It has been a month since officials of Orange County's troubled Animal Control department promised to end a highly controversial method of cat euthanization that often had horrific results. But recent reports from inside the shelter indicate that any rejoicing might have been premature.
One shelter veteran described to the Weekly watching the recent euthanization of several dozen kittens. A kitten was held dangling by the scruff of the neck so its abdomen was exposed. An injection was administered into the abdomen, and "in almost the same gesture," the kitten was tossed into a nearby cardboard box, where it died among several other dying kittens.
According to another shelter worker, "From what I've heard and seen, they're still doing it the same way they've always been doing it. The cat's stretched out, and then they give it a shot in the belly. If the cat's struggling at all, sometimes the shot goes into the liver and sometimes it goes into the belly. Which is basically the same thing that was happening before. Now they're just calling it something different."
The method of euthanization in question is called intrahepatic (IH) because the killing solution is injected into the cat's liver. Orange County's shelter, which kills nearly 10,000 cats a year, was one of only a handful around the country to employ the method because its effectiveness and humaneness have yet to be thoroughly studied. The Humane Society, in fact, says IH is not an "acceptable route" because there are questions about the "accuracy of injection [and] organ sensitivity to pain."
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In a Weekly story about a variety of problems plaguing the shelter ("Pet Hell," May 14), workers reported that it would sometimes take euthanized cats up to 15 minutes to die and that some were clearly in great pain. In the wake of that story, shelter officials promised that they would no longer use the IH method; animal activists, who had long sought such a move, were overjoyed.
Experts agree that the preferred method of euthanizing animals is by injection into a vein; it's quick and relatively painless. But hitting a vein takes time, patience and skill, so its use in a shelter in which large numbers of cats—often struggling cats—must be killed can be problematic. The only alternative approved by the Humane Society is an interperitoneal (IP) injection into the cat's stomach. But an IP injection acts slowly, so experts agree that if it's used, the injected cat should then be placed by itself in a darkened area to die as gently as possible—not tossed into a cardboard box with a number of other dying animals.
It is unclear what method of cat euthanization is now being used at the Orange County shelter. Officials there are in bunker mode. Calls to head veterinarian Richard Evans and interim director Mark McDorman were not returned. A secretary to Len Foster, the county Health Care Agency (HCA) official responsible for Animal Control, said he is "no longer taking media calls."
The Weekly finally called Foster's boss, HCA director Don Oxley. He had assistant director Juliette Poulson return the call. She confirmed that a directive had gone out ordering the shelter to discontinue the liver injections and use the IP method instead. She promised to investigate whether the directive was being followed.
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