After years of operation, the gas chamber at the Sampson County Animal Shelter is no more.
It was dismantled Wednesday morning and hauled away from its location at the rear of the shelter facility to the salvage yard, the culmination of work by shelter officials that began in earnest last year.
“It has been long and tedious work but I think the public needs to see that Sampson County Animal Shelter does care about the animals in every aspect of their life,” shelter director Alan Canady said.
Sampson County Public Works maintenance supervisor Joseph Royal and maintenance workers Jeffrey Culbreth and Ray Hayes worked to unhook the gas lines and take apart the equipment, including two pieces that made up the large exhaust pipe system, as well as unbolt the main chamber from the ground. They loaded up the equipment to transport it, as Canady and shelter assistant Anna Ellis watched.
Canady said it was a massive step forward for Sampson County, which held the dubious distinction as one of a handful of counties that still gassed animals.
“It’s a big day,” said Canady. “This is big. To me, it’s huge. With us now not using it, I think there are two, maybe three other counties in the state that still use carbon monoxide. (Former shelter director) Lori Baxter got the ball rolling as far as trying to start this whole process. When I came in, I was able to finish it. It’s a big step. It took a lot of time and it took a lot of manhours.”
And some grant funds assisted in the effort.
Initial strides were made last year toward Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) licensing for lethal injection, however earnest efforts came to fruition at the beginning of this year when the county received, and accepted, a $7,000 grant from the Humane Society of the United States in January to phase out the use of the gas chamber. Sampson received its DEA licensing at the beginning of February.
The drugs to be administered through lethal injection arrived at the end of last month.
“We’ve already started,” said Canady, who said, aside from the obvious humane treatment of animals, a move away from gassing would benefit shelter employees. “Lethal injection is a whole lot safer than that, because if you don’t let that (gas chamber) exhaust enough, you’re getting a face full of carbon monoxide. Long time exposure can be deadly.”
As a stipulation of the grant used to bury the chamber, leftover money can be used toward shelter maintenance, facility improvements and animal health and welfare efforts.
“Not only is the grant money going to help us get rid of the chamber, it’s actually going to end up helping us buy more vaccines, because we didn’t have to use all the grant money,” said Canady. “There’s going to be around $5,000 left.”
That money is expected to be used to build a small dog isolation room.
“That should be enough to pay for our small dog isolation room,” Canady remarked. “This was my big step when I first started. Now I can focus all that attention on something else — getting the room built for the small dogs and get them out of the main kennel, and start making some more kennel improvements.”
The end of the chamber is indeed an end to a lengthy chapter for the county and the beginning of a brand new one. Even before the old shelter at the County Complex gave way to a new facility at its current location near the Livestock Arena off U.S. 421 six years ago, the gassing was still going on.
“I can find records where it was used for (eight) years,” Canady said. “Before, it was used for years and years and then they started using lethal injection for a couple years and then they went back to the gas chamber. I know this one’s been here for at least eight years.”
Now, not only will it not be utilized, it will benefit the county through the sale of its stainless steel.
And while a move to lethal injection is a positive one, shelter officials said, it will be one that, coupled with a growing animal population and state mandates on cleaning procedures and disease control, requires extra personnel. Canady has previously proposed the addition of one full-time and one part-time shelter attendant, as well as recommended facility improvements to further prevent disease outbreaks.
“It’s a necessary evil,” said Canady. “It does take more time to do, but that’s time were willing to make, and do whatever changes, to do. It’s more humane, more respectful to do it this way.”
Since Canady started as shelter director in January, the shelter is able to adopt out 150-175 animals a month, whether through local adoptions or in- and out-of-state rescue organizations. And where the euthanasia rate is currently around 30 percent, it hovered around 90 percent just two years ago.
They are numbers that have improved greatly in a short amount of time. County officials said they want to keep going in the right direction.
Assistant manager Susan Holder, who oversaw shelter operations for many years, said the transition away from the chamber was welcome. The assistance received along the way, including from commissioners and by way of grants from the Humane Society, helped get the county to this point.
“I am pleased that we are able to steadily and prudently implement improvements to the shelter, and staff is grateful for the Board of Commissioners’ willingness to support these improvements,” Susan Holder said. “The transition from gas chamber to injection euthanasia is particularly welcomed, and we appreciate the grant assistance of The Humane Society of the United States which has allowed us to make this transition.”
Canady echoed those sentiments, and said continual improvement is the goal.
“Our adoptions keep going up and hopefully it goes up a little more,” said Canady. “Starting in June (when the shelter starts showing adoptable animals) at the Farmer’s Market, hopefully that will help some.”
Holder said it was a big step for the county — and agreed the work was not finished.
“Our ultimate goal remains to increase adoptions and promote spay and neuter so that the need for any euthanasia is greatly diminished,” she said.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.