At the Tuesday, Oct. 2 City Council meeting, several spoke to the issue of animal euthanasia at the Altus Animal Shelter. Dr. John Thomas spoke to clarify some of issues since he spoke at the last City Council meeting, Sept. 18. He said that he knew of “no veterinarian or euthanasia technician who would take pleasure in euthanizing dogs and cats.” Reading from a prepared letter, Thomas explained his reasons for believing that use of a “commercially available canister carbon monoxide (CO) chamber like that currently in use at the animal shelter” is humane. He referenced Dr. Jeff Tidwell who agrees with Dr. Thomas on this issue.
Dr. Charles Freeman, who was also in attendance, differed with Dr. Thomas and spoke about the effects of CO on animals. Freeman had just returned from a conference in Dallas where he heard the opinions of representatives of the American Veterinary Association on the subject of euthanasia. “The days of the gas chamber are numbered,” Freeman said. Dallas euthanizes 30,000 to 40,000 animals per year by injection method, not the gas chamber.
Freeman said that a town the caliber of Altus can afford to euthanize animals in a humane way. He suggested Altus take a look at the fees paid by surrounding towns that bring their animals here to be euthanized. If these fees were raised, Freeman said, then the City could pay $150 and hour to a vet and staff to euthanize the four or five animals per week that can’t or aren’t to be adopted.
Dr. Kenneth O’Hanlon again spoke regarding his support of the injection method, as opposed to the CO chamber. He said he personally thinks sedation should be administered before the injection. Altus Police Chief Tim Murphy spoke to say he’d invited both Dr. Thomas and Dr. Freeman to give both sides of the issue. Murphy said he was disturbed to find that one of the Council members had been receiving threats regarding his vote on this issue. He said he hoped the Council would do what’s right for the City, for the employees and the animals.
Asked to describe the injection method, Dr. Freeman described the process of injecting a vicious animal. Though some animals may require sedation, Freeman said he usually just uses the one infusion of medication in a vein in a front leg of an animal. It is essentially a type of anesthetic, which when given in a larger dose stops the heart in three to four seconds, Freeman said. He also explained that if euthanasia drugs were to be kept at the facility, they’d have to get a Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) number and would have to have a trained vet or euthanasia tech to be responsible for the drugs that would be kept under a double lock system. The Council discussed various options and Freeman said either a vet could come to the facility or the animals could be transported to the vet’s office.
More discussion followed with many comments from more Council members, Rose Wilson, City of Lawton Animal Welfare director. Shirley Mahan spoke regarding the owners’ responsibilities for their animals. Bill Reed said Timothy McVey couldn’t be put to death by the gas chamber because it was cruel and unusual punishment, but innocent animals are euthanized that way in Altus.
Council member Rick Steen, who had noted a solution was that animals should be adopted, made a motion that the City go out for proposals or bids for using the injection method to euthanize animals in Altus. He also asked that City Attorney Catherine Coke check the existing contracts with the smaller communities that bring their animals here for euthanization. These contracts will be checked to determine when they can be renegotiated to raise fees to meet the City’s expenses for the process. This was approved by the whole Council.