night, Oct, 4, 2013, there will be a Dance Concert For Shelter Animals, calling for action to ban animal gas chambers,  at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, NC, sponsored by Goathouse Refuge and other animal advocacy organizations. In addition to many musical guests, a featured speaker will be Michael R. Moyer, V.M.D., past director of the Shelter Animal Medicine Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. (Shameless self-promotion alert: I will also deliver a brief message about the status of the fight against gas chambers in NC.) More information can be found on the Goathouse Refuge website.

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Demolish the Iredell County Gas Chamber!

Iredell County officials are hoping that new pound manager Brad Gates, will improve the “image” of Iredell’s high-kill gas chamber pound. Gates was previously director of the high-kill, gas chamber pound in Alexander County, which failed its most recent inspection during Gates’ tenure as director.  Gates was hired to run the pound after former director Chris Royal resigned amid suspicion of wrongdoing.

Here’s an idea, Iredell leaders: How about actually improving your county’s pound to turn it into a bona fide shelter that protects the lives of animals? First step: DEMOLISH THE GAS CHAMBER! Next step: end the killing of healthy and treatable pets altogether by adopting the cost-effectiveproven programs for lifesaving successMore than 171 (and counting!) communities across the US are doing it. It’s time to add Iredell County, NC, to that list.

Animal advocates may contact Iredell County leaders using the contact information below and respectfully ask them to make REAL improvements at their county pound:

County Manager: Ron Smith, rsmith@co.iredell.nc.us, 200 S. Center St., Statesville, NC 28677, 704-878-3050

Commissioners:

Iredell County Animal Services and Control 2012 Statistics

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Person County illegally bans rescuer from pound

In violation of federal civil rights laws, Person County Animal Services director Ron Shaw has banned a longtime rescuer for speaking publicly about pound staff’s refusal to let her obtain vet care for a puppy who later died in the pound.

Rhonda Beach, director of Chances Angel Rescue and Education and former president of the Animal Protection Society of Person County, has been involved with the Person County pound since 2008. Between her time with APS and CARE, Ms. Beach says she has been responsible for saving 912 pets from PCAS. “To be accurate and to only include what CARE has pulled from PCAS, we have rescued to date 1022 animals and out of those numbers, 726 animals were pulled from PCAS by Chances Angel Rescue,” she said.

On Aug. 21, 2013, Ms. Beach sent a text and a photo of a puppy to a PCAS staff member asking for the pup’s age, weight, and hold date. The staffer replied late the next morning, providing info including that the pup was very malnourished and thin and his mandatory hold was up on Aug. 23.

Ms. Beach responded immediately, asking if she could pick up the pup early and have him serve out his hold period with her, which is permitted by state law. (§ 130A-192.) “My intent was to go get him immediately and take to my vet for an evaluation,” Beach said. “Extremely malnourished dogs should receive immediate vet care and so I offered to pick him up and get him to the vet right away.”

The employee texted back, “He is doing okay. I have been feeding him some can food.” Ms. Beach then asked if the staffer could vaccinate the pup, and the staffer said she would vaccinate him on Aug. 23.

The staffer later texted that the pup could be picked up after closing (4 p.m.) on Aug. 22 because his hold period would technically be up then, but Ms. Beach was unable to get to the shelter at that time. “I was available and ready to go get him immediately at 11:45 am on August 22, but was denied because his hold date was not met,” Ms. Beach said.

Ms. Beach said she tried to contact PCAS staff around 8 am on Aug. 23 to see if they would let her pick up the pup at 8 am instead of waiting until the 10 a.m. opening time. The rescue coordinator texted Ms. Beach at 10 am to tell her that the puppy had died.

Later that morning, Ms. Beach posted a photo of the pup with a caption describing the issue on her Facebook page: 

Puppy died in Parson County Animal Shelter because they refused to allow rescuer to take him to the vet.This poor puppy died in the shelter last night. I had tagged him for rescue and he was there waiting his mandatory 72 hour hold period. I ask the shelter could I get him early and so he could get medical attention since he was extremely malnourished. I offered to hold him at my house for the remaining of the mandatory 72 hour hold period after he received medical attention and was denied. So this puppy died sometime last night, in the shelter, alone, on a concrete floor. I am so heart broken for this baby. This is one of the reasons I don’t work with Person County Shelter as much as I used to… This baby needed help at a critical time. RIP sweet boy. I am so sorry your people failed you.
The next day, Shaw sent Ms. Beach the following email:

Per PC Animal Services Ordinance Appendix B, I am suspending your privileges of pulling animals from our Shelter as of Friday, August 23, 2013.

It has come to my attention of the Facebook posting made by you and comments you made on a picture that are not productive of the over all mission of saving animals and promoting a positive relationship between Animal Services and your rescue group.

I have already notified the Animal Advisory Committee of the suspension and they will be scheduling a meeting in the next two weeks (per County Ordinance Appendix B). You will be notified of the meeting date as soon as it is scheduled.

Thank you.
Ron W. Shaw
Director
Person County Animal Services
2103 Chub Lake Road
Roxboro, NC 2757
336.597.1741

Such an action–retaliation against a volunteer or rescuer who exercises her free speech rights–is in violation of federal law. In the words of attorney Sheldon Eisenberg, who successfully represented rescuers who sued Los Angeles County after being banned for speaking out about animal abuse at the county’s shelters:

There can be no dispute that complaining about abuses or violations of law at shelters is a constitutionally protected right. A rescuer not only has the First Amendment right to speak out against abuses and violations of law committed by a governmental entity, he or she also has a constitutionally protected right to demand that the government correct the wrongs that are identified. This includes the right to threaten to sue or to actually file suit against the shelter. (Section 1983 To The Rescue.)

42 USC Chapter 21, Subchapter I § 1983 states: “Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress…”

In essence, local laws and policies that deprive someone of rights and privileges, such as the recent amendment to the Person County Animal Services Ordinance that threatens shelter volunteers and rescuers with loss of access to the public shelter in retaliation for exercising their free speech, are in violation of US civil rights laws.

Per Eisenberg:

In recent years, the courts have said that people have a right to file a claim under Section 1983 when state or municipal governments take action designed to scare or prevent them from exercising their First Amendment rights, or punish them for doing so. The plaintiff must show that all of a few specific conditions, or legal “elements”, exist: The plaintiff’s conduct must be protected by the Constitution,  this conduct must have been a “substantial” or “motivating” factor in the defendants’ decision to take action, and the plaintiff must have suffered actual injury.

There can be no doubt that the suspension of Ms. Beach’s right to save animals from the Person County pound meets the conditions necessary for a lawsuit:

  1. Ms. Beach’s Facebook post is Constitutionally protected free speech;
  2. Ron Shaw explicitly said in his email that his decision to retaliate against Ms. Beach and deprive her of her rights was a result of her Facebook post; and
  3. Ms. Beach has suffered the damage of losing the benefit and privilege of rescuing pets from the Person County pound.

Eisenberg wrote:

It is important to emphasize that the loss of a common benefit counts as injury; a rescuer need not establish a legal right to adopt animals or take advantage of any other benefits afforded by a shelter. As the Supreme Court has stated, a government entity “may not deny a benefit to a person on a basis that infringes his constitutionally protected interests—especially, his interest in freedom of speech.” Therefore, it should be enough to show, for example, that a person has been deprived of his or her ability to volunteer at, or to adopt animals from, a shelter

The very existence of the new language in the Person County ordinance threatening to revoke access for advocates who speak publicly is in itself in violation of US law. In Eisenberg’s words, “Since the whole point of a Section 1983 retaliation claim is to prevent the ‘chilling’ (discouragement) of constitutionally protected rights, it seems clear enough that a threat of retaliation for exercising those rights, which is specifically designed to obstruct the exercise of those rights, should be sufficient to satisfy the actual injury element of a Section 1983 claim.”

In addition, there is also provision under US statutes (42 USC § 1988 – Proceedings in vindication of civil rights) for the prevailing party to recover all attorney fees in a suit filed in vindication of civil rights.

A letter was sent on Ms. Beach’s behalf to Person County Manager Heidi York informing her that banning Ms. Beach is illegal, and Ms. York replied that she passed it along to legal counsel, who is currently “out of the country,” and that she does not have the authority to intervene in the issue.

 Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin You can read more about Ms. Beach and her efforts to reform the Person County Pound in Kim Kavin’s book Little Boy Blue.

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Burlington Animal Services (Alamance County) to end gas chamber use

According to a Humane Society of the United States press release, Burlington Animal Services, which serves the city of Burlington and Alamance County, accepted a grant with a provision that they end all use of the facility’s gas chamber.

The amount of the grant wasn’t mentioned, but previous HSUS grants of this type have been between $7,000 and $10,000. Also not mentioned is any provision for removal of the gas chamber so that it can not be put into service again, but previous grants have stipulated removal within 6 months.

Burlington Animal Services killed 72.53 percent of the dogs and cats that came in during 2012. This is slightly up from the kill rate of 70.90 percent  in 2011.

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Franklin pound director “euthanizes” injured dog with .22 rifle

WRAL reports that Franklin County shelter director Taylor Bartholomew used a .22 caliber rifle to kill an injured Bassett hound in the shelter.

Bartholomew told an NCDA&CS inspector that the Basset hound sustained an injury to the left rear paw during  a fight with another dog who was sharing the same kennel. According to the report:

“The dog wasn’t seen by Veterinarian at that time because the wound didn’t appear to be severe. The shelter staff  had been cleaning the wound and applying Blue Lotion. However on  7/25/13 the dog was found to be hurt worse then first realized. The dog was chewing on the paw and the dog appeared to be in severe pain. The dog was not taken Veterinarian and the two ACO’s who are CET’S  who were working out in the field on this day were not notified to return to the shelter. Mr. Bartholomew decided the injuries were to severe and instead of transporting the dog to a Veterinarian or contacting the CET’S he utilized a 22 rifle and dispatched the dog. The dog didn’t survive.”

According to the animal welfare administrative code, killing animals with gunshot is only permitted “under extraordinary circumstances and situations which occur offsite from the shelter.” Bartholomew told the inspector he did not know he was not allowed to shoot animals on shelter property.

The code also states that only “a Certified Euthanasia Technician, Probationary Euthanasia Technician, or a veterinarian licensed to practice veterinary medicine in North Carolina may euthanize an animal in a certified animal shelter.” Bartholomew is not a certified euthanasia technician.

As a result of breaking the law, Bartholomew received a talking-to by the state inspector, possibly in a very stern voice.

Franklin County did not report their 2012 outcome statistics to NCDA&CS (also a violation of the law.) In 2011, 68% of the pets taken in to the Franklin County pound were killed.

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Ashe County commissioners vote to end gas chamber use

Ashe County commissioners voted Monday to take a forward step toward civilized treatment of animals by ending the use of the carbon monoxide gas chamber in the county pound.

Voting to end the use of the barbaric gas chamber were Gary Roark, William Sands and Judy Poe. Commissioners had received hundreds of emails and calls from people against the gas chamber, and Commissioner Sands said that he was prompted to change his opinion and oppose its use after seeing an online video of animals dying in one.

The Ashe County pound can receive a grant of at least $7,000 through HSUS providing the gas chamber is dismantled and removed from the premises within 6 months.

Working gas chambers remain in Alamance, Beaufort, Cleveland, Davidson, Gaston, Granville, Iredell, Martin, Nash, Randolph, Rowan, Union, Vance, Wilkes, and Wilson Counties. Cabarrus County ended gas chamber use last month and will accept an HSUS grant but has not yet removed the chamber. Vance County has reportedly not used their gas chamber since November, 2012, but it remains in the facility. Lethal injection is reportedly the primary means of killing in Alamance, Gaston and Nash counties, but the gas chambers remain.

Advocates can find contact information for officials in gas chamber counties here.

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Ashe County commissioners to vote on gas chamber use

UPDATE: On Monday, Aug. 19, Ashe County commissioners voted 3-2 to discontinue gas chamber use at the county pound.

Ashe County commissioners decided last week to vote at the board’s next meeting Aug. 19, 2013, on whether to continue use of the CO gas chamber to kill pets in the county pound.

At least one commissioner has already changed his mind after seeing videos of the process and will vote against continued CO use, according to an article in the Mountain Times:

“I don’t know how many emails and telephone calls I got concerning this gas chamber over at animal control,” Ashe County Commissioner Gary Roark said Monday. “They want us to revisit that to eliminate it.”

Those calls and emails prompted Roark to further research the use of CO chambers, he said, and reverse his opinion on the subject.

“I’ve done some research online, and some of the videos show dogs just laying there and jerking (during the euthanization process),” Roark said. “I know I voted last time to keep that, but I’m not for it once I found that out. From what I’ve seen, I’d like to see it closed.”

“I’d vote with you,” Commissioner William Sands told Roark.

If  Roark and Sands vote against CO use, then  one more vote by a member of the five-person board would make a majority against the gas chamber.

Animal advocates who would like to thank Commissioners Roark and Sands for their careful consideration of the issue or respectfully inform other board members about the realities of the gas chamber can contact Larry Rhodes, Judy Porter Poe, Gerald Price, Gary Roark and  William Sands at administration@ashecountygov.com, 336-846-5501, fax 336-846-5516 or  by mailing to 150 Government Circle Suite 2500, Jefferson, NC 28640.

Inspiration for  letters may be found here and  here, and this sample letter may be used as a template.

One important point for commissioners to consider is that the debate does not have to be between killing animals with CO and killing them with lethal injection. They could end the killing of healthy and treatable pets altogether, and turn their county pound into a bona fide shelter, where animals’ lives are protected.  More than 160 communities across the US have ended the debate over the best way to kill healthy and treatable shelter pets by SAVING THEM through implementation of  a cost-effectiveproven program for lifesaving success. It’s time for Ashe County, NC, to join that list.

Veterinarians and regulatory authorities often approach the issue of humane euthanasia, particularly in animal shelters, from a technical starting point, having already accepted fait accompli that mass killing is necessary. While there are real technical concerns with carbon monoxide chamber, mass killing of dogs and cats in the shelter environment is not necessary, good, or required. The premise that there are “too few homes” for the millions of pets entering shelters each year is belied by the millions of pets acquired by new and existing pet owners. The premise that pets entering shelters are “not adoptable” for health problems—problems that are seen, diagnosed, and treated by veterinarians in these very same communities—is not correct. They are treatable and adoptable in the vast majority of cases. The premise that there is some public good in taking free-roaming cats  into shelters, terrorizing them in confinement for a stray hold, then killing them because  they’re “unadoptable” is not merely Sisyphean, it is cruel and ineffectual at successfully managing free roaming cat populations or free roaming cat “nuisance” complaints. ~Michael R. Moyer, V.M.D

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