Courtey photo/KayLynn Roberts-McMurray
The gas box at the animal shelter.

Euthanasia happens and it’s something no one ever wants to talk about.  It is a complex ethical matter, and while in some situations it’s unavoidable.

A sick or injured animal, vicious animal or the unfortunate demise the shelter being full, the decision to put an animal down is not an easy one and it is the last thing an animal control officer wants to do.

But, when the option for lethal injection (EBI) versus the gas chamber is available, why is the gas chamber still being utilized here in Ely? Why is it still being used when PETA offered to pay for lethal injection several months ago?

On Nov. 3, The Ely Times wrote  about the City of Ely using the gas chamber for animal euthanasia. The story reached national attention, and PETA contacted Robert Switzer, city administrator, three days later via an email.  Jennifer Brown, Animal Sheltering Adviser with the Cruelty Investigations Department with PETA, offered to provide financial assistance for euthanasia by lethal injection from a licensed veterinarian here in Ely until the city could get their animal control officer certified as a euthanasia technician.

Brown reached out to the city three times in November by emails. On Nov. 9, Switzer responded that he had received Brown’s email. When Brown emailed Switzer on Nov. 16,  Switzer replied to Brown explaining that this item would be placed on the Dec. 14 city council meeting as an agenda item.

The agenda item for the Dec. 14 meeting was put on the Ely City Council agenda by Mayor Melody VanCamp to accept PETA’s offer to help fund euthanasia by intravenous injection with a local veterinarian.

As the meeting began, VanCamp asked that this item be removed stating “I want to do more work on that.”

On Jan. 16, Brown sent another email to Switzer and VanCamp this time, wanting to follow up on a conversation with the mayor regarding discontinuing use of the homemade “gas chamber.”

In the email, Brown asked that Switzer and VanCamp confirm that the unit would no longer be used to put animals to death. Brown stressed that the box is built from wood, not commercially manufactured and not only is it inhumane to the animals, it presents a serious safety risk to staff.

Brown asked for their assurance that the chamber is dismantled. The email also indicates that a local vet agreed to provide euthanasia by injection when needed at an estimated cost of $25 and that PETA agreed to pay this cost until the city transitioned into budgeting euthanasia training for staff.

On Feb. 6, Brown sent another email to Switzer and VanCamp thanking them for taking steps to improve the practices at the Ely-White Pine County Animal Shelter.

They were following up on their Jan. 31 phone conversation with VanCamp.

Brown said, “Mr. Switzer I’ve left two messages for you—Mayor VanCamp asked me to follow up with you to discuss payment arrangements so PETA can assist with the cost of needed euthanasia.  I’m sorry we’ve yet to connect.”

Brown wrote, “We’re relieved by Mayor VanCamp’s assurance that the gassing box is no longer being used, and that you’ve made arrangements with Dr. Sanders for his office to perform euthanasia-by-injection when needed.  We understand how busy you are, but we’re concerned that we’ve yet to receive a written response to the last several emails I’ve sent.  May we please have your written assurance confirming these important policy changes?”

The emails from November to February were also cc’d to City Attorney Chuck Odgers, Treasurer, Janette Trask and Deputy City Clerk Jennifer Lee.

Now it is March, the Animal Control officer has been instructed not to communicate with the media, but The Ely Times received a report from an unnamed source that an injured feline was euthanized in the gas chamber within the last two weeks.

The newspaper contacted councilman Tony DeFelice, who is liaison for animal control. He confirmed that an injured cat was indeed euthanized in the gas chamber.

It is uncertain as to why the city chose to use the gas chamber when PETA in several different emails confirmed their desire to help. It seemed like the shelter had been taking a turn with reports from December through February showing a zero report of euthanasia for any cats or dogs up until now.

On Feb. 17, an email from Brenda Alexander was read into the city council meetings record.  Her letter asked questions specifically to the mayor and the council of where the offer from PETA regarding help in funding lethal injection stood? And, questioned why the city hadn’t sent the animal control officer to training for certification in euthanasia?

No response from the city was sent to Mrs. Alexander.

PETA gave The Ely Times the following statement: “Months have passed since PETA offered to assist Ely officials to ensure that a local veterinary hospital provides euthanasia by injection (EBI) to animals in the custody of the Ely Animal Shelter when they require a merciful end.  We have clarified our offer in writing to city leaders and followed up numerous times urging them to formalize the agreement with the veterinary hospital and set up a billing system with PETA.”

According to PETA, on Jan. 31, during a telephone conversation with VanCamp, she told PETA that the city was making efforts to obtain the training and licenses necessary for shelter workers to provide EBI, the lethal injection form of euthanasia.

PETA coordinated with a local veterinarian to form an agreement that included a reduced rate of euthanasia for shelter animals.

A photograph of the gas chamber was sent to PETA and they commented,  “because the homemade wooden gassing box that is used to kill animals at the facility fails to meet the American Veterinary Medical Associations minimum standards to be considered a conditionally acceptable method of euthanasia, we believe its use would cause slow and agonizing deaths, in violation of Nevada state law. PETA urges the city to end its use of the box and to destroy it without delay.”

PETA explained death by CO poisoning can be slow and terrifying.  During the process, which can take up to 30 minutes, panicked animals may gasp for breath, try to claw their way out of the chamber, and when more than one is forced into the box- attack each other. Some animals may be gassed repeatedly before they die, while others have been found alive in freezers and stumbling around landfills after being thought dead.

Old, young, injured and sick animals are particularly susceptible to gas-related trauma and stress and can survive, damaged and traumatized, repeated gassing attempts.

PETA stated, “We are willing and eager to work with Ely city leaders to ensure that homeless and unwanted animals, often found ill, injured, and near death, who require the mercy of euthanasia receive the final dignity of a peaceful passing.”